Despite Rick Perry’s claims that he has helped usher in a “Texas miracle,” 17.5 percent of Texans (over 4.5 million people) were below the federal poverty line in 2013, according to Census data released last week. This number includes 25 percent of Texas children, and significantly exceeds the national poverty rate of 14.8 percent.
Though Texas’s poverty rate declined slightly from 17.9 percent in 2012, Texas has the 11th highest poverty rate in the nation. And while one in twelve Americans live in Texas, one in ten people in poverty live in Texas.
The federal poverty line in 2013 was only $23,624 for a family of four, or $18,769 for a single mom with two kids. So there are still many more people who are not making enough to, say, afford housing in Texas, but are still not considered below the poverty line. We recently reported on Texas’s affordable housing shortage, citing recent data showing that in most major Texas cities, there are only between 13 and 30 affordable apartments for every 100 extremely low-income households. Add to that the people who are near the poverty line but stuck in the Medicaid coverage gap and unable to get affordable health insurance coverage, and you have millions of people who are separated from poverty by definition only. As Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas (formerly the Texas Food Bank Network), puts it: “Texas leads the nation in opportunity, but too many hard-working Texans are still struggling to make ends meet, despite overall gains in the economy.”
Poverty in Texas is spread widely across the state. The Dallas-Forth Worth-Arlington metro area has over 1 million people below the poverty line, and a poverty rate of 15 percent. The Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land metro area also has over 1 million people in poverty, and a poverty rate of 16.4 percent. The San Antonio-New Braunfels metro area has around 360,000 people living in poverty, and a poverty rate of 16.3 percent. But there are still over 2 million more people in smaller cities and rural areas in poverty, especially along the U.S.-Mexico border. This means fighting poverty in Texas is not a local or a city issue, but an issue that needs to be addressed at the state and federal levels.
Not surprisingly, Texas is one of the states that would gain the most from a minimum wage increase. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 in the state would benefit almost 3 million workers, more than in any other state. But the minimum wage is just one of the factors – along with supports for health care, education, hunger and housing – that could break the cycle of poverty. So far, our governor and Republican legislature have shown little support for any of these.