Tucson has gained a terrible new label: sixth-poorest metro area in the country.
Nationally, the poverty rate edged up in the newly released data from the Census Bureau - from 15.3 percent in 2010 to 15.9 percent in 2011.
The trouble for us is that the percentage of Tucsonans living in poverty jumped from 17.8 percent in 2010 to 20.4 percent in 2011. That leap landed Tucson on the list of the top 10 poorest metro areas.
What gets lost in the percentages and the decimal points and the rankings is the blunt reality facing many Tucsonans: They are barely scraping by.
These folks aren't abstract figures in a report. They are store clerks, kids in the lunch line and math class, people waiting in the hot sun for the bus.
Even in good times, Tucson and Arizona have been poor compared with the rest of the country.
For our children, both the history and the trends are even more grim. Back in 2005, before the recession began, 21.2 percent of Tucsonans under age 18 lived in poverty. The new stats put that at a terrible 29.7 percent - nearly one in three kids in Tucson is poor.
By comparison, 6 percent of Tucsonans age 65-plus lived in poverty back in 2005, compared with 7.7 percent now.
We must accept that our community cannot thrive if so many of us have such great need.
Supporting organizations that strengthen families can help. Children who live with married parents are less likely to be poor, but we take a broad view on strengthening families - strong relationships, parenting skills and stability are crucial for kids.
Education is the best way to avoid poverty. Among adults, nearly 26 percent of Tucsonans without a high-school diploma live in poverty, compared with 13 percent of those with a bachelor's degree or higher. As a community, we must support and improve the quality of our K-12 schools and expand the opportunities for vocational, community college and university training.
Most immediately, we hope that Tucson voters will keep our No. 6 ranking top of mind as they go to the polls this fall. Which candidates have a plan for reducing poverty in our community? Which candidates support education-spending increases?
Over the next several months, the Star will examine possible solutions to our growing poverty problem. We hope you'll join that conversation.
Arizona Daily Star
Highest poverty rates among metro areas
McAllen-Edinburg- Mission, TX: 37.7 percent
Fresno, CA: 25.8
El Paso, TX: 24.7
Bakersfield-Delano, CA: 24.5
Modesto, CA: 23.8
Albuquerque, NM: 20 .4
Toledo, OH: 20.2
New Orleans-Metairie- Kenner, LA: 19.5
Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL: 19.4
Poverty is increasing in Tucson
2011: 20.4 percent
2009: 19.3 percent
2007: 15 percent
2005: 14.7 percent
2000: 14.7 percent
We welcome your suggestions about what Tucson must do to decrease poverty. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and please put "poverty" in the subject line. To have your letter published, it must include your full name, address, daytime phone number and occupation. Please keep letters to 150 words.