Nearly 1 in 6 people lived in poverty last year in Indiana — the highest rate in nearly three decades — according to census figures released Tuesday, prompting an advocate for needy families to say the state is faring worse in the current economic downturn than its budget surplus suggests..
The Census Bureau estimated that 16.3 percent of Indiana residents, or 1.35 million people, lived in households earning less than the poverty level, compared with 15.1 percent nationally. The poverty level is a sliding scale based on income and household size, but the rate for a family of four is $22,350.
Lisa Travis, a program manager of the Indiana Institute for Working Families, noted that among adjacent states, only Kentucky's 17.7-percent rate was higher than Indiana's. Indiana had the 14th highest poverty rate among all U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
"Indiana is considered to be faring the recession better than our neighboring states due to our ability to amass a state surplus. However, these new poverty numbers show this is not the case," Travis said in statement, noting that the poverty rate has more than doubled in Indiana since 2000.
She said Indiana should consider using state government's surplus to help families get "the hand up they need to get out of poverty," including increasing access to work supports, education and job training.
Gov. Mitch Daniels has repeatedly pointed to the state's budget surplus as a sign that Indiana has weathered the economic downturn better than other states.
However, the new census estimate was based on a relatively small sample of Indiana residents and might not be as reliable as other government surveys, cautioned Carol Rogers, a demographer with the Indiana Business Research Center.
But she did say that the census' 2010 estimate for Indiana was the highest rate among data going back to 1982, with the next highest poverty rate being the 16.1 percent reported in 2009 and in 1983. The data also show that Indiana's poverty rate increased in each of the last five years.
Emails seeking comment from Daniels' press secretary and a Family and Social Services Administration spokesman weren't immediately returned Tuesday.
The Indiana Institute for Working Families is a program of the Indiana Community Action Association.