No 'light at the end of the tunnel' for Arizona's poor - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

No 'light at the end of the tunnel' for Arizona's poor

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Posted: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 4:30 pm | Updated: 1:12 am, Wed Oct 27, 2010.

New statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday shed light on the internal numbers that contributed to an Arizona poverty rate that is the second-highest in the nation.

The median household income in the state declined in 2009, and more families struggled to pay housing costs and put food on the table. And with individuals and families still impacted by the recession that economists indicate ended in mid-2009, experts say things could get worse before they get better if the state figures exemplify a national trend.

“I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel at this moment,” said Cynthia Zwick, executive director of the Arizona Community Action Association, a service and resource provider to the state’s poor. “I think the 2010 numbers are going to be worse than 2009. We’ve seen the numbers climbing for a long time, and the systems that are in place to support families who are struggling are being decimated by the local economic crisis.”

Two weeks ago, the Census Bureau revealed that 1.4 million Arizonans, or 21.2 percent, live below the federal poverty level, which is $21,954 of annual income for a family of four. That percentage trails only Mississippi.

That disclosure is not surprising in light of Tuesday’s numbers, which are based on the annual American Community Survey, a sample of about 3 million Americans surveyed by mail and telephone:

• The median annual income of $48,745 per household in 2009 is down from $51,442 in 2007, a 5.2 percent drop.

• Last year, 10.7 percent of Arizonans received nutrition assistance benefits, up from 6.9 percent in ’07. That is one of the largest increases in the nation, along with Nevada, Florida and Wisconsin.

• Child poverty in the state was at 23.4 percent in ’09, up from 19.5 percent in ’06.

• Homeowners with a mortgage devoted 31.5 percent of their household income to housing costs, up from 30.2 percent in 2007 and 28.3 percent in ’06.

“I don’t see any data demonstrating that it's going to turn around any time soon,” Zwick said. “The state is facing a deficit and is lagging in the job-creation arena. Families are going to struggle for a little longer in Arizona.”

Arizona’s projected fiscal 2001 deficit is about $750 million, and Gov. Jan Brewer said earlier this month that the state faces a potential $1 billion shortfall in fiscal 2012.

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