WASHINGTON – U.S. Census Bureau statistics from its American Community Survey (ACS) show a decline in poverty rates in 13 of 25 of the most populous metro areas from 2016 and 2017.
“It is welcome news,” said Arloc Sherman, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Anyway you count – it’s nice to have some improvement.”
The Washington, D.C., metropolitan area had the lowest poverty rate of 7.9 percent down – from 8.4 percent – followed by the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington area at 8.1 percent – down from 8.8 percent, according to the ACS released Thursday.
“Overall, you’re seeing very good progress – progress that’s coming after many years of stagnation during the great recession," said Robert Rector, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “This is very good."
Here are other metro areas where poverty rates declined from 2016 to 2017:
Atlanta: 13.1 percent to 12 percent
Chicago: 12.4 percent to 11.8 percent
Dallas: 12.7 percent to 11.3 percent
Denver: 9.4 percent to 8.6 percent
Houston: 14.8 percent to 13.9 percent
Los Angeles: 15 percent to 14.1 percent
Miami: 15.4 percent to 14.3 percent
New York: 13.5 percent to 12.8 percent
Phoenix: 15 percent to 13.3 percent
Riverside, California: 16.4 percent to 14.4 percent
Seattle: 9.6 percent to 9 percent
For several metro areas, it was the third consecutive year for a decline, according to the ACS. The other 12 cities stayed statistically flat or ticked up slightly.
For the Boston and Portland, Oregon, metro areas the rate stayed the same; the rate in the St. Louis area rose slightly, and in other metro areas – including Tampa, Florida; Baltimore; and Charlotte, North Carolina – the rate stayed statistically flat or the high margin of error made the estimate less reliable, according to the ACS.
The survey focuses on one-year statistics from a smaller sample of the population – about 3.5 million people in the United States and Puerto Rico. The data covers metropolitan areas of 65,000 or more.
Despite the declines, Sherman said there are many metro areas that haven’t had significant drops.
“You hope for stronger improvements across the board and this is a little spotty,” Sherman said. “But continued job growth and wage growth are at least bringing spotty relief.”
Poverty rates in 20 states and the District of Columbia also declined, according to the survey. But two states had an increase. Delaware’s rate went up from 11.7 percent to 13.6 percent, while West Virginia’s rate rose from 17.9 percent to 19.1 percent.
New Hampshire had the lowest poverty rate at 7.7 percent while Mississippi had the highest at 19.8 percent.
The report comes with less than two months until the midterms and as lawmakers fight for control of Congress.
Democrats have criticized Republicans for their policies, including tax cuts, that they say mostly benefit the wealthy, while the GOP has made the economy a central campaign theme. President Donald Trump has also touted a booming economy, particularly low unemployment rates.
Sherman said, yes, there has been strong growth in employment and wages since 2015 and 2016. But “the truism holds that in most years what one presidential administration does doesn’t have a very large effect on these kinds of major economic indicators and that’s especially true of the first year of any presidential administration because they haven’t had time to put anything in place yet,” he said.
Advocates for the poor plan to counter the “rosy’’ picture they say the administration is likely to paint. They complain too many people still live in poverty and that federal and local governments have chipped away at safety nets.
The Poor People's Campaign is working, mostly in the South, to raise awareness about poverty.
“Million upon millions suffer from poverty and low wealth while we continue to give unnecessary tax cuts to the wealthy,” the William Barber, campaign co-chair, told reporters Wednesday.