Scraping By Isn’t Enough: What the Poverty Data Doesn’t Show
While it’s good news that the new Census reports show that the number of Washingtonians living in poverty declined between 2013 and 2014, the data still doesn’t tell the whole story. Far too many Washingtonians are struggling to make ends meet. And this is happening in a landscape in which the top income earners in our state continue to benefit the most from the economic recovery. Policymakers must make investments in an economy that works for all Washingtonians – one in which people who work for a living are able to get ahead, not just get by.
The newly released Census data for Washington state shows (see more in fact sheet below):
- More than one in eight people (13.2 percent) live below the poverty line. This is down from 14.1 percent in 2013. For a family of three, the poverty line is defined as earning less than $19,790 per year.
- Child poverty declined to 17.5 percent after remaining stagnant last year. The share of children under five living in poverty remained unchanged at 19 percent.
- Although median household income technically increased between 2013 and 2014, when adjusted for inflation and the rising cost of basic needs, median annual household income has actually declined by more than $2,000 since 2007.
(Click on graphic to view full fact sheet)
Washington state’s economy is stronger when everyone has the opportunity to prosper. Working people should not have to struggle to provide for their families while the wealthy keep getting richer. When workers are paid well, are able to take time off when they are sick, and have the peace of mind that their children are receiving quality child care, their economic well-being improves. Policies like raising the minimum wage, ensuring workers have paid sick and safe leave, and expanding access to quality early learning also help to level the playing field for communities of color and women who are least likely to have access to these resources.
Policymakers can and must take steps to ensure that all Washingtonians benefit from growth in our economy. They must also recognize that they can’t rest on their laurels because the poverty numbers appear to be going down. The big picture must always be front of mind. And the big picture is that what it actually takes for families in Washington to scrape by is much higher than the federal poverty line – which is $19,790 for a family of three (1).
Washington should be a state in which its people are thriving, and certainly not one in which so many are barely getting by.
1. Based on DSHS 2014 poverty guidelines for a family of 3.