Poverty Rate

How are we doing?

The poverty rate in the Tucson Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) was 16.8% in 2019. This ranked Tucson 11th among 12 western MSAs, among which the Denver MSA placed first with the lowest poverty rate (8.8%) and the El Paso MSA placed last with the highest (20.2%). Poverty rates were lowest among Asians and white, non-Hispanic individuals in Tucson. By age breakdown (under 18 years; 18-64 years; 65 years or more), the highest poverty rates occurred among those under 18 years, while the lowest rates were found among those 65 years or older. Poverty rates also varied by family type, with the highest rates found among female-headed households with children under five. 

Why is it important?

The poverty rate is an important indicator of financial distress among households. Families whose income is near or below the poverty level have difficulty accessing necessities such as housing, food, and healthcare. Local poverty rates are also important drivers of government decisions related to spending on programs such as affordable housing, free and reduced school lunches, and other forms of public assistance. Further, poverty rates have been linked to undesirable social outcomes, reduced regional homeownership rates, as well as a decreased likelihood of attending college.

How do we compare?

In 2019, all individuals in Tucson experienced higher poverty rates than national rates. Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders experienced the largest gap with a poverty rate that was more than 14 percentage points higher. The poverty rate for the American Indian and Alaska Native population in Tucson also exceeded the national rate by a significant amount. The white, non-Hispanic population posted the lowest poverty rate in Tucson at 11.3%.

Young populations experienced higher poverty rates in Tucson (23.9%) and Arizona (21.5%), in comparison to the U.S. (18.5%). The working-age population (18–64 years) also had higher poverty rates in Tucson at 16.9%, and Arizona at 14.5%, than the U.S. at 12.6%. Only those 65 years and older had lower poverty levels in Tucson at 8.8%, in comparison to 9.3% for the U.S.

Families with children under five had poverty rates roughly comparable to the general population in all three comparison geographies. Married couple-families had significantly lower rates at 8.1% in Tucson, 7.3% in Arizona, and 5.1% in the U.S. Female-headed households with no spouse present, and with children under five years, however, had significantly higher rates in all three geographies: 37.2% in Tucson, 37.8% in Arizona, and 40.5% in the U.S.

 

What are the key trends?

Poverty rates have risen since 2000, when the rates in Tucson, the state of Arizona, and the U.S. were 14.7%, 13.9%, and 12.4%, respectively. Stagnant wages combined with increased costs for housing and transportation have contributed to increasing rates. The Great Recession also played a large role in the high poverty rates posted in 2014. The poverty rate has declined significantly since 2014. In 2019, the poverty rate improved to 16.8% in Tucson, 15.1% in Arizona, and 13.4% nationwide.

How is it measured?

Poverty rates are from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey (ACS) five-year estimates. Note that the ACS five-year estimates are produced over a five-year time period and can only be compared to non-overlapping five-year estimates (for example 2005-2009 and 2010-2014). Rates reported by the U.S. Census Bureau are derived from answers to ACS questions regarding household income, age, and family composition. Income includes “before-tax earnings, unemployment compensation, workers' compensation, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, public assistance, veterans' payments, survivor benefits, pension or retirement income, interest, dividends, rents, royalties, income from estates, trusts, educational assistance, alimony, child support, assistance from outside the household, and other miscellaneous sources”.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a family is considered below the poverty level if their annual household income falls below a threshold that is based on annual income, age, and family size. For example, the poverty threshold for a family of five with three related children under 18 years in 2018 was $29,420.