The true picture of poverty in D.C.
By Jenny Reed
The Sept. 17 front-page article “Poverty stats show the damage” stated that the District’s poverty rate has declined. But that isn’t the case. What the article didn’t say was that the reported change was not statistically meaningful, because of a high margin of error. More important, the cited figures represent a two-year average and do not reflect what has happened to poverty in the District during the recession.
The District didn’t start to feel the brunt of the recession until late 2008. This means that the data, which showed a decrease in the poverty rate from an 18 percent average across 2006-2007 to a 17 percent average across 2008-2009, don’t really capture the effects of the recession.
In fact, leading indicators suggest that poverty probably worsened in the District in 2009. For example, unemployment and enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly the food stamp program) rose sharply in 2009, much more so than in 2008.
More authoritative state-level poverty data from the Census Bureau will be available on Sept. 28 and will give us a better idea of just what happened to poverty in the District during the recession.
The writer is a policy analyst with the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.
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