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Arizona poverty levels among highest in nation, census figures show

WASHINGTON –Arizona had one of the highest poverty rates in the nation in 2010, at 18.6 percent of the population, according to data released Tuesday by the Census Bureau.

That was well above the national poverty rate of 15.1 percent, and tied with New Mexico for having the fifth–highest share of residents in poverty, the bureau said. Only Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia had higher levels of poverty in 2010.

Arizona also topped the national average for people without any health coverage. While 16.3 percent of Americans did not have health insurance, the rate in Arizona was 19.1 percent, a rate that has remained largely unchanged since 2005.

The state has consistently been more poverty–stricken than the country as a whole for at least a decade now, the numbers show.

But while the national poverty level rose from 14.3 percent in 2009, Arizona’s rate actually fell from more than 21 percent, even though the actual number of Arizonans in poverty remained relatively stable.

Despite the falling poverty rate, community activists and state officials said they have not seen a decrease in demand for help.

“In the work that we do … we’re still seeing significant increases in the number of people that are calling for assistance,” said Cynthia Zwick, executive director of the Arizona Community Action Association. The organization works with low–income families to help them become financially self–sufficient.

The government has also been an increasingly called upon resource for those in need.

Since 2008, the number of Arizonans receiving food stamps has doubled to more than a million people, said Steve Meissner, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Economic Security.

He said the unemployment rolls spiked from about 30,000 people in 2008 to 170,000 in 2010 before settling back down to about 110,000, which is where the number hovers today.

“It fluctuates a bit, but it doesn’t seem to be dropping at the moment,” he said. “It seems pretty much stuck in that kind of zone.”

The one bright spot for Arizona in the Census data was in the median income for the state, which rose from $45,739 in 2009 to $47,279 in 2010. Nationally during the same period, the median income fell $332 to $49,445, according to the report, Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States, 2010.

While the numbers may fluctuate, Meissner emphasized that his agency remains committed to assisting those who are struggling.

“The best social service in the world is a job,” Meissner said. “If you don’t have a job, you need help. And our goal is to get as many people as possible to the point where they don’t need government assistance.”

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