While the national data provide a sense of the magnitude of poverty and disparities in the U.S., it is often difficult to imagine what that means for communities. However, the subsequent American Community Survey (ACS) data - which was released today - provides a more detailed look at demographic characteristics in cities and states.
The Center for the Study of Social Policy believes that place matters and strongly impacts the health, safety, educational and employment opportunities of children and families. We work in a number of communities that face significant challenges due to years of disinvestment, including unemployment, failing schools and housing instability. These communities are trying to take a more comprehensive approach to addressing these issues. The ACS data highlight some of the significant obstacles in place.
- California is one of only three states that has seen an increase in poverty since 2011. In 2012 Fresno, CA – a recipient of Promise Neighborhoods planning grant and a Building Neighborhood Capacity Program (BNCP) grant – faced a poverty rate of 31.5 percent, up from 28.8 percent in 2011. In Fresno, nearly half of all Black residents (47.1 percent), 30.1 percent of Asian residents and 38.1 percent of individuals identifying as Hispanic lived in poverty.
- Though median incomes in the state of Wisconsin remain unchanged in 2012, residents of Milwaukee, WI – a BNCP grant recipient – continue to experience an unacceptable level of disparity. More than 42 percent of Milwaukee’s children lived in poverty, including 55.2 percent of Black children. An immense gap remained across income levels as the median household income for Black families was $24,994, compared to $45,268 for White families.
- Tennessee’s poverty level in 2012 was not statistically different from the 2011 rate. In Memphis, TN – also a BNCP grant recipient – 28.3 percent of residents lived in poverty including more than a third (33.6 percent) of Black residents and 14.7 percent of White residents. In Memphis 27.1 percent of households relied on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) benefits at some point in 2012.
The data released today provide a snapshot across several indicators and capture information that can be used to make informed public policy and funding decisions – critically important in the midst of sequester cuts. State and local poverty rates can only be significantly and sustainably reduced if opportunity gaps are addressed. A growing number of communities are learning how to help policymakers better understand what is actually happening in their neighborhoods and the kinds of resources required to address local needs.