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Rising Wages Lift Texas Poor, But Almost 1 in 4 Kids Still in Poverty

Rising incomes helped lift more Texans above the federal poverty level in 2015, new census figures show, but poverty is still particularly prevalent among families with children and on the border.

Children play on the outdoor playground.

Due mostly to rising incomes, Texas was home to almost 268,200 fewer people classified as poor in 2015, according to U.S. Census figures released Thursday. But poverty is still prevalent across the state, particularly among children and on the border.

The percentage of poor Texans in 2015 fell to 15.9 percent from 17.2 percent in 2014, a sharper drop than the more gradual decrease seen in recent years, according to estimates from the 2015 American Community Survey. The overall decline in poverty, which was reflected across the country, occurred as incomes increased, census officials said. The median household income in Texas last year was $55,653 — up almost 5 percent from 2014. 

Despite those overall gains, many areas of the state still saw poverty rates increase. The census determines poverty based on income and family size. For example, an individual is classified as living in poverty if they make less than $12,082 a year. A family of four with two children would be classified as poor if their income is less than $24,036.

Roughly a third of the state’s 25 metropolitan areas saw their poverty rates increase in 2015, and the share of people living in poverty in more than half of the state’s metro areas surpassed the state average. South Texas metro areas remained among the poorest areas of the state, with roughly one in three residents living in poverty, about double the state figure.


While the overall child poverty rate also declined, the numbers continue to paint a grim picture for Texas children. Nearly one in four children — 23 percent — still live in poverty. That’s down from 24.6 percent in 2014.

There are significant geographic and racial disparities among poor children. Children in South Texas, who are predominantly Hispanic, live in poverty at about twice the rate of the state overall. Almost half of South Texas children live in poverty, with the highest rate in the Brownsville area where 47.5 percent of children are poor.

That’s down from 48.8 percent in 2014 but still higher than the 2013 figure, which put child poverty in Brownsville at 45.2 percent.

Despite the overall decline in child poverty, roughly a third of the state’s metro areas experienced an increase in 2015 in their share of children living in poverty. The Corpus Christi area experienced the largest increase with its child poverty rate increasing to 30.2 percent in 2015 from 20.2 percent in 2014.


Increased incomes in Texas did little to decrease the earnings gap between women and men. In 2015, women who worked full-time, year-round jobs in Texas made 78.9 percent of what men made. That’s one percentage point lower than the national gender wage gap.

Texas’ gender wage gap translates to about $10,000 less in median income for women compared to men. The wage gap in 2015 was virtually unchanged from 2014, when women made 78.8 percent of what men made.

But some areas of the state saw a much greater disparity in earnings between women and men. Women in Odessa earned just 57 percent of what men earned in 2015. The median income there among men who worked full-time, year-round jobs last year was $61,840 while the median income for women was $35,165.

The metro area with the lowest gender gap was the Brownsville-Harlingen area, where the median income for women was $4,728 less than it was for men. The Brownsville-Harlingen area has also some of the lowest median incomes among the state’s metro areas. The median income among men who worked full-time, year-round jobs last year was $30,962 while the median income for women was $26,234.


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Demographics Immigration U.S. Census Bureau