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Census Shows AZ Poverty Bad, and Getting Worse?

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September 30, 2009

PHOENIX - New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows 15 percent of Arizonans, or 938,000 people, have incomes below the poverty level. Among children, more than one in five are living in poverty. The federal poverty level for a family of four is $22,050 a year.

The census figures are already a year old. As Arizona Community Action Association Director, Cynthia Zwick says it's likely the situation today is worse.

"Based on the number of families that are coming into agencies seeking assistance with rent, utilities, mortgage payments, food, we know that the number is, actually, probably a lot higher."

Zwick believes state government should provide more funding for Arizona's struggling human service agencies. She says private donations have increased substantially - including money, food and thousands of volunteer hours - but not enough to keep up with the increased demand.

"When we ran a campaign last April, along with the Arizona Grantmakers Forum, we had members of the community donate about $265,000. That was matched with foundation money, so we had over $1.5 million that we put out into the community."

Children's Action Alliance President Dana Naimark agrees that families need help. Instead, she says, state lawmakers have been cutting programs that provide child care, health insurance for working parents, food and utility assistance.

"Unfortunately what's been happening is the budget decisions have been making things harder for families rather than easier. So, it's really been going in the wrong direction."

In Naimark's view, Arizona lawmakers must take action to increase state revenues - whether that means higher fees, higher taxes, or both - to keep the state's poverty figures from climbing higher.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