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Arizona is now No. 2 in poverty

21.2 percent rate trails only Mississippi's, Census Bureau reports

  • Updated

PHOENIX - More than one-fifth of Arizonans live in poverty, a figure higher than anywhere else in the nation except Mississippi.

Figures Thursday from the U.S. Census Bureau show nearly 1.4 million Arizonans in households earning less than the federal poverty level - about 21.2 percent.

The national figure is approaching 43.6 million, just 14.3 percent.

That poverty level is based on family size. The Census Bureau uses a threshold for a family of four at $21,954, with adjustments up or down for larger or smaller families.

The numbers include cash income but not one-time capital gains.

They also exclude government help such as food stamps. That makes a difference: The Census Bureau figures that if the value of that aid were added to income figures, the number of people nationwide listed as living in poverty would be 3.6 million fewer.

The new report shows that even with a sluggish national economy, there is an increasing disparity between Arizonans and those living everywhere else.

In 2007, for example, before the economy tanked, Arizona's poverty rate was 14.3 percent, compared with the national rate of 12.5 percent. That put Arizona at 14th-highest in nation.

By 2008, the percentage of Arizonans living in poverty rose to 18 percent, while the national figure rose to 13.2 percent. That ranked Arizona fourth-highest in the U.S. And the current 21.2 percent number is approaching a level 1 1/2 times the national average.

On a separate measurement, the Census Bureau also found the number of Arizonans without insurance is only slightly above the national average, poverty not-withstanding.

A total of 80.4 percent of Arizonans reported coverage, compared with 83.3 percent nationwide.

One likely reason for the narrowerdisparity is that Arizona has a more inclusive Medicaid program than what most other states offer.

The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program, provides free care for anyone in a family below the federal poverty level. And it has nearly free coverage for children in families whose earnings are twice that level.

Federal Medicaid regulations have much lower income limits, though states are free to set their own higher figures.

As a result, more than 20 percent of Arizona residents receive care through AHCCCS. The nationwide figure for Medicaid recipients is less than 16 percent.

Children here are particularly hard-hit. The Census Bureau puts the poverty level of those younger than 18 at 31.3 percent, again, second only to Mississippi and tied with the District of Columbia. Nationally, the poverty figure for children is 20.7 percent.

Among those of working age - 18 through 64 - the state poverty rate is 18.4 percent, compared with 12.9 percent nationwide.

Among those 65 and older in Arizona, the Census Bureau finds 13.8 percent living below the poverty level. For the entire country, the figure is 8.9 percent.

In a prepared statement, President Obama said things could have been worse nationally.

"Because of the Recovery Act and many other programs providing tax relief and income support to a majority of working families - and especially those most in need - millions of Americans were kept out of poverty last year," the statement said. And the president said the new federal health-insurance law will ensure that more families have coverage.

A separate study done by the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that, on average, Arizonans in the state's population centers earned far less last year than those elsewhere.

A separate report by the bureau indicates that even among those not living in poverty, Arizonans rate below residents elsewhere.

The bureau puts per capita personal income nationwide - total income divided by population - at $40,757 for metro areas. Of areas examined by the agency, Mohave County comes the closest, at $35,841.

For the Phoenix metro area, which is Maricopa and Pinal counties, the figure is $34,282, with Pima County at $33,259, Coconino at $34,111, Yavapai at $28,877 and Yuma at $25,496.



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