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The Mountain West News Bureau is a collaboration between Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, KUNR in Nevada, Nevada Public Radio, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana and Wyoming Public Media, with support from affiliate stations across the region.

Census data shows falling poverty rates nationwide, and disparities in the Mountain West

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The U.S. Census Bureau released new data Thursday revealing nationwide declines in poverty and child poverty from 2017 to 2021 – and it also highlights the big disparities that remain among Mountain West states.

Estimates from the new American Community Survey – which offers insights into a wide range of population trends and informs the spending of $675 billion in federal dollars – show that the national poverty rate decreased by 2.5 percentage points since the last five-year survey.

In comparison to the last set of non-overlapping years, the 2017 to 2021 poverty rate for all people decreased from 15.1% to 12.6%,” said Craig Benson, a survey statistician with the Bureau. “During the same period, the family poverty rate declined from 11.0% to 8.9%.”

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The child poverty rate also dropped since the last five-year survey – from 21.2% to 17% – but it’s still higher than the overall poverty rate of 12.6 % .

Over the past 12 months, the range of child poverty varied across our region. Utah had the lowest child poverty rate at 8.1 % . But New Mexico and Nevada had much higher rates – 23.9% and 18.8%, respectively.

Benson said the overall decrease is important.

The general trend of higher median incomes and lower poverty is something that doesn't occur everywhere,” Benson said, “but in general, that has, and it’s something that is encouraging and should give programs that are actively involved in mitigation encouragement to continue their missions.”

Additionally, New Mexico was an outlier in the data in terms of poverty measures. 17.5% of the state relies on food stamps, according to Benson. That’s higher than the national rate of 11.4% and higher than any other state in the Mountain Division.

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Benson believes the statistic was impacted by median household income, as New Mexico’s average of $54,020 falls short of the U.S. total of $69,021 and the Mountain Division’s total of $68,918.

It really is dependent on what is the income of that household unit,” Benson said. “There's some variation that we use for the amount of people in the household. But you can see that the relationship really is if your household income is lower, you have a better chance of being below that threshold…The lower the median income, the more people are in poverty and therefore a higher percentage of food stamps.”

The Census Bureau defines a household in poverty as one where the sum of all incomes is below the threshold defined by the Consumer Price Index. It’s adjusted each year to account for inflation and other economic events. More data about other national statistics can be found on the Census Bureau’s data website.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2022 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

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Emma VandenEinde