Today, 34 out of 100 people are not financially self-sufficient in Polk, Warren, and Dallas Counties.

What is poverty?

United Way of Central Iowa defines poverty as less than 250% of the federal poverty level. Above 250%, families can afford what is necessary to survive in modern society, including rent, utilities, food prepared at home, child care, health care, transportation, clothing, and household essentials. Above this level, individuals can begin to thrive by saving, paying loans, covering education expenses, and affording entertainment or vacation.

Individuals living below 250% of the federal poverty level fall into a range of poverty from extremely poor to poor/low income. The chart below explains this range.

EXTREMELY POOR

Less than 100%
of the federal poverty level


Struggling or unable to afford basic needs including food, housing, clothing, transportation, healthcare


Central Iowa Population:
11.1%


Individual Annual Income:
Less than $12,140

VERY POOR/
LOW INCOME

100% to 184%
of the federal poverty level


Likely employed but income doesn’t cover the basic household needs and often requires public assistance support


Central Iowa Population:
12.3%


Individual Annual Income:
$12,140 to $22,459

POOR/
LOW INCOME

185% to 249%
of the federal poverty level


Likely employed, but income does not cover all the basic household needs; public assistance is not available


Central Iowa Population:
10.6%


Individual Annual Income:
$22,459 to 30,350

SELF
SUFFICIENT

250% and above
of the federal poverty level


Reached economic success; able to afford basic needs, no longer need public assistance or family support


Central Iowa Population:
65.9%


Individual Annual Income:
Above $30,350

34% OF CENTRAL IOWANS ARE STRUGGLING

The working poor

Most central Iowans living in poverty are employed. They go to work each day, pay taxes, struggle to make ends meet, live paycheck to paycheck, and are one emergency call or flat tire away from a serious financial crisis.

ALICE (Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed) households fall within the very poor/low income to poor/low income categories. In central Iowa, 27.7% (62,181) of households struggle to afford the basic necessities and live below the ALICE threshold, according to a 2014 United Ways of Iowa report. That is nearly 1 in 3 households in our community.7

Central Iowa is growing

Since 2011, central Iowa’s population has increased 9.3%, by nearly 50,000 people, accounting for 61% of Iowa’s total population growth. Central Iowa is also home to an increasingly diverse population, as seen in the graph.

Des Moines

Population Growth Chart

Poverty and disparity in central Iowa

African Americans and Africans comprise 3.4% of Iowa’s population, 6.7% of Polk County’s population, and nearly 11% of the city of Des Moines’ population.

182,606 people of Latino origin live in Iowa, making up Iowa’s largest race or ethnic minority. The Latino population has grown 121.4%, or by 100,133 individuals, over the past decade. Latinos make up 5.8% of Iowa’s population today and are expected to make up 12.8% of Iowa’s population by 2050, with a population growth of 439,414 individuals.

OpportUNITY’s goal is to reduce poverty for everyone. To get there, we must consider disparities among demographic groups and address those differences to improve living conditions for all central Iowans. As the population of central Iowa changes and some groups continue to grow, we must recognize disparities and strive for self-sufficiency for all groups.

Disparity by race

11.1% (63,798 individuals of all races) live below 100% of poverty in Polk, Warren, and Dallas Counties.
Looking more closely at populations living below 100% of poverty in central Iowa: 32% of African Americans, 23.4% of Latinos, and 20.1% of people identifying as two or more races live below 100% of poverty, compared with 9.2% of whites.

NOTE: The following section includes information from the April 2017 report, One Economy, which addresses the state of Black Polk County.

racial disparity chart

The One Economy report examines the “historical racial wealth divide between Whites and African Americans in Polk County” and African immigrants’ desire to make their home here and to have “lives of safety, stability, and deep connection.”

The One Economy report includes this disturbing statement: “We live in a community that touts its livability for young professionals and retirees alike, yet landed at #3 of the Worst Cities for African Americans just this year... Even with this richness in culture and community, Black Polk County faces real challenges. As revealed in the guided discussions with community members, across age, gender, income, and educational attainment, people are hurting.”

AFRICAN AMERICAN DISPARITY

AFRICAN AMERICAN
POPULATION

OVERALL
POPULATION

AFRICAN AMERICAN
POPULATION

OVERALL
POPULATION

MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME IN POLK COUNTY 

POLK COUNTRY HOUSEHOLDS WITH
CHILDREN LIVING IN POVERTY

$59,844

36%

13.5%

POLK COUNTY POPULATION LIVING IN POVERTY

IOWANS WHO DO NOT USE BANKING SERVICES

39.4%

9.8%

24%

4.5%

UNEMPLOYMENT IN IOWA

14.8%

3.9%


Disparity by gender and family structure

More females, and especially single mothers, live in poverty compared with males.

12.4% of females in central Iowa live below 100% of poverty, compared with 9.8% of males.

 of families led by single mothers lived below 100% poverty in 2016, compared with 21% of single-father families.

36%of females in central Iowa live below 100% of poverty, compared with 9.8% of males.

 


In 2016, there was some improvement:

  • 266 fewer married couples with children lived below poverty, a change to 4.6% from 5.1% in 2011.
  • 49 fewer single fathers with children lived below poverty, a change to 21% from 21.7% in 2011.
  • 149 fewer single mothers with children lived below 100% of poverty, a change to 31.7% from 33.9% in 2011.

Disparity by age

While the number of children and working-age people living in poverty decreased in 2016, the number of seniors living in poverty increased.

  • 30,839 children under 18 years old lived below 100% of poverty in 2016. 804 fewer children lived below 100% of poverty, a change to 14.9% of this population from 15.7% in 2011.
  • 978 fewer working-age people, ages 18-64, were living below 100% poverty in 2016, a change to 10.3% in 2016 from 10.7% in 2011.
  • 571 more seniors (ages 65 and older) were living below 100% of poverty in 2016, a change to 7.0% from 6.5% of the population in 2011.

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