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Texas' Poverty Rate Declines for First Time Since Recession

The percentage of Texans living in poverty dropped from 18.5 percent in 2011 to 17.9 percent in 2012, marking the first decline in the state since the recession began in 2008.

A home in the El Cenizo colonia in Laredo, TX. August 23, 2013.

Texas is one of two states in which the poverty rate declined between 2011 and 2012, according to data released late Wednesday from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

The percentage of Texans living in poverty dropped from 18.5 percent to 17.9 percent, marking the first decline in the state since the recession began, in 2008. The only other state that saw its poverty rate drop was Minnesota.

Still, Texas’ poverty rate remained above the national rate, and above the state's pre-recession rate. (Check out our interactive here.) 

About one in four children in Texas lived below the poverty level — $23,492 for a family of four — in 2012, a decrease from 2011.

“It’s really encouraging that we’re moving in the right direction, but we still have a significant proportion of our population that needs help,” said Frances Deviney, who tracks child welfare at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank that advocates for low-income Texans. “We’ve still got a ways to go before we get back to the healthy family economy we had before the recession.”

Nationally, the poverty rate did not change between 2011 and 2012, staying at 15.9 percent after having increased for four years in a row, according to a census report comparing the new data to that of previous years. U.S. median household income — $51,371 in 2012 — also did not change significantly. Across the country in 2012, the poverty rate was higher and incomes were lower than in 2007, before the recession.

Among Texas’ metropolitan areas in 2012, poverty was especially high in the Rio Grande Valley, with about one in three people in the Brownsville-Harlingen and McAllen-Edinburg areas living below the poverty level.

Deviney said the poverty measure is important to look at because it’s a predictor of health, education and employment outcomes.

But Chuck DeVore, vice president of policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank that advocates for small government, said it’s not a good measure because it fails to take into account the value of government benefits and regional differences in cost of living.

Still, he said Texas’ declining poverty rate is related to the state’s low regulatory burden for businesses and the lack of a state income tax.

“We believe this is directly connected to the fact that in Texas, people have the opportunity to work and to create businesses and to participate in the American Dream,” he said.

Fast-growing Midland, where an oil boom has brought lucrative jobs, had the highest median household income among Texas’ metropolitan areas in 2012 at $61,331.

Austin had the second-highest median household income among the state’s metro areas at $59,433, followed by Dallas at $56,954 and Houston at $55,910. Those median incomes, as well as that of Midland’s, were not statistically different from 2011. But San Antonio did see an increase in median household income, to $51,486 in 2012 from $49,599 in 2011. The lowest income among Texas’ metro areas was in Brownsville-Harlingen, at $30,953.

Texas’ median household income of $50,740 in 2012 was unchanged from the previous year. State median household incomes in 2012 ranged from $37,095 in Mississippi to $71,122 in Maryland. 

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