San Antonio Ranked Among Nation’s Highest-Poverty Cities

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A woman walks by Main Plaza, a pedestrian-friendly area in downtown San Antonio.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A woman walks by Main Plaza, a pedestrian-friendly area in downtown San Antonio.

Though local and national poverty rates are dipping, the percentage of San Antonio's population in poverty was the second highest among the top 25 largest U.S. metro areas in 2017, new data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows.

American Community Survey estimates released Thursday show a 14.5 percent poverty rate for the San Antonio metro area, which includes New Braunfels, placing it second after Detroit (14.6 percent).

The Bureau defines the poverty rate as the percentage of people with annual incomes below certain thresholds that vary by family size. In 2017, the poverty threshold for a family of four was $25,283.

Excluding New Braunfels, the poverty rate for San Antonio proper was 17.3 percent in 2017. The city's poverty rate is nearly twice that of Washington, D.C., which had the lowest rate of the 25 cities, around 8 percent.

"These new Census Bureau numbers demonstrate the importance of our agenda," Mayor Ron Nirenberg told the Rivard Report on Wednesday. "The 2019 budget is our second with an equity framework designed to bring services in historically underserved areas of the city up to the level in other parts of town."

San Antonio's poverty rate slightly declined between 2016 and 2017. In 2016, San Antonio matched Phoenix and Los Angeles for the third-highest poverty rate — 15 percent — among the largest 25 U.S. metro areas. Since then, the poverty rate has fallen by about 0.5 percent, though this decrease is not significantly different from the previous year, according to the Bureau.

The data shows poverty among San Antonio's seniors – those 60 years and older – declined by 1.3 percent, while the percentage of the city's impoverished youth remained flat. Also, 26.4 percent of children under 18 years old were below the poverty level in San Antonio in 2017, down slightly from 26.2 percent the previous year.

United States Census Bureau

Poverty rates among the city's top 25 most populated metro areas.

Earlier this month, City Council began to address the persistent poverty problem by voting 8-1 to accept a new housing policy framework that includes recommendations to increase funding for housing rehabilitation programs, provide displacement assistance, and incentivize developers who build low-income housing, among others. The nonprofit ConnectSA also is in the process of developing a mass transportation system plan that could come before voters as soon as Fall 2019.

On Thursday, City Council will consider a $2.8 billion budget for fiscal year 2019 that includes proposed wage increases for City employees to $15 per hour. The vote comes on the heels of Tuesday's vote by Bexar County Commissioners to approve the same wage for County employees. A person working a 40-hour work week at $15 an hour would make an annual income of $28,800.

"This is all part of an overall effort to address historic generational poverty that has gripped our city," he said.

San Antonio has been a longtime low-wage city, according to Maria Tijerina, a leader at Communities Organized for Public Service (C.O.P.S.)/Metro Alliance, a consortium of religious and non-profit organizations advocating for the economic well-being of working families.

"Talking to our working families, we see them working very hard, at times having two to three jobs to stay above water," she said. "We hear what keeps them up at night. And [low wages] are one of them."

C.O.P.S/Metro has been pushing local authorities, school districts, and large employers to increase their minimum wage for decades. Tijerina hopes the wage increases approved by the City and County will spillover into the private sector.

Low wages for working families are only one piece of the deeper, systemic problem of generational poverty in San Antonio, said Mary Ellen Burns, senior vice president of grants for United Way. Burns pointed out that nearly 70 percent of families in poverty in San Antonio have just one family member working full time.

"Something that we’re all worried about in major cities across the country is the generational nature of poverty," she said. "Their energy and their effort is totally directed towards survival."

According to Burns, targeting support services to children early, and following them throughout their education is the most effective strategy for improving economic outcomes for residents.

"It starts when children are born, from the get-go," she said, "We know by kindergarten who is going to struggle."

The national poverty rate continued to decline for the third year in a row from 2015 to 2017 — a total of 2.5 percentage points — to a rate of 12.3 percent in 2017. The stretch of annual declines is the longest since a four-year period between 1997 and 2000, according to the Bureau.

49 thoughts on “San Antonio Ranked Among Nation’s Highest-Poverty Cities

  1. And besides our town of poverty, we have among the lowest rated public schools….yet our Happy Gov has the audacity to advertise himself while wheeling through a SCHOOL????!REALLY?????

  2. There are many factors to our city’s poverty including unequal education opportunity, lack of organized labor, as well as
    a centuries attitude by the elite towards low income people that we are not equal, nor do we merit equality.
    To properly address poverty in San Antonio, we must first acknowledge that the quest for profits over people is a grave mistake and a flaw in our moral code.

