Beyond the Poverty Line

Researchers say the poverty line is even higher in Travis County than what official numbers claim

Travis Co. Commissioners passed a resolution earlier this month declaring January Poverty Awareness Month, corresponding with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development's annual, national Poverty in America Awareness Month campaign. According to the most recent census figures, 12.6% of Travis Co. residents live below the federal poverty line – $19,350 for a family of four – compared to 16.4% statewide and 12.7% nationwide. Figures based on the federal poverty line, however, underestimate the number of people truly living in poverty, as the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities explains in its policy brief "Texas Poverty 101" (www.cppp.org/category.php?cid=8): "The poverty guidelines were originally … established in the early 1960s based on the assumption that the cost of food accounted for one-third of household spending … [and] are still based on a food-cost-to-income ratio of 1 to 3, despite significant shifts in household expenses. For example, the cost of housing as a share of household income has increased significantly since the 1960s, and families today are more likely to have child care expenses and pay a much higher share of health care costs than was typical in the 1960s."

Thus, individualized budgets taking into account such factors as geographic location, wages, cost of living, and family size make much more accurate poverty indicators, as the D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute demonstrates at www.epi.org/content.cfm/datazone_fambud_budget. According to the institute's budget calculations, a family of four in the Austin-San Marcos area must earn $43,580 to make ends meet – way more than the $19,350 poverty line suggests. According to the institute, 35% of Texans live under their "family budget line" – the amount they need to earn to make ends meet.

The Community Action Network, a public-private collaboration of local organizations focused on community issues, and the Basic Needs Coalition of Central Texas, a collaboration of several nonprofit organizations, government agencies, faith-based groups, and community activists, are coordinating local poverty awareness-related activities. For more, see www.basicneeds-ctx.org.


percentages of People living in Poverty

Federal Figures* / Policy Inst. Figures**

1) Mississippi: 17.7% / 29.6%

2) Arkansas: 17.6% / 26.8%

3) New Mexico: 17.5% / 35.3%

4) Louisiana: 17.0% / 28.2%

5) D.C.: 16.8% / 48.0%

6) Texas: 16.4% / 35.0%

7) West Virginia: 16.1% / 38.1%

8) Alabama: 15.5% / 33.8%

9) Kentucky: 15.4% / 27.7%

10) Tennessee: 14.9% / 25.8%

* 2- and 3-Year Averages: 2002-2004. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2003 to 2005 Annual Social and Economic Supplements

** Families With Incomes Less Than Family Budgets. Source: Economic Policy Institute

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