More poverty in Virginia than the poverty line shows

Amy Weiss

This is a guest post by Amy Weiss. Amy is originally from Richmond, Virginia and is a third year law student at the University of Richmond.  She graduated from the College of William and Mary in 2007 where she studied history and anthropology.

There has been much coverage of the fact that poverty has risen in Virginia. But the number of people who fall below the federal poverty line doesn’t always show the full picture. If we are going to address Virginia’s poverty in the wake of the Great Recession we need to more accurately depict the problem.

A recent study revealed some of the problems with Virginia’s economy.  One of the main conclusions of the study was the current poverty line is not an accurate indicator what it really takes for Virginia families to get by.  The poverty line analysis does not take into account many of the household expenses, such as short term emergencies.  The study found the average household actually needs about twice the amount of income of the poverty line to be economically self-sufficient.  As an alternative, the study proposed analyzing poverty rates by economic self-sufficiency of the household rather than by the poverty line.

Under the self-sufficiency analysis, the study takes into account not only income but also the assets Virginia households have set aside in case of emergencies.  Using these factors, the study concluded in contrast of 5.3% of Virginia households living below the dismally low poverty line, 23.5% of Virginia families are income inadequate.  While Virginia does have some of the highest paying jobs in the nation, the vast majority of Virginians hold jobs with much lower wages.

The poverty line analysis also fails to account for regional differences.  For example, housing is one of the biggest expenditures for Virginia households.  But the costs housing, like many of the other factors in the poverty line analysis, varies considerably among different regions in the state.

There is a large disparity of economic self-sufficiency that previous studies on the Virginia economy did not factor in to calculations.  For example, state regions like Northern Virginia have higher average income than other parts of the state.  Urban areas have higher costs of living that are not factored into the analysis.

This poverty analysis reveals the picture painted of Virginia’s strong economy is not true for all Virginians.  Poverty cannot be measured just by which families make enough money to be above the federal poverty line.  There is a huge income disparity among Virginians, and in order to better assess and address the real poverty problem in Virginia, we need to more accurately depict the problem.


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