U.S. Census Bureau data show Ocean State economy still leaves 1 in 8 Rhode Islanders with poverty level incomes

US Census Bureau data released in September show that while the overall poverty rate in Rhode Island continues to decline, reflecting ongoing improvement in the economy since the Great Recession, the poverty rates for the state’s Latino and Black families remain more than double the rate for White, non-Hispanic families.

The overall poverty rate in 2016 was 12.8 percent, down from the recent peak poverty rate of 15.9 percent in 2011. However, among communities of color more than one in five Rhode Islanders who are Black or Latino were living in poverty in 2016. (Note that American Community Survey is not sufficient to report on sub populations of the Asian community, but we know from recent studies that on average, Southeast Asian Rhode Islanders fare worse than the overall Asian community.)

Similar disparities prevailed in median income. The overall median income ($60,596) masks significant disparities. Latino ($36,877) and Black ($42,425) median incomes trail the overall by a wide margin, while the median income in households headed by non-Hispanic Whites ($65,485) was slightly higher than the overall rate.

The share of Rhode Islanders living in poverty also varies considerably by age. With a child poverty rate of 17.0 percent, more than one in every six Rhode Island children lives in poverty, hampering their ability to be successful. Lower poverty rates among Rhode Islanders 65 years of age and older highlight the success of programs that help seniors, such as Social Security (without which national data show four in ten seniors would have incomes below the poverty line). Safety net programs such as Child Care Assistance, SNAP and health insurance coverage help working families make ends meet when earnings are not enough.

Too many Rhode Islanders continue to face obstacles to getting ahead such as a lack of access to good-paying jobs, unaffordable child care and inadequate education and job training resources. Rhode Island’s economy won’t truly be able to thrive until Rhode Islanders of all races, ethnicities, and ages can shake off the many constraints associated with sub-poverty incomes.