What does this measure?
The proportion of people within racial and ethnic groups with incomes below the poverty line. Poverty thresholds vary by family composition and year. In 2021, the threshold for a four-person family with two children was $27,479.
Why is this important?
The percentage of people in poverty in various racial and ethnic groups is a measure of the overall economic health of these groups and may reflect disparities in access to economic opportunity. It also indicates the level of need for social and government supports.
How is our county doing?
In 2017-21, 20% of Hispanic residents and 16% of African American residents in Essex County had incomes below the poverty line, compared to 7% among Asian residents and 8% among white residents. Since 2000, rates declined by 8 percentage points for Hispanics and by 6 points for Asian residents and 5 points for African American residents. The rate for white residents increased slightly, by 1 point.
Essex had a lower poverty rate for African Americans than Massachusetts and the nation, at 17% and 22%, respectively. The poverty rate for Hispanic residents of Essex was lower than the state (23%), but slightly higher than the U.S. (18%). The rates for Asians in Essex were lower than both the state (11%) and the nation (10%). Within the County, Salem had some of the highest poverty rates for Hispanic residents, at 31%, and Lawrence had the highest poverty rate for white residents, at 18%.
How do we compare to similar counties?
Comparable counties had the same basic disparities among racial and ethnic groups. Essex County had a higher poverty rate for Hispanic residents than Middlesex, MA (17%) and Lake, IL and Westchester (both at 13%). Its rate for African Americans was quite a bit lower than Lake (20%). Poverty rates for Asians were lower in Westchester (6%) and Lake (5%).
Why do these disparities exist?
These large and persistent disparities in poverty rates are the result of historic and current policies and practices that disadvantaged people of color. Research has connected slavery and the inability of black Americans even after emancipation to fully participate in economic life to the wealth and income gaps still present today. In addition, these differences are attributed to the complex interplay of conditions including gender, occupation, family structure, education, employment status, wages, incarceration, unemployment and discrimination. African American workers across industries tend to earn lower wages than their white and Asian American peers. While education, especially the absence of a high school diploma, increases the likelihood of poverty, education credentials do not eliminate racial disparities. African Americans experience unemployment at twice the rate of whites regardless of education level. Also, the disproportionate and systemic incarceration of Black and Latinx males decreases job prospects and increases the likelihood of poverty.
Notes about the data
Poverty status is not reported for people in institutions, including college dormitories and military barracks, and people in living situations without conventional housing. The Census Bureau asks people to identify their race (white, African American, etc.) separate from their ethnicity (Hispanic or non-Hispanic). So the totals for these categories cannot be added together, as people show up in both a racial and ethnic group.
The multiyear figures are from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey. The bureau combined five years of responses to the survey to provide estimates for smaller geographic areas and increase the precision of its estimates. However, because the information came from a survey, the samples responding to the survey were not always large enough to produce reliable results, especially in small geographic areas. CGR has noted on data tables the estimates with relatively large margins of error. Estimates with three asterisks have the largest margins, plus or minus 50% or more of the estimate. Two asterisks mean plus or minus 35%-50%, and one asterisk means plus or minus 20%-35%. For all estimates, the confidence level is 90%, meaning there is 90% probability the true value (if the whole population were surveyed) would be within the margin of error (or confidence interval). The survey provides data on characteristics of the population that used to be collected only during the decennial census. Data for this indicator are expected to be released annually in December.