Newly released figures from the U.S. Census Bureau suggest San Antonio is still among the country’s most impoverished major cities, and that poverty rates may have increased for single mothers with young children — already one of the poorest family demographics.
In 2021, a little more than 13% of households overall in San Antonio lived with incomes below the federal poverty level last year, marking no overall change from 2019, before the pandemic.
The figures come from the census’ American Community Survey (ACS) results for 2021, released Thursday. It is the first survey since 2019, the 2020 survey having been canceled because of the pandemic. Unlike the 10-year census, the annual ACS uses random sampling to create a snapshot of demographic and economic trends.
ACS data from 2016 through 2020 found that San Antonio, despite gains, remained the most poverty-stricken major city in the country. The 2021 snapshot, however, shows Miami and Houston with slightly higher household poverty rates, at a little more than 17% and 16% respectively.
The U.S. Census Bureau adjusts the federal poverty line every year based on inflation. In 2021, it was calculated as $27,479 in earnings for a family with two adults and two children and $21,831 for a family with one adult and two children.
San Antonio’s figures also indicate that more people are relying on public sources of income, such as Medicaid and food stamps, to make ends meet. “That’s probably because of lower employment stability,” said State Demographer and UTSA Professor Lloyd Potter.
The percentage of the population relying on public insurance plans such Medicare and Medicaid grew nearly 3% to 35% between 2019 and 2021. The percentage of people who had used food stamps in the last year rose by the same amount, to a little more than 18%.
While the overall poverty rate in San Antonio remained stable, the poverty rate for families with children under age 5 decreased. Some studies have attributed that drop to the expanded Child Tax Credit, which has expired.
But the opposite happened for single mothers with young children. Of these households, the poverty level increased to nearly 35%, around 4 percentage points higher than 2019.
That’s not enough to be “statistically significant” in the margin of error, Potter said, but this demographic has long had a high proportion living under the poverty line relative to other family types.
Single mothers face a raft of challenges
Cassie Cruz, 25, works full-time as a nanny, but the money she makes is largely eaten by bills, including groceries, utilities, a car payment and student loans for the degree she had to drop studying for after she had Kylian, who is now 3.
“Everything is getting more expensive,” she said.
Cruz lives with her mother, whose work-from-home job allows her to take care of Kylian during the day. That at least relieves the pressure of paying for childcare, often an enormous expense and barrier to stable employment for working parents. Childcare subsidies make up one of the largest expenses for Workforce Solutions Alamo, the local government workforce commission.
Cruz works hard to provide for her son. A year ago, she saved up enough money to take him on a day trip to the beach. “You have these moments where you’re proud of yourself for still giving your child a life and showing them the world,” she said. “But it’s followed by sadness that you can’t do more.”
The new census figures also show that working women’s wage gains over the pandemic have been less than their male counterparts.
In San Antonio, women working full-time saw their median annual wages rise nearly $2,500 from 2019 to 2021, up to around $40,500. Working men in that same time period saw their median annual wages rise more than twice that amount, nearly $5,500, up to around $49,500.