Poverty Levels Rise In Arkansas Since 2009

Oct 1, 2014

The Arkansas Community Organization has analyzed updated census data on rising poverty in the state. According to spokesman Neil Sealy, despite the end of the recession, the number of people nationally living below 200 percent of the poverty line went up by a third. In Arkansas, it went up by one half.

"It's even more dire in Arkansas, where in 2009, 18.8 percent of our population lived below the poverty line as opposed to in 2013, 19.9 percent," he said.

A report by the Arkansas Community Organization and The Coalition on Human Needs, "New Census Data Shows Too Many Arkansans Left Behind: Wrongheaded Policy Choices Will Leave Even More on the Brink," said that nationally, earnings among the 1 percent, or the wealthiest Americans, increased by 31.4 since 2009. Wages of the other 99 percent rose by only 0.4 percent.

Sealy said he supports greater earned income tax credits and an increased minimum wage to reduce poverty. The group is also advocating for greater funding for federal programs such as Head Start, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Section 8.

"We need more investments, not less, in programs that help people move up and out of poverty. Massive cuts like those in the House budget and the wrongheaded policies like those in Rep. Ryan's plan will not reduce poverty- they would increase it," the report's authors said in a release.

According to Dan Greenberg, President of the Advance Arkansas Institute, a conservative think tank, rising poverty is a serious concern in Arkansas but the solution is not more welfare or a higher minimum wage, which would cause job loss.

"The way we're going to have an economy that creates real jobs, that enables people to lift themselves up out of poverty, is to have income tax reform that brings investment to the state and allows people to run their own lives and create their own businesses," he said.

According to the report, five years ago 14.3 percent of the nation lived below the federal poverty line as compared to 15.3 percent last year.

Today, 39.5 percent of Arkansas renters pay more than 35 percent of their income in rent. Nationally, 42.5 percent of renters pay more than a third of their income.

One in five Arkansas households struggles to purchase enough food compared to one in seven households nationally.