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AR Survey Finds Declines in Poverty Erased By Pandemic

Portrait of a distressed family
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Portrait of a distressed family

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Arkansas's poverty rate has trended downward over the past few years, but since the pandemic there's been a sharp rise in hardship across the state, according to the latest data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Between 2018 and 2019, Arkansas's poverty rate dipped slightly to 16.2%, and median household income increased.

Senior Policy Analyst at the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families Bruno Showers said the data offers a scenario that paints a bleak picture for residents - especially Black, Latino, indigenous and immigrant households hardest hit by the novel coronavirus.

"Our federal delegation really needs to step up," said Showers, "when one quarter of Arkansans are having trouble paying rent, when more than one in five are having trouble feeding their kids."

He said housing relief is a critical issue. The survey found this summer, 18% of Arkansans who live in rental housing reported they were behind on rent; 29% are behind on their mortgage payments.

In addition to budget cuts policymakers have been forced to make, Showers said he's concerned the state's unemployment trust fund soon may be unable to keep up with demand.

"The unemployment rate in Arkansas actually went up in August," said Showers. "It went from 7% in July to 7.4% unemployment."

According to the survey, 14% of adults reported their household sometimes or often didn't have enough to eat in the last seven days.

Showers said with unemployment levels expected to climb, more families will fall back into poverty, without the resources to help them navigate a pandemic that could stretch on for years.

"Twenty-two percent of kids in Arkansas still live in poverty," said Showers. "That's with a 3% unemployment rate. What's it going to look like at 7.4%?"

Experts say boosting vital assistance programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and housing assistance, extending enhanced federal unemployment benefits, and providing states and local governments with additional aid will help prevent further layoffs and cuts to core public services.