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