Arizona has the 5th highest poverty rate in the country with more than one million residents (17%) living below the federal poverty line. Certain populations are disproportionately affected by poverty in Arizona; a third of all Native Americans, almost a quarter of all Latinos, and over a fifth of all African Americans, compared to 14% of the white population.
Many of those million people work minimum wage jobs; 28% of all jobs in the state pay minimum wage. Upper mobility has also decrease, and more workers have been forced to take jobs with limited benefits. Recent research shows that a minimum wage worker cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment working 40 hours a week in the United States. In addition, restrictions on public benefits like food stamps make survival a challenge.
Poverty has a harsh impact not only on the working poor, but also on those whose health prevents them from working, who must depend on a fixed income to make ends meet. The average monthly income for someone dependent on social security retirement in Arizona is only $1,433. Those who do not qualify for retirement benefits and must depend on SSI make just over half as much, at $770 a month—$40 less than the average monthly rent for a one bedroom. However, the battle with poverty begins before the first SSI check arrives. Over a million people across the country are currently waiting on their disability hearing. They will wait an average of two years, and virtually all will be denied the first time. Without income, many lose housing and struggle for years to climb back out of poverty.
Arizona’s children endure disproportionately high poverty levels—about a quarter of all children in the state live in poverty. Most of these children have parents who work, but still cannot make ends meet. Poverty and unstable housing during childhood has consequences that span lifetimes. Likewise, school readiness from a young age and family empowerment can ultimately provide paths out of even generational poverty.