    • Organized labor, really? Ever hear of Detroit? Lots of organized labor there. And you think that if the quest for profits were abandoned that incomes would go up? Odd thinking, indeed.

      • Organized labor didn’t destroy Detroit, capitalist greed did that.
        San Antonio has a long history of workers being exploited because local employers focused solely on making profits.

          • So let me get it, if someone disagrees with the article or your comment that makes them an internet troll??? This section is for comments from all internet trolls and should not be deleted, unless profanity or blasphemy is commited. Otherwise, why not just read the SA Business Journal? Don’t get mad, just deal with it as debate – but in an intelligent and truthful manner.

        • Your viewpoint makes no sense to me. Santikos NEEDS profit to provide funds for various organizations and causes in the city. Profits aren’t always a bad thing. Also, Scullys compensation has NOTHING to do with our poverty rate in SA. Nothing.

  3. No money for workers to spend, no profits, no company = zero income. Supply side has always had it backwards, demand comes first. Supply side has been completely discredited, except in the State of Fear.

  4. It all starts with education. Add that to a stable family environment.
    There are too many school districts. Most of the school districts are top heavy in administration. Teachers salaries are a joke, unless you qualify as a coach. The schools are rife with gangs and drugs. Teachers hands are tied because they have no authority to discipline.
    People get out of poverty through education, not handouts.
    When will the city wake up and put emphasis on education?

  5. Of course this is tied to our education policies and funding. If we had a highly educated populous, we would not be on this ranking. Instead of spending on a baseball stadium let’s spend on an economic engine like educational facilities and startup offices.

  6. I recently visited Michigan and travelled to several cities (Detroit not one of them) and quickly noticed that something was different especially in northern Michigan. What stood out was the lack of diversity in the cities I visited. In addition, the cities, highways, rest stops… were all free of litter and homelessness. It was a brief but nice respite from the poverty, litter, and homelessness we see daily in San Antonio.

    • As for living in Michigan or Texas, if I were poor, I’d rather be warm and poor than cold and poor. Education is the answer, and 13 school districts is not.

      • If education is the answer, start teaching an American education, and learning it like it was meant to be taught. First, start the day by saying the Pledge of Allegience to the flag of AMERICA, and ask God to guide their thoughts and actions, 2nd stop trying to change history and rewrite history books, 3rd make PE mandatory, without giving excuses for non participation, 4th teach social studies and geography again (students might learn a little about legal immigration), and 5th teach cursive instead of thumb manipulation on a phone,
        This is how we can start to solve the education crisis and curb the immigration “equality rights”.

      • We, (i.e. San Antonio) shot ourselves in the foot when we divided into many independent school districts to avoid bussing in the 60s (?) If we united them all, the money would be more evenly divided – except for Leon Valley and Alamo Heights (and Helotes??)

  7. RR would not be in business if it weren’t for commenters. Why have you deleted my comment twice? If you don’t want honest and factual comments, don’t ask for them

    • Lora:
      Please click on our comment policy above the comment section to review. We do not allow personal attacks.

      There were disparaging assumptions made about a woman in a photograph that did not contribute to the conversation, so we did not publish it.

      Happy to discuss further. Shoot me an email at iris(at)rivardreport.com

    • I saw your comments they weren’t factual at all. San Antonio actually has a fairly low foreign born population for a city of it’s size and around 80% of the Hispanics in city are native born. Most of the poor in this city have been here for generations.

      If you compare the Hispanic neighborhoods even in cities like Dallas AMD Houston to the ones in San Antonio then you will immediately notice the difference in how many native born vs foreign born people there are. I think either you don’t really live in San Antonio or you just aren’t familiar with the Latino population there at all.

      Not to mention the bit about Ellis Island was pretty ignorant; people like to romanticize that Ellis Island immigrants were these heroic immigrants that just wanted to be Americans but in reality there were Irish and Italian ghettos in NYC up until after WWII. After the war many 2nd and 3rd generation Americans were able to get GI bill home mortgages and this helped them better fully assimilate and move out of the ethnic enclave.

      I agree that your comments shouldn’t have been deleted but they were pretty ignorant and uninformed.

      • It appears that the name of the article is to associate the woman in the photo, am I correct? I am downtown everyday from 8-5 and see it all day long…….. nothing wrong with truthful comments, not meant to be disparaging, meant to be truthful! Again, if you do not want comments as such you should not have a comment section or not report on such issues. Just MY opionion, Iris, but certainly not an assumption! Thank you for yours.

