The new U.S. Census data shows that the number of Washington residents living below the poverty line declined 1 percent between 2014 and 2015. This welcome news is tempered by the fact that the data shows that hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians remain in poverty, with communities of color struggling the most. Given this, policymakers need to look beyond the immediate headlines touting our progress and make smart investments in creating a thriving economy that works for all of us.
The newly released Census data shows that in Washington state:
- More than one in eight people (12 percent) live below the poverty line. This is down from 13 percent in 2014. For a family of three, the poverty line is defined as earning less than $20,160 per year.
- Nearly one in seven children (15 percent) live below the poverty line. This is a decline from 17.5 percent in 2014.
- Deep disparities by race and ethnicity persist. More than 24 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives, 23 percent of Black people, and more than 20 percent of Latinos live below the poverty line.
- Although median household income continued to increase, when adjusted for inflation, median household income remains at 2007 levels despite the rising costs of meeting basic needs.
This new data demonstrates how much more work there is to do to create a state economy with real pathways out of poverty and toward economic security. But it still doesn’t tell the whole story. Consider the fact that a single parent raising two kids in the state needs to make at least $59,000 to cover the costs of meeting all basic needs, including housing, food, child care, and transportation. (1) That means, beyond what the Census data tells us, families making three times as much income as those living at the official federal poverty level are also struggling to making ends meet.
Legislators must remember this big picture reality when they consider the policies they will advance in the 2017 legislative session. They must work to not only alleviate and prevent poverty throughout our state, but also to ensure that all Washingtonians can get ahead.
Voters and policymakers have the opportunity to take steps in the November election and the 2017 legislative session to help families get on the road to economic stability. Increasing the statewide minimum wage, ensuring access to paid sick leave, restoring funding to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, and funding the Working Families Tax Rebate can all help provide greater economic security for Washington residents.