Politics & Government

Census data shows more Fort Worth residents below poverty level, drop in median income

As Texas saw a rise in its poverty rate, income inequality and the number of people living without health insurance from 2017-2018, Fort Worth and Tarrant County saw slight increases at a local level, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data.

The new estimates released Thursday by the Census Bureau show that the percent of people whose income was below the poverty level increased in Fort Worth from 12.9% in 2017 to 15.6% in 2018 — slightly higher than the statewide figure of 14.9% for Texas last year.

In Tarrant County, the increase was smaller from 11.6% of residents in 2017 to 12.1% in 2018.

According to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, an Austin-based think tank, 4.2 million Texans were below the official poverty threshold in 2018, an increase of roughly 104,000 more Texans compared to 2017.

And while 13.1% of the total U.S. population had income below their respective poverty thresholds — the fifth consecutive year that figure has declined — income inequality increased for the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s measurements.

The Bureau calculated the Gini Index to measure income inequality. A score of zero indicates perfect equality, while a score of 1 indicates perfect inequality, in which one household would have all the income.

Texas was one of nine states that saw a rise in income inequality in 2018, with a Gini Index of 0.482, according to the Bureau’s calculations.

The median household income rose in Tarrant County from $65,052 in 2017 to $66,063 in 2018. Meanwhile, it dropped slightly in Fort Worth from $60,205 in 2017 to $58,448 in 2018.

The median household income in Texas for 2018 was $60,269 — slightly lower than the U.S. median of $61,937.

“That’s pretty much about the same as it was in 2017,” Amy Knop-Narbutis, a senior research analyst for CPPP, said of Texas’ median household income. “We’ve seen that income be stagnant, which is concerning, because it was only in 2015 that we really saw median incomes for Texas surpass where we were before the recession.”

And while the number of people without health insurance increased nationwide, Texas topped the rest of the country, once again the state with the highest rate of uninsured residents at 17.7% — a little over 5 million people — and nearly double the national average.

It was the second year in a row Texas’ uninsured rate has risen. Nationwide, the number of people without health insurance at any point during the year increased to 27.5 million in 2018, or 8.5 percent of people, from 25.6 million, or 7.9 percent of people, in 2017.

In both Fort Worth and Tarrant County, the percent of people without health insurance increased from 2017 to 2018. In 2017, 164,273 people lacked health insurance in Fort Worth. That number grew by 7,662 people to 171,935 in 2018, with about 19.4% of the city’s residents uninsured.

At a county level, 335,820 lacked insurance in 2017, and that increased by 20,371 people in 2018 to 356,191, or about 17.2% of the county.

While the number of people who were insured also increased at both the city and county level, they didn’t make up a greater share of the population due to population gains from 2017 to 2018.

For example, in 2017 roughly 1.7 million people had health insurance in Tarrant County, and while that figure increased by a little more than 10,000 people in 2018, the share of the county’s total residents with health insurance decreased slightly from 83.5% to 82.8%.

Meanwhile, Houston had the highest uninsured rate among major metro areas, with nearly one in five people going without health insurance last year, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Texas is one of 14 states that have yet to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, a step that could expand coverage to at least 1.5 million Texans, Anne Dunkelberg, CPPP’s associate director, said Thursday.

And Texas is currently leading a lawsuit that has the potential to shake up the nation’s healthcare system by striking the ACA in its entirety.

Ending the act, often referred to as Obamacare, would eliminate protections for those with pre-existing conditions, such as pregnancy, arthritis and diabetes. A little over 1 million Texans signed up for insurance through the ACA last year. The case is likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Tessa Weinberg is a state government for the Star-Telegram. Based in Austin, she covers all things policy and politics with a focus on Tarrant County. She previously covered the Missouri legislature where her reporting prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. A California native and graduate of the University of Missouri, she’s made her way across the U.S. and landed in Texas in May 2019.