Southern States Poorest, Census Says
By Kathleen Murphy, Staff Writer
Making ends meet is harder in Louisiana, West Virginia and Mississippi, states with the highest poverty rates in the country.
State poverty rates range from 6.1 percent in New Hampshire to 20.3 percent in Louisiana, according to new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau based on a survey of 700,000 households. States with large minority populations tended to have above-average poverty rates including New York (13.5 percent), California (14 percent), and Texas (15.3 percent), according to an analysis of the survey data by the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute.
Mark Rank, a professor at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University, said, "If you look at the U.S. rates of poverty, we have still, by far, the highest rates of any industrialized nation. In some ways, that shows we have a lack of concern in terms of the issue of poverty."
The Census 2000 Supplementary Survey showed that 12.5 percent of the U.S. population, about 34 million people including 12 million children, were poor according to the government's definition of poverty. The child poverty rate was 17.1 percent. The government defines poverty as pre-tax income below $17,601 in 2000 for a family of four.
The government uses other data, not the Census supplementary survey, to determine national income and poverty estimates. But the supplementary survey offers an early peek at data from the Census 2000 long form which asks about everything from marital status to plumbing. The newly-released survey data offers the most current glimpse of poverty rates in state-specific detail, although it is subject to sampling error margin.
If funded by Congress, the U.S. Census Bureau will conduct similar research, called the American Community Survey, on a yearly basis. The annual survey will provide state-by-state comparisons annually in a way that has never been done before and potentially could assist state policymakers, said Sheldon Danziger, professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work.
But scholars like Danziger and some state agencies said they would virtually ignore the current supplementary survey's findings and await the Census 2000 long form data on poverty scheduled to be released this fall. That's because the supplementary survey's sample size is small, and the sampling error is large, said Donald Harrier, chief of the Demographic Services Center in Wisconsin's Department of Administration.
Also, since this is the first release of state data from the supplementary survey, no comparisons can be made with earlier time periods. While many of the survey's variables are the same as in other Census data, comparisons across different surveys are unreliable because of differences in survey methods and questions.
State Poverty Rates from the Census Supplementary Survey