latest 5-year census study shows poverty rate decline and ongoing broadband access challenges
While the U.S. has nearly entirely rebounded from its most severe economic downtown since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the country’s poverty rate remains almost unchanged, according to a just-released 5-year demographic study published by the U.S. Census.
What is called the American Community Survey shows that the national poverty rate has declined from 14.9 percent in the last 5-year survey to 14.6 percent in the most recent survey, which covers the years 2013 to 2017.
That poverty rate additionally remains stubbornly higher in counties defined as mostly or completely rural, with rates of 16.3 percent and 17.2 percent respectively.
An age component also defines the rate, according to the survey, with 20.3 percent of those under the age of 20 living at the defined poverty rate in America, versus only 9.3 percent in that ranking who are over the age of 65.
The survey, said Camille Ryan, in a webinar previewing the latest numbers, is the nation’s “most current reliable and accessible data source for local statistics on critical planning topics such as age, children, veterans, commuting, education, income, and employment.”
Ryan is a data products coordinator with the U.S. Census.
The survey looked into more than 35 social, economic, housing, and demographic topics, creating, in the process, some 3.8 million five-year estimates.
Beyond providing a snapshot view of the country’s growth, notes Victoria Velkoff, associate director for Demographics Programs at the Census, the survey is also “our country’s largest source of small estimates for socio-economic and demographic characteristics.”
“Information from the survey,” continued Velkoff in a statement, “generates data that help determine how more than $675 billion in federal and state funds are distributed each year.”
Sent out to around 295,000 households on a monthly basis, the survey has been up and running since 2005.
Only naturally, the survey discloses findings that tell Americans much about themselves and where they live, some of which may seem quirky.
By way of example, while 9.4 percent of people living in New Mexico were born outside the U.S., a number just below the national average of 9.5 percent, the number of people in the state, at 33 percent, who speak a language other than English is twice the national average of 15 percent.
The survey shows Colorado as a state of educated people, with 41 percent of its residents having at minimum a bachelor’s degree, the third highest rate in the country.
Arizona, meanwhile, is revealed as a state of new construction growth, with 30.7 percent of its housing units having been built since 2000—the second highest rate in the country.
The newest survey also indicates that while vast majorities of residents across the nation have internet access, some counties are still woefully lacking.
“Low broadband internet subscription rates were found in many counties in the Upper Plains, the Southwest, and South,” notes a Census press release on the survey, adding that the “desert states of Arizona and New Mexico” were notable for containing many counties with low broadband internet subscription rates.
The Census survey makes note of the differences in broadband connectivity between Native American communities and non-Native American communities: “Lack of internet in rural areas was also notable for Native Americans, who had a 67 percent broadband internet subscription rate, compared with an 82 percent rate for non-Native American individuals.”
Internet access also, not surprisingly, closely tracked income patterns: in Douglas County, Colorado, with one of the highest median household incomes in the nation at $110,000 annually, and a poverty rate of 3.6 percent, the internet subscription access rate was 94.6 percent.
Conversely, in Guadalupe County, New Mexico, the poverty rate is 13 percent and only 32.3 percent had an internet subscription.
Overall, the survey indicates that the average completely rural county had a broadband internet subscription rate of 65 percent, compared with mostly urban counties at 75 percent.
The lack of broadband subscription rates on Native American lands, as revealed by the survey, dovetails with a report published several months ago by the U.S. Government Accountability Office called Tribal Broadband.
That report notes an ongoing lack of internet infrastructure on tribal property, and partly concludes by noting that many tribal leaders regarded the federal grant requirements for building such infrastructure to be too complicated and burdensome.
The GAO report recommended that the federal Rural Utilities Service, which administers rural infrastructure programs, should “identify and address regulatory barriers that impeded tribal entities from obtaining RUS funding for broadband deployment.”
By Garry Boulard
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