Census: One Quarter Of Houstonians Now Live In Poverty, 38 Percent Are Children

New data from the Census Bureau shows that Texans seem to be doing slightly better from a year ago when it comes to measurements such as median income and health coverage. Yet poverty is still creeping up across the state.

The yearly census report provides a snapshot of the well-being of Texans. The bright spots include a drop in the rate of the uninsured, from almost 24 percent to 23 percent.

Experts say one big reason is that the Affordable Care Act allows more young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance.

But other states also benefited from that, so Texas still has the highest rate of uninsured residents in the country.

The new report revealed one troubling indicator in the poverty rate. It’s creeping up, both across Texas and locally.

Stephen Klineberg is a Rice University sociology professor:

“That’s the basic story, the growing inequalities, the rising tide no longer lifting all boats, the end of the broad-based prosperity that we used to know in this country.”

In Houston, almost one fourth of people live below the poverty line, and for children, it’s almost 38 percent. (See data table) This is despite the fact that the area’s median income rose slightly.

Klineberg says that’s because the gap between rich and poor has grown. The well-off are earning bigger incomes, but more people are still falling into poverty

Frances Deviney is a researcher at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank in Austin.

“You know everybody has an idea of what they think poverty looks like, and they may imagine someone who is standing at the side of the road and asking for assistance that way, but really poverty is encompassing Texas workers these days.”

Deviney says some of the Texans who fell into poverty have been out of work for so long that their unemployment benefits expired. But other poor Texans do have jobs.

It’s just that our state has the highest rate of low-wage jobs in the country.  

“Many of our poor families, in fact the majority of our poor families, are working, it’s just that we have a lot of low-wage service jobs, that not only don’t provide much for families to be able to make ends meet, but they also don’t provide benefits which help to buffer a low-wage job. For example, health insurance to help families avoid the crisis of a big medical bill.”

Deviney says she hopes the Texas legislators will view the poverty numbers as a wake-up call when they convene in January.

She says cuts made two years ago to education should be reversed, and Texas should opt-in to the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act in 2014.

 

Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...