Poverty on the rise in Tarrant County

Tarrant County saw a sizable expansion of wealthy households in 2011, an even larger number falling to the lowest income levels and a dwindling of households in between, according to a new statistical snapshot from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The survey also reveals more poverty, particularly in Fort Worth, than in 2010 and an increase in homes without complete plumbing and kitchens.

Tarrant's top-earning households grew substantially in 2011, according to a Star-Telegram analysis of the 2011 American Community Survey.

Overall, those earning $150,000 and up increased by 12 percent compared with 2010.

At the bottom, the number of households making $14,999 and less increased 11 percent.

In a measure of tough times, the number of poor Tarrant families grew as well. Among families with children under age 18, about 20 percent, or 1 in 5, were living in poverty last year.

At a minimum, 43,000 households were in poverty last year.

By federal standards, that meant less than $10,890 for a household of one last year and $14,710 for two, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. (In 2010, the share of Tarrant's population in poverty was 16.6 percent.)

Overall in Tarrant County, median household income actually increased by about $400.

But in Fort Worth, the poverty rate jumped from 13.7 percent to 17.5 percent and median household income plunged by almost 5 percent, from $49,738 in 2010 to $47,399 in 2011.

"That's a substantial decline and it indicates people are continuing to struggle," said demographer Steve Murdock, a Rice University professor and former Census Bureau director. Nationally, median household income slipped just 1.5 percent to $50,502 last year. In Texas, it declined 1.2 percent to $50,010.

Among large Texas cities, Austin had the highest median household income, at $49,987. Houston's was $42,877, San Antonio's $42,613 and Dallas' $40,585.

"The major takeaway from this data for Fort Worth, Texas and the nation is that we continue to struggle to get back to the economic growth we had in 2006 and before," Murdock said.

"We are not in a rapid recovery. It's a very muted pattern we're seeing with income and poverty."

Nationally, the number of people living in poverty rose by 2.2 million to 48.5 million, or about 15.9 percent of the population. That's the fourth consecutive annual increase.

In Texas, about 18.5 percent of the population was in poverty. The new data on growing poverty can be seen daily in the demand for food at the Tarrant Area Food Bank, spokeswoman Andrea Helms said.

"There's a strong correlation between poverty and food insecurity," she said. "It has been a steady increase since 2006 and particularly between 2007 and 2010, when we saw an 80 percent increase in food distribution."

Other highlights of the 2011 survey:

In Fort Worth, the median value for an owner-occupied home was $120,300. Nationally, that figure was $173,600. The median gross rent (rent plus utilities) was $795, compared with $871 nationally.

In Arlington, the median home value was $125,500. In North Richland Hills, it was $145,400. Both cities had more than 10 percent vacancies. Median gross rent was $796 in Arlington and $902 in North Richland Hills.

About 16.7 percent of people in Fort Worth were foreign-born, compared with 13 percent nationally. But among them, there was no increase in the percentage who were not U.S. citizens.

Arlington had a far larger share of foreign-born residents, with an estimated 20.6 percent, and the majority of those were not U.S. citizens (64.4 percent).

About 27.5 percent of Arlington residents have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared with 29.5 percent in North Richland Hills.

Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981

Darren Barbee, 817-390-7126