New data released by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that there is some good news when it comes to poverty rates and access to health care in our state. At the same time, the data shows that many Washingtonians – in particular, some communities of color, women, and people with disabilities – still face barriers to economic security. The numbers make it clear that to build thriving communities, our policymakers must invest in priorities that remove obstacles to prosperity for Washingtonians.
First the good news: Last year, the poverty rate in Washington state declined slightly to 11.3 percent from 12.2 percent in 2015. And between 2013 and 2016, the rate of people with health insurance increased to 94 percent from 86 percent.
The fact that fewer Washingtonians are living in poverty is likely due to economic growth and a low unemployment rate. And the insurance rate is more evidence that the Affordable Care Act has been extremely effective in ensuring more people can afford to have access to a doctor and preventive health services.
Yet the numbers also reveal that despite economic growth, far too many residents of Washington face barriers to economic security, especially people of color, women, and people with disabilities. In fact, the poverty rate for some communities of color in Washington is nearly two to three times that of whites. Systemic barriers are impacting many people’s ability to put food on the table and pay for their housing. For example:
- Twenty-seven percent of American Indian/Alaska Natives, 23 percent of Blacks, 20 percent of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, and 19 percent of Latinos live in poverty.
- Among full-time workers, women earned 75 percent of what men earned in 2016.
- One in four working age Washingtonians with a disability live below the federal poverty line, compared to one in ten adults without disabilities.
Further, when looking at the data over a longer time period, they show those facing the greatest hardship are not reaping the benefits of economic growth. In fact, more people in Washington are living in deep poverty – below 50 percent of the federal poverty line, which is less than $10,080 a year for a family of three in 2016 – than in 2006. The number of Washingtonians living in deep poverty grew by 17 percent between over the last decade (See figure below).
(Click on graphic to enlarge)
Our economy and our communities will be stronger when everyone is able to not only to make ends meet, but also to have a better future – and when lawmakers act to undo systemic and institutional barriers that prevent people from having equal access to opportunity.
While it is good news that there is declining poverty overall and greater rates of health insurance coverage in our state, the new Census numbers nevertheless underscore that too many people are still facing financial hardship. In order to build thriving communities, lawmakers in our state need to make investments that enable all our residents to thrive. Further, federal policymakers must protect essential health care coverage – pushing back against continued efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act – and they must protect programs that ensure that when people hit hard times, they don’t go without the basics.