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Originally published September 21, 2011 at 9:13 PM | Page modified September 22, 2011 at 11:07 AM

Census: More residents sinking into poverty

In the larger cities and counties of Washington state, like the nation overall, annual household incomes have gone down while poverty rates have risen, according to findings of the American Community Survey.

Seattle Times staff reporters

Where Washington ranks

Poverty: Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia had a higher percentage of residents living in poverty than did Washington. Mississippi topped the list with 22.4 percent of residents living below the poverty level, and New Hampshire was lowest with 8.3 percent. (For 2010, the national poverty level for a family of four was an income of $22,314.)

Median household income: Washington's $55,631 ranked 12th highest. Highest was Maryland's $68,854. Lowest was Mississippi's $36,851.

Lacking health insurance: Twenty-five states had a greater percentage of residents without health insurance than did Washington. Texas topped the list with 23.7 percent uninsured, while Massachusetts was lowest, at 4.4 percent.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey

About the American Community Survey

Created in 2000 and fully implemented by 2006, the American Community Survey is based on findings drawn from questionnaires sent out monthly, with about 2 million survey forms collected each year across the U.S., including about 40,000 from Washington state. Surveys cover a wide area of economic and social characteristics and replace the former "long form" census questionnaire.

More information: www.census.gov/acs/www

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Household income — in Washington state and across the country — declined in 2010, while the percentage of people living in poverty increased, as did the numbers of people without health insurance, according to data being released Thursday by the Census Bureau.

Results from the American Community Survey, successor to the census long form, detail a troubled economy, showing a downward trend that began in 2008 or earlier has continued or worsened in many larger cities and counties.

Children have been particularly affected. In Washington state last year, 13.4 percent of the overall population, including 18.2 percent of those under 18, were in households with incomes below the national poverty level.

Another sign of tough times for kids: Statewide, more than 47 percent of single mothers with children under 5 were living in poverty.

The percentage of Washington residents without health insurance rose from 13.4 percent to 14.2 percent last year. And the percentage of state households receiving food stamps rose from 11.1 percent in 2009 to 13.3 percent last year.

The American Community Survey, rather than being taken every 10 years with the census, is based on findings from questionnaires sent out monthly, with about 2 million completed survey forms a year collected nationally, including about 40,000 from Washington state. Survey findings are typically reported as estimates, rather than hard counts.

The survey estimates that 15.3 percent of the U.S. population lived below the poverty level last year, compared with 14.3 percent in 2009. The poverty level, adjusted each year, was $22,314 for a family of four last year.

The findings being released Thursday cover areas with at least 65,000 people, which includes 11 Washington cities and 19 of the state's 39 counties. In more sparsely populated areas, findings are compiled for several years before they are released in order to increase the size and reliability of the sample.

The survey showed Washington's median income fell 3.1 percent in 2010 to $55,631, after a 1.8 percent drop the previous year.

Of the 19 Washington counties in the report, King County had the highest median income in 2010, at $66,174. But that was nearly a 4 percent drop from its median income in 2009.

Lewis County, in the southwest part of the state, had the lowest median income of the Washington counties reported, at $38,643 — more than a 10 percent drop from 2009.

Among those same counties, Yakima County had the highest percentage of residents under the poverty level in 2010, 24.3 percent, while Island County had the lowest, 9.4 percent.

Census researchers said no state showed an increase in real median income last year. While 35 states showed significant declines, the remaining 15 showed changes not statistically significant.

Nationally, the median household income fell 2.2 percent last year, to $50,046.

Seattle's median income fell from $61,974 in 2009 to $60,212 last year, a 2.8 percent drop. The portion of Seattle residents in poverty rose from 10.6 percent in 2009 to 14.7 last year.

As with any survey, the size of the sample affects the reliability of the finding, and census staffers also cautioned that for individual jurisdictions, comparisons for 2009 to 2010 could be affected by the fact that 2009 findings used the 2000 census as their base, while 2010 findings used the 2010 census.

One such effect could be at play in one of the report's most striking findings — a boost in the percentage of Kent residents in poverty, from 13.5 percent in 2009 to 24.6 percent last year, far surpassing the increase of the state's other large cities.

Yi Zhao, chief demographer for the state's Office of Financial Management, said it's known that Kent and South King County in general have seen an increase in immigrants, which could boost the numbers in poverty. But Zhao said she'd be concerned that sampling error might also come into play in the case of the Kent statistic, a jump of more than 80 percent in a single year.

The American Community Survey findings on the nation's poverty rates are similar, but not identical to, those reported last week from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, which is taken as a snapshot in time. That report put the nation's poverty rate for 2010 at 15.1 percent, the third consecutive annual increase and the highest level since 1993.

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

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