      • And as for you, my pretty………….. I am not speaking of foreign born population or native born, I am speaking of illegals coming into our City and country causing more poverty than we already have. Don’t know what rock you live under, but it must be on liberal island…..
        Get educated as to Ellis Island, it was real and was certainly not at all romantic! Also, not speaking of how they lived once they got here, I am speaking of how they got here and what they had to prove to even enter this country. I am very educated, not ignorant, btw.

        • So now illegal immigrants can be native born? Nice to know…

          Also people at Ellis Island didn’t have to endure more than immigrants today. Just needed to have a will to persevere, be willing to work and generally try to lay low- not much different from today’s immigrants.
          Immigration laws were way more lax back then and even then there were many European immigrants that snuck onto ships illegally.

          • You are completely wrong. Immigrants coming into Ellis island, if they even made it alive, were turned away and put back on the boat if they did not have proper documentation, enough money to meet the standard to start a living here, and good health, which was very difficult to have after enduring the hardship of the long boat ride among otner sick people. Once they were admitted entry, they worked and they worked hard to survive, so they could reap the benefits of what a free country promised. There was no welfare or free health care, and they did not believe America owed them a right to be here, instead they were grateful. That being said, there were exceptions, those that thought they could take the easy way and thieve and pillage from those that worked hard, but even the bad seeds got no handouts or expected this country to give them anything, they knew they had to earn It by hook or crook! And true, many came from other ports, such as New Orleans, but at the time, NY was the land of freedom and riches, to arrive and thrive. One more parable, when thieves were caught, they were imprisoned in deplorable conditions, and made to work on chain gangs. This treatment made for much less crime! And also paid for road work and cleanup, that today your tax $’s pay for. The ultimate point of this article, and my comments, is to answer the reason we have so much poverty – higher than NY!!

          • Wow, now we are on the history of immigration? Ok, well my grandfather came through Ellis Island and married a first generation Italian American. He planned his immigration, worked hard money saved and began working as a barber in Manhattan when he arrived. He had the equivalent of a high school education and barber training. He raised 5 children to adulthood, all educated. NO one in that family needed public assistance. There were no handouts for the poor immigrants in New York at that time anyway. He came here to get away from the growing fascist movement. They even changed the spelling of his last name.
            NOW fast track to my lifetime: Birthing centers all along the Texas border (I don’t know about AZ, NM, & CA). Those children are now citizens who can qualify for all kinds of aid. Some of them are greatly motivated to become, and have, productive successful members of the state of Texas. Others, not so much. This is by no way saying that only people of Latin American descent are the issue here. I think the point is MOTIVATION. Handouts enable people from rising above the poverty of their circumstances. Here is the root of the problem for SA “A person working a 40-hour work week at $15 an hour would make an annual income of $28,800”. When a city sees this as a rise in wages, you need to pay attention. AND YES look at the top of the city employees pay scale starting with the city manager and do the math. The city sets the tone for others in what is a fair wage and how others are treated. It’s like throwing dog food in the street for the stray pack running your neighborhood.

      • This, Lora. This is probably why your comments weren’t approved. Where do you work? Hopefully nowhere that minorities will suffer at your negligent hand

        • If you only knew!!!! But rest assured, unfortunately I am the minority! where all the used to be minorities get all the free rides, and I the true minority pay for it

        • Ethan, What ethnic groups do you see as the “minority” in SA? Just curious. I would beg to ask why would anything that has to do with ethnicity have ANYTHING to do with how one is paid? This is stinking thinking in my mind. Education ( include technical training) and motivation are the keys to success and always have been. A person may have to leave SA to find opportunities if so motivated. SA lags behind because that is the mindset of many who have supported and procreate this kind of socioeconomics.

          • Because if she hates Hispanics as much as she seems to, I hope she’s not a nurse or cop for example. Sincerely, a hispanic.

  8. So much to digest in this disheartening article. Instead of focusing on the personal agendas of mayor and council, how about examine the reason we need affordable housing (which is not something the city should be building) and transportation initiatives…we have too much unskilled labor and an uneducated workforce. It’s easy for the city to raise the minimum wage bc they use taxpayer dollars to do it-private business does not have that luxury. If you want better jobs focus on education so that SA becomes more than a low wage service sector and call center economy w a few large employers-and can attract solid businesses. Do we really want the image of a low wage city that offers “affordable housing?” This is a bad image to attract the quality employers we need, but it will attract more candidates for “affordable housing.” A good job is the best remedy for poverty…to get a good job you need a skill/marketable education. This is not rocket science!

