With new data on poverty and median income just released by the U.S. Census Bureau, along with a new state budget forecast, let’s take a look at the numbers and sketch out some of the policy choices Washington now faces in response.
Washington’s poverty rate climbed to 11.7% in 2009 — up from 10.4% in 2008 — according to the just-released Census Bureau data. Today, 781,000 Washingtonians live below the federal poverty rate ($18,310 for a family of three).
The good news/bad news is that at least Washington is doing better than the nation as a whole. The U.S. poverty rate now stands at 14.3 percent, up from 13.2 percent in 2008. A record 43.6 million people are now living in poverty in the U.S. — the highest poverty rate since 1994, and the largest number of people living in poverty in the nation since this statistic has been tracked.
Poverty Rates, U.S. and Washington State, 1980-2009
Typical household incomes also show the effects of recession, and it’s good news/bad news again: Washington is less worse off than the rest of the country. Median household incomes have fallen for two years running in inflation-adjusted terms in both Washington and the U.S.
Washington’s median annual income stood at $58,404 in 2008-09, a drop of $745 since 2006-2007. (The Census Bureau uses two-year averages for larger sample sizes.) The nation’s real median household income also fell, to $49,777.
Median Household Income, U.S. and Washington State, 1984-2009
(2009 dollars, 2-year averages)
Unfortunately, there’s no good news in the state revenue forecast just released by the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council. Despite making $5.2 billion in cuts over the past 2 years, it looks like the state will have to cut – or raise – more than $500 million more from the current state budget, which runs through June 2011. Governor Gregoire has already ordered additional across-the-board spending cuts of 4 to 7 percent, and the legislature will have to make some tough choices in the upcoming session to balance the 2011-2013 budget .
Now is not the time to slash the safety net of social services for the growing ranks of poor and economically vulnerable. Further cuts in government spending will only deepen the recession.
A number of initiatives on the ballot this November will give every citizen the chance to help set a better course to move us toward a more sustainable economic future. As a state will we have the funds to invest in the high priority services and facilities that provide opportunity and a pathway to prosperity? Or will we further undermine the foundational infrastructure of educational , health, and transportation systems on which our economy is built?
Over the next several months, EOI will continue to collect and analyze additional data on the current economic situation—jobs, unemployment, housing, education and benefits—in Washington and at the national level, and translate it into constructive public policy dialogue.
By The Numbers
Percentage of People in Poverty, Washington State:
3-year average (2007-2009): 10.7%
2-year average (2008-2009): 11.0%
2008 number of people in poverty: 680,000 (10.4%)
2009 number of people in poverty: 781,000 (11.7%)
Percentage of People in Poverty, United States:
3-year average (2007-2009): 13.4%
2-year average (2008-2009): 13.8%
Median Income, Washington State:
2-year average (2008-2009): $58,404
2-year average (2006-2007): $59,149
Median Income, United States:
Source: Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009, U.S. Census Bureau. Data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), 2010, Annual Social and Economic Supplement