Poverty rate among African Americans nearly double that of White Americans

Milwaukee fourth poorest city in nation

Washington, DC – Annual data released recently by the U.S Census Bureau indicates that 43.6 million Americans—one in seven people— now live in poverty. This is the largest number of people in poverty in the 51 years for which the estimates are available. The figures also show that African Americans experience poverty at a much higher rate than Whites.

“It’s troubling that, in one of the world’s wealthiest nations, one in four African American households struggle to provide for their families,” said Bishop Don DiXon Williams of Bread for the World’s Church Relations department. “The vast disproportion in poverty rates between African Americans and whites suggests that we must urge our nation’s leaders to do more to end poverty and hunger.”

In 2009, the poverty rate for African Americans reached 25.8 percent—almost twice as high as that of the general population. One in three African American children now lives in families that have trouble providing for them. Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (formerly called food stamps) has hit record levels, with African Americans accounting for 22.6 percent of the 40.5 million Americans who receive SNAP benefits each month. This figure is projected to rise in 2011.

“High rates of poverty and long-term unemployment among African Americans make legislation to extend certain provisions to low-income families extremely important,” said Bishop Williams. “This month, Congress can help by voting to extend tax benefits for low- and moderate- income households.”

SNAP, Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) have been in lifting people out of poverty and helping families respond to the recession. If SNAP benefits were accounted for in calculating the poverty figures, 3.6 million people would be lifted out of poverty in 2009 (compared to 1.4 million in 2008). Similarly, accounting for payroll taxes and refundable tax credits, like the EITC and CTC, almost 3 million children would be lifted out of poverty.

Additional Census Bureau Report findings for 2009 include:

  • In 2009, the poverty rate increased for non-Hispanic Whites (9.4 percent in 2009, up from 8.6 percent in 2008), Asian Americans (12.5 percent in 2009, up from 11.8 percent in 2008), and Hispanics (25.3 percent in 2009, up from 23.2 percent in 2008).

For children younger than 18, the poverty rate increased from 19 percent in 2008 to 20.7 percent in 2009, bringing the number of children living in poverty to nearly 15.5 million, an increase of over 2.1 million children.

Milwaukee has the designation of the fourth-most impoverished big city in 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau figures released earlier this week. Milwaukee’s poverty rate reached 27 percent, up from 23.4 percent in the previous year. Only Detroit (36.4 percent), Cleveland (35 percent) and Buffalo (28.8 percent) had higher poverty rates among cities with population rates greater than 250,000. Milwaukee was ranked 11th in 2008.

Mayor Tom Barrett expressed great concern over the report and stated that “these poverty numbers are unacceptable and should be of concern to everyone in the community and across our state.”

He continued to elaborate on the numbers by stating, “They obviously are in part a result of the global economic downturn which has disproportionately affected lower incomes. But it has also sent lower middle-class people into poverty as well. It explains why we’re looking so aggressive to create more jobs, tackle the issues of education, workforce development and transportation.”

Alderman Bob Donovan weighed in on the dismal report by stating that he believes that “the fiscal and educational failures of MPS have, in my opinion, helped deepen poverty in Milwaukee.

The tax burden heaped upon taxpayers by MPS seems to widen each year, and I think MPS bankruptcy – a process that could be initiated by a referendum put to city voters – is our only viable option to recovery and some semblance of solvency.” He also stated that, “we just keep hearing both candidates talk about jobs and job creation, but nothing about the MPS problem and its possible ramifications.”

He continued, “Personally, in my travels in Milwaukee I see far too many young people who are ill-equipped for today’s global economy, and who do not possess basic and technical skills needed to secure a good-paying job. I see a lack of communication skills, a manner of dress and appearance, and behavior that will preclude them from working anywhere.”

“It is mind-boggling to me that Bucyrus, a manufacturer that is among Milwaukee’s finest employers, is having a hard time finding welders to fill good-paying job slots – the kind of jobs that helped build Milwaukee and this community. Where are our tech skills? Why isn’t Bradley Tech High School churning out students who have skills such as welding? For that matter, where is MATC in this picture, and why isn’t it producing technically capable young people who can fill jobs in industry and manufacturing?” He said.

And of course the African American unemployment numbers in Milwaukee follow the national trend of doubling that of Whites.

Michael Bonds, president of the Milwaukee School Board reportedly said that he was not surprised by the newest poverty figures.

“I think we’re at a critical point when we’re starting to see some of the broader things in the community impacting students,” he said. Bonds said that he doesn’t see any quick-fix to bring children out of poverty in Milwaukee.