WASHINGTON – Almost all Arizona counties saw a rise in poverty rates during the recession and six posted “statistically significant” increases, according to statistics released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The increases in poverty levels from 2007 to 2010 were reflected in the state as a whole, where at least 1.1 million Arizonans, or 17.6 percent, were living in poverty in 2010. That was an increase from 14.1 percent in 2007.
The county numbers released Tuesday showed a range of poverty rates, from 12.7 percent in Greenlee County to 34.5 percent in Apache County.
While all but two Arizona counties showed increases over the period, the Census downplayed all but the “significant” increases since the others fell within the margin of error for the survey.
Among the hardest hit was Santa Cruz County, which saw its poverty rate rise from 20.1 percent in 2007 to 28.0 percent in 2010, the largest percentage increase in the state.
Santa Cruz County officials said that it is hard to pinpoint a specific cause for the increase, but noted that the county has longstanding problems that contribute to the poverty level.
Patricia Wallace, the county’s director for workforce development, said a third of the county’s population lacks a high–school diploma or GED and a large number are not proficient in English. That can make it difficult for them to get good–paying jobs.
“If you don’t have good talent pools, you can’t bring good businesses or good jobs,” Wallace said. “And right now we’re really trying to cultivate those pools.”
Mohave County also saw a significant increase in poverty levels, which went from 13.5 percent in 2007 to 18.7 percent last year. County Supervisor Buster Johnson pointed to the recession. Because of it “we haven’t been able to add jobs,” he said.
Mohave County is a rural area that depends on mining jobs, but the economic downturn has made businesses stumble, Johnson said.
“We haven’t received general interest for manufacturing in Mohave, or Arizona in general,” he said.
The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry said it is hardly surprising that the recession caused economic growth to stagger.
“There’s no mystery that Arizona has suffered in this economic downturn to a greater degree than other states around the country,” said Garrick Taylor, a spokesman for the chamber.
But Taylor said that Arizona is bouncing back up, and business leaders have told him that economic growth is not stagnant but it is rising slowly.
“But we’re on the upswing, because we’re not going to turn back around,” Taylor said.
The rise in poverty came as state budget cuts reduced aid to poor families, which did little to alleviate the economic situation during those four years.
“I’m not sure that that (social service cuts) is causing poverty, but it’s a contributing factor,” said Cynthia Zwick, executive director for Arizona Community Action Association, a Phoenix group that helps people living in poverty.
Certain families that depended on services such as the state’s health–care insurance and have been cut off, are now accumulating health–care costs that they did not have before, she said.
“Families are now having to chose what bills to pay,” Zwick said.
As more Arizona families are living in poverty, a lot of them are moving in with other family members in order to save some rent money, she said.
“Families are being more resourceful now, but it is not by choice,” Zwick said.