The number of Washington residents living in poverty is up sharply since 2001, with increases in every county except Garfield, according to new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The agency reported this week that 12 percent of the people in the state were living in poverty in 2005, the latest year for which figures are available. In 2001, just 9.9 percent of the state’s population was in poverty.
The state had 732,049 people living in poverty in 2005, compared with 586,456 people in 2001, the bureau said. The federal poverty line in 2005 was $19,350 for a family of four.
The number of people in poverty rose even as the median household income in the state climbed from $46,284 in 2001 to $49,372 in 2005, according to Census Bureau numbers analyzed by the Associated Press.
The increase in poverty might surprise some residents, thanks to Washington’s general image as a state with low unemployment, high income and steady job growth. But Tony Lee of the Statewide Poverty Action Network in Seattle was not surprised, because Washington has lots of low-paid workers.
“Low-income people sometimes don’t benefit from overall economic expansion,” Lee said. “They are the last to be hired and first to be fired.”
While much attention is focused on good-paying high-tech and aerospace jobs, the reality is that the biggest job categories in the state tend to be less glamorous work in places like stores, restaurants or the service sector. “Most pay less than $13 per hour,” Lee said.
The Census Bureau has changed methodology in compiling the statistics in 2001 and 2005, so direct comparison of the numbers is not completely accurate. The agency used the Current Population Survey prior to 2005, and used the American Community Survey for 2005 and after.
The ACS is an annual mail survey that covers 3 million households, from every county in the nation. The old Current Population Survey method covered 100,000 households in 40 percent of the nation’s counties and had a higher margin of error, the Census Bureau said.
But the trend toward rising poverty was verified by separate numbers generated by state demographers.
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