    Two things we know are sure to keep the cycle of poverty going are no high school education and having children, especially more than one, before you are 18. Almost 25% of kids in this city live in poverty–how many come from parents who meet this criteria? Also, speaking English is necessary to be successful in our economy. The EN ran an article earlier in the year about the Alazan Apache Courts -almost 80% of the mother’s-mostly single mothers-do not speak English. They could take classes if they took the bus to get to a class; my question is: Why doesn’t the classroom come to them where they live? They have enough going on, so if you want to help them, and thus their children, why not do it? This is not rocket science, either!

    This city needs to do some serious questioning of how to remedy the lack of a skilled, educated workforce- because until it does these statistics will only get worse in a modern economy.

    Just a note: I notice the EN headline touted a decrease in the poverty rate? Really? It was .5%, as stated by the Census Bureau “this is not significantly different than in previous years.” But, it makes for a feel-good headline instead of a wake-up call that “SA we have a problem!”

  9. When it comes to poverty in the downtown area, the city council and mayors of today and the past, have been majority lead democratic progressives. Their policies have created our modern “social economic segregation”. Today we are faced with their new ideal of “ The Projects” as seen with their incentivized Downtown high end townhomes. These are apartments, aimed at the relocating gen x’s from the west coast. Pushing families and property owners out of their homes due to higher property/land taxes. It’s an approved Land Grab thru the support of the Democrat Mayor. As for the homeless, it’s nothing new, just more people relocating to the warmer weather areas, you won’t see as many up north, it’s cold and freezing. It’s perfect weather in a Texas so we just see more transplants around our city corners.

    • As a progressive Democrat, I largely agree with your analysis. Gentrification is not unique to San Antonio however. If there were supply-side Republicans in office here, people from the coasts would still take the profits from the sale of their homes and buy “cheaper” downtown property in San Antonio as an investment if nothing else.

      Those on the left and the right both agree that property taxes are too high, largely because we cannot figure out an alternative way to fund public schools. No one wants to touch this issue.

      • Mike, thank you for agreeing and respecting my observations. This is what San Antonio needs, not just between it residents but those elected to office. The city has failed many with not listening to the opposing side. I for one live in downtown, in a Historic neighborhood that has been purposely attacked for gentrification because of our proximity to the The Pearl. This was known as “the Hood”, working class, older residents, living quietly and scraping by. Now we are faced with the city Overlay, which disrespects our Historic classification to push rezoning for the out of city or state investor to build these complexes. If homes are sold, they rarely stay single family, but turn into STR’s/ Air B&B. For what their small home is sold for, where can one move to in SA for less than 200k, and start all over with taxes and new higher mortgages if they even qualify. I for one pay over $ 900 a month in city taxes. Without expenses and insurances just to live in my house, forget the mortgage. Remember, this is not a gated community paying these prices.
        Schools are a completely different issue downtown. Schools student population continues to decrease. Population of new residents don’t include students. If they do, they opt for idea schools or private. Schools close, low performing, smaller personnel due to the loss of enrollment , but taxes continue to rise for a deminishing product. These downtown districts need to consolidate to make the Dollars and taxes work. SAISD sold their bus barn for multi millions to greystreet partners for another Broadway development, so how are these monies going to be used. These are all questions need to be asked and answered for those affected by this council and mayor. Again thank you for the civility and positive hopes for San Antonio.

  10. Not surprising. I’ve gone through some neighborhoods near downtown, that made me cry; tiny row houses falling apart, shared by 4 or more people trying to survive. I’ve never seen so many homeless in SA before either. It seems just 10 years ago, you could still find a room for rent for $300. Now the city is full of rentals from non locals & out of state investors, for profits only. The cost of living hasn’t changed too much, except for those making minimum wage, because they can’t afford to pay both for food & for a place to stay. Surprisingly, it’s those that have very little to give that have always been ready to give, because they know what is like to struggle, only they can’t do it anymore. Property taxes keep going up, but it doesn’t matter how much you throw at school districts, until there’s an overhaul of the school system, they will keep failing. And the Food Bank is at historic lows. It’s been like this for years and solutions are hard to come by.

  11. when I go thru these type neighborhoods, I get excited and want to buy them up and rehab them, sell them to people that will take pride of ownership, and keep the neighborhood clean and nice. When these neighborhoods were built the people that bought them could obviously afford them at the time, why I ask cant they now??? Sorry, very little sympathy for laziness.

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