Chelan-Douglas Trends e-Newsletter


A dichotomy of life in one of the most prosperous countries in the world is that a large segment of the population is living near, at, or below the Federal Poverty Line (FPL). According to Child Fund International, "despite the fact that America is one of the world's wealthiest nations, poverty levels across the United States are among the highest of any developed nation."

Measuring poverty might be just as difficult as eliminating it. In fact, software is being developed using satellite imagery that can be used in conjunction with more traditional surveys, to offer more insight into poverty conditions across the globe.

In the U.S., there are two main types of poverty measurements used by the federal government. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, "Poverty thresholds are used for calculating all official poverty population statistics - for instance, figures on the number of Americans in poverty each year… [and] poverty guidelines are a simplified version of the federal poverty thresholds used for administrative purposes - for instance, determining financial eligibility for certain federal programs." In short, poverty guidelines are produced by the Department of Health and Human Services, while the poverty thresholds are produced by the U.S. Census. This indicator is sourced by the U.S. Census American Community Survey (ACS), which is an estimate based on survey results, is helpful in making jurisdictional comparisons.

To calculate poverty thresholds, the U.S. Census determines both income and need for households. Income is the "incomes of all related family members that live together" and need is the "dollar amounts used to determine poverty status". In short, poverty thresholds take into consideration the number of adults living in the household (1 or 2), total household income, and the number of dependents. If a family's total income is less than the associated poverty threshold, the family is living in poverty. If a family's income is equal to or greater than the associated poverty threshold, the family is not living in poverty.

An examination of the first graph, the Share of the Overall Population Living Below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), reveals that 2015 represented the first year since 2010 where the share of the

population living below the FPL in Chelan and Douglas Counties was below the state share. More precisely, an estimated 11.4% of the population was below the FPL compared to 12.2% in the state and 14.7% of the U.S. Since 2005, these rates have changed from 14.8%, 11.9%, and 13.3% respectively.

According to Alan Walker, President of Chelan & Douglas United Way, "Certainly the recession had a significant impact on people of all economic demographics, resulting in [more] middle and low income residents [entering] into poverty. Housing, job creation, higher education enrollment and business expansion all halted, or experienced slowdowns. As the economy started to recover we saw growth in the aforementioned areas, unemployment rates started to drop, housing starts resumed, and businesses started to hire and expand."

The second indicator, the Share of Population Under Age 18 Living Below the FPL, shows during 2015, the share of the youth population in Chelan and Douglas Counties combined who were living below the FPL was 17.0%, compared to 15.5% in the state, and 20.7% in the U.S. Since 2005, these have changed from 21.0%, 15.1%, and 18.5% respectively.

Specific to the youth indicator, Walker believes "…this equation needs to address the total population of children living at home under the age of eighteen and the number of single parent households." [Walker says], "if you have a single parent with three children, obviously the number of children in poverty is higher than the one adult. This helps explains some of the variance, but, we also have to recognize the cycle of generational poverty, and if the three children are growing up in poverty, what is the likelihood they will live in poverty as adults. Breaking the cycle of poverty should be the focus area."

While both poverty indicators are trending in the right direction in the two counties, there is a lot of uncertainty regarding the potential funding cuts from the federal government regarding social services and the safety net they provide in times of need. Potential cuts could also affect funding for training, workforce development grants, and perhaps even higher education. Therefore, it is important to keep an eye on these indicators moving forward to see if they are continuing their welcome declines.

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