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Report depicts the state of poverty in Travis County

Thursday, May 13, 2021 by Seth Smalley

On Tuesday, the Commissioners Court fielded discussion from Health and Human Services on the state of poverty in Travis County. Rochelle Olivares, April Klein and Lawrence Lyman, the core informing team of the HHS Research and Planning Division, presented a report using data obtained from the 2019 American Community Survey five-year estimates.

“The data is a reflection of the years between 2015 and 2019,” Olivares said. “The analysis does not reflect the impacts that have occurred due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which is ongoing, as you all know.”

The poverty brief was the fourth iteration of the report, which focuses on providing general poverty statistics for Travis County.

The poverty rate for Travis County was 12 percent, which marked a decrease from the overall poverty rate in Texas, 15 percent. “It’s significantly lower than both Texas and the United States,” said Klein, who also touched on some of the limitations of the data-sourcing. “Whether you live in a costly city like Austin, or a rural town in North Dakota, if you’re one person, your poverty threshold is $13,300.”

The poverty threshold, Klein noted, was the same nationwide for single individuals living alone. A person is considered to be living in poverty if the individual’s income is less than $13,300.

The U.S. Census Bureau, where HHS sourced the data for the poverty report, describes “poverty” as applying to any resident with an income below 100 percent of the poverty threshold, according to Olivares.

The HHS report also analyzed income rates at both 200 and 150 percent of the poverty threshold, to gain a better understanding of overall upward and downward mobility in Travis County.

Although the poverty rate for the county was only 12 percent, Klein explained, more than one-quarter of the population is living at below 200 percent of the poverty threshold.

“Individuals living in group quarters and institutions and those experiencing homelessness, for example, are not included in the data that you will see today,” Olivares said.

The HHS report addressed two chief research questions: Who has been affected the most by structural inequalities (and is therefore most at risk for poverty), and what are the geographic influences on poverty in the county?

“What’s really striking here is that the non-Hispanic white group makes up significantly less of the proportion of poverty than their share of the total population. For African Americans and Latinos, the share of poverty is experienced at disproportionately high rates,” Klein said.

Year to year, the 18- to 24-year-old age group consistently experienced the highest rates of poverty, though as Klein explained, “it’s likely to be temporary as a large portion of the group are students.”

Meanwhile, about 16 percent of under-18-year-olds in the county were living in poverty, and 36 percent of under-18-year-olds were living below 200 percent of the poverty threshold.

Notably, poverty rates were higher for women than for men, and just a little over the 12 percent rate for Travis County.

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