Editorial: Good news and bad about poverty in Worcester

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The U.S. Census Bureau recently released results from its 2015 American Community Survey.

The one-year survey is based on data collected in 2015.

The data carries the caveat that one-year surveys can contain some reference months in common, so comparisons of economic conditions are not exact. Nonetheless, using estimates from 2007 to 2015, we get a snapshot of the population.

Overall, the percentage of people living in poverty in Worcester showed its second consecutive year of decline, from 25.66 percent in 2013 to 21.68 percent in 2015. The 2013 figure was the highest of the past decade, while 2015 represents the lowest rate since 2010, when it was 19.38 percent.


By comparison, only 14.77 percent of Worcester residents lived below the poverty line in 2008, according to the survey.

Significant gains have also been made in reducing childhood poverty.

In 2015, the percentage of children under age 18 living in poverty in Worcester dropped under 30 percent for the first time since 2010. The 27.7 percent in 2015 represents the second consecutive year of decline from a high of 38.20 percent in 2013.

While childhood poverty has decreased, the poverty rate among those over 65 has increased after two consecutive years of decreases.



In 2012, the poverty rate among those 65 and older was 17.1 percent. That has decreased to 13.5 percent in 2014. The rate increased to 15.6 percent in 2015.

Despite two straight years of declines, fully one-third of Worcester residents of Hispanic or Latino origin live in poverty. At 33 percent, the figure is the lowest since 2007 [32.3 percent]. In three of the four years from 2010 to 2013, the rate was more than 40 percent, spiking at 47.3 percent in 2013.



Those who identify as “White alone, not Hispanic or Latino” saw improvement, as well. The 2015 rate of 17.8 percent returning to the 2013 level, with 2014 showing the highest rate, 19.5 percent.

The most dramatic reduction in poverty rate has occurred among people without a high school degree. That population saw its ranks in poverty cut from 40.9 percent in 2014 to 28.8 percent in 2015. The prior year, 2013, saw a high of 41 percent. The 2015 rate was also the lowest in the last nine years.

High school graduates saw a reduction in poverty rate, to 18.9 percent, the lowest since 2011. The high was 23.6 percent in 2013, the low 9 percent in 2008.


Those with an associate’s degree or some college also saw the lowest rate of poverty since 2011. The 2015 figure of 14.2 percent representing a 4.2 percent drop from the previous year, which was the highest in nine years.

Appearing to be hardest hit are college graduates. The 2015 poverty rate of 12.1 percent is the highest it has been. Moreover, it has risen in six out of the last seven years. By comparison, the rate was 3.1 percent in 2008.

The 2015 data represents a growing economy working as it should and increasing the standard of living for many.

However, in a sea of data, especially good data, it can sometimes be difficult to come to grips with the actual human costs.

Take children, for example.

The poverty rate has dipped from 38.2 percent in 2013 to 27.7 percent in 2015, and this is an objective good. But this still means that 9,200 children in the city of Worcester live in poverty.

That’s roughly 10 percent fewer than the combined enrollments of such venerable local institutions Assumption College, Becker College, Clark University and the College of the Holy Cross. It is also exactly enough to fill the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts four times.

Reducing the poverty rate is good. But much — too much — work remains.

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