Baylor Community Researchers Analyze Latest Census Poverty Figures for Waco, McLennan County

August 26, 2008

The U.S. Bureau of the Census today released estimates of income, earnings and poverty for 2007. Sociologists and demographic specialists at Baylor University's Center for Community Research and Development (CCRD), who have analyzed the data, found that Waco and McLennan County have poverty levels well above the national norms.

In 2007, the poverty rate for families in the city was 21.9 percent. For the county, 13.7 percent of families lived in poverty. At the person level, the numbers are worse: 27.6 percent of Wacoans lived below the poverty level and 19.2 percent of McLennan County residents lived in poverty in 2007. These numbers have changed little since 1990, Baylor researchers said. The national percentage of families in poverty is 9.5 percent, and the poverty rate for individuals is 13.0 percent.

"The local statistics are definitely a source of contemporary concern," said Dr. Robyn Driskell, research director of the CCRD and a Baylor sociologist who specializes in demography. "But, the greater concern is persistent poverty. At CCRD, we have compiled historical data, and the area just doesn't show progress over time."

Dr. Charles Tolbert, professor and chair of the department of sociology at Baylor who analyzes Census data, pointed out the contrast between the city and the county. "There is a gulf between the city where one in four persons lives in poverty and the county where considerably fewer do so," he said.

However, Dr. Carson Mencken, sociologist and research professor at the CCRD, cautioned that the new estimates are based on a relatively small sample from the American Community Survey.

"Due to the small sample size, the margin of error is fairly large for this poverty estimate. Still, it lines right up with the same figures from the 1990 and 2000 Censuses. So, the 2007 estimate needs to be taken seriously," Mencken said.

Dr. Larry Lyon has observed the area's socioeconomic conditions during the nearly 30 years he has been with the CCRD.

"The situation has not improved in all the years I have observed in this area," Lyon said. "I am increasingly concerned about the disparity between a city and county. The two entities have much shared infrastructure. The city may not be able to raise the resources it needs to sustain and repair our basic community assets. An enlightened approach on the county's part would be to step up its support of area-wide infrastructure. It is in all our self-interests that the city not be further isolated from the prosperity and quality of life that we enjoy in central Texas."