Nearly one out of five people in Richmond were likely living below the poverty level last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The new report estimates that poverty among all Richmond residents in 2009 was nearly double both the national and state averages.
The annual report from the American Community Survey, released Tuesday, profiles the demographics of poverty in Bay Area cities. The report estimates poverty levels for a range of groups, including one- and two-parent families, children under the age of five, children under 18, and people over 65 years old.
Poverty in Richmond is higher than in Oakland and Contra Costa County in every demographic category except for seniors aged 65 and older. Among children under 18, the poverty rate in Richmond is seven percent higher than in Oakland, and 20 percent higher than in Contra Costa County.
By contrast, poverty rates in Contra Costa County were slightly lower in most categories last year compared to 2008. In Oakland, poverty levels among all families and all people hovered at roughly the same rate in 2008 and 2009.
The report from the American Community Survey, a branch of the U.S. Census Bureau, shows that nationwide, 3.5 million more people were living in poverty last year, compared to 2008. The report determines poverty rates by comparing a household’s estimated income to the federal poverty thresholds. In the Bay Area, the results may not show the full weight of poverty, since the federal thresholds aren’t adjusted for California’s higher cost of living.
By the numbers
For seniors over age 65 in Contra Costa County, poverty seems to have eased a bit last year, dropping about three percent.
In Oakland, poverty levels remained roughly the same from 2008 to last year. However, a look at family income shows that more people dropped into the very bottom wage category of those earning less than $10,000 a year, and unemployment was higher last year than in 2008.
Very young children, however, fell into deeper poverty in Contra Costa County and in Richmond. Among children under the age of five in Richmond, four out of 10 were living in poverty last year, a statistic that anti-poverty groups say is clearly visible in their clientele.
“We’ve been on the ground working with these numbers, and now that we’re seeing these statistics, the numbers are validating our experiences,” Nicole Taylor said.
Taylor is the president and CEO of the nonprofit East Bay Community Foundation. In October, the foundation will team up with the West Contra Costa Unified School District to kick off a literacy program aimed at bringing 8,000 books to 70 kindergarten classrooms in Richmond.
“We are preparing kids to be successful in education. Education means economically self-sufficient,” Taylor said. “We want to make sure we give these kids what they need to be successful in the long-term.”
Jane Fischberg, President and executive director of the Richmond non-profit Rubicon Programs, says the housing crisis continues to push families into poverty.
“People who have been in stable rental housing or may have been homeowners may have lost their housing for reasons including the sub-prime mortgage crisis,” Fischberg said. “The demand for our services has increased and we’re really seeing a new population of people who are homeless.”
Rubicon Programs aims to help very low-income people to overcome the homelessness, economic hardship and other barriers to financial independence, Fischberg said.
The new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau suggest that Rubicon and other anti-poverty groups have a lot of work to do, as Richmond residents continue to struggle with economic and socioeconomic hurdles larger than their counterparts in other Bay Area communities.