San Antonio has earned the dubious recognition of having the highest percentage of people living in poverty among the Top 25 most populous metropolitan areas, according to the 2018 American Community Survey.

The U.S. Census Bureau released state- and local-level data on poverty, income, health insurance, and 40 more topics on Thursday. Census Bureau American Community Survey Office Chief Donna Daily said each survey works as a building block to create a more complete picture of American communities.

“This information provides an important tool for communities to make data-driven decisions, assess the past, and plan for the future,” Daily said in a news release.

In 2017, the San Antonio metropolitan area was just behind Detroit’s high poverty levels. The two cities switched places on the list in 2018.

A report compiled by the agency showed that San Antonio’s poverty rate increased by 0.9 percentage points since 2017, the highest increase among the 25 most populous major metropolitan areas. That means 15.4 percent – or 381,584 residents – of the San Antonio-New Braunfels metropolitan area live below the poverty line.

The Houston metropolitan area, which includes Sugar Land and The Woodlands, ranked third on the 2018 list, with 14.3 percent of its residents living below the poverty line. Across the country, 13.1 percent live below the poverty line as of 2018, an improvement from 13.4 percent in 2017. 

The Census Bureau determines poverty by looking at whether a family’s total income is less than certain thresholds for various family sizes. In 2018, the poverty threshold for a family of four was $25,701. 

Not all Texans experience economic opportunity the same way, and poverty levels reflect that, said Amy Knop-Narbutis, a senior research analyst with left-leaning Austin-based think tank Center for Public Policy Priorities. The differences are notable when looking at groups based on factors such as age, gender, educational attainment, or ethnicity, she said.

“Not all Texans have the same experience,” Knop-Narbutis said. “We [at CPPP] want all Texans to have expanded economic opportunity, and public policy should look at this as a way to extend quality education and health care to everyone so we all benefit from economic opportunity and share the prosperity.” 

Of the 1.38 million Hispanic and Latino residents in the San Antonio-New Braunfels metropolitan area, 19.22 percent live below the poverty line. Of the 64,511 Asians in the area, 16.7 percent live below the poverty line, while 16.9 percent of the 168,000 black and African American residents live below the poverty line. Non-Hispanic white residents have the lowest rate of residents living below the poverty line, 9.15 percent. Statistics for American Indian and Alaska natives were not available.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said educational attainment is the biggest indicator of financial stability later on in life. Of the 1.88 million residents over the age of 18 in the San Antonio-New Braunfels area, 28.6 percent obtained a high school diploma, 8.8 percent have some high school education, and 6.1 percent have less than a ninth-grade education. The majority have at least some college education.

“Research has shown that education is key to pulling out of poverty,” Wolff said.

He added that expanding access to health care is another way to address increasing poverty rates. Bexar County pays millions of dollars every year to give people who cannot afford insurance access to low- or no-cost health care through the University Hospital System, Wolff said. 

“First, you gotta get the education,” he said. “And having health care certainly helps you get there, and that’s the biggest thing we do.”

Texas retained its status as the state with the highest rate of uninsured individuals. In 2017, 17.3 percent of Texans lacked health insurance, and the rate increased to 17.7 in 2018. The national average of uninsured individuals was 8.9 percent in 2018, an increase from 8.7 percent in 2017. In the San Antonio-New Braunfels metropolitan statistic area, 15.5 percent of the population were uninsured.

The median income in Bexar County also saw a slight decrease. Though median income across the United States increased 0.8 percentage points between 2017 and 2018, median income in Bexar County dipped from $54,175 in 2017 to $54,149 in 2018. The actual buying power of that amount has dropped, however: According to the consumer price index inflation calculator, $54,149 in September 2018 had the same buying power as $52,943.49 in September 2017.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.