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In Dallas, Poverty Has Skyrocketed Over The Past Decade

Twitter/Mayor Mike Rawlings (@ Mike_Rawlings)
The Dallas mayor's annual Back to School Fair offers free school supplies, as well as health, vision and dental screenings.

Dallas’ poor population has exploded.

From 2000 to 2012, the number of poor people in Dallas rose by 41 percent. That far outweighs the city's overall 5 percent population growth during the same period.

Mayor Mike Rawlings’ poverty task force has issued a report that shows the startling growth – and outlines suggestions to help reduce poverty rates.

The task force says that Dallas has the highest child poverty rate among cities larger than 1 million people: Two of every five kids grow up poor. Dallas has the third-highest overall poverty rate among large cities. More than half of Dallas' poor are Hispanic.

From 2000 to 2012, the median family income for single moms with kids in Dallas fell by 30 percent – from $28,026 to $19,559, when you adjust for inflation, the task force says.

'An epidemic'

Credit CitySquare
Larry James, CEO of CitySquare in Dallas

“It’s not acceptable for a city as full of wealth and opportunity as Dallas to be ranked third or fourth poorest urban center in the United States behind Detroit, Memphis and Philadelphia,” said Larry James, who chaired the task force. He's CEO of the social service agency CitySquare.

Task Force co-chair Regina Montoya said the problem can no longer be ignored: “The poverty statistics are staggering and that’s why we are here today because it is an epidemic,” she said. “It’s something we need to think about right now because we don’t want to be at that tipping point where we can’t do something about it.”

The task force presented its findings this week to the Dallas City Council.

Dallas' economy is doing well, but Rawlings calls it a "barbell economy."

“We’re a very rich city. We’re very wealthy. We’re very blessed,” Rawlings said. “At the same time we have an extreme amount of poverty in our city. It causes a lot of issues in city government.”

Addressing poverty, Rawlings says, is one of the “most important challenges Dallas faces as a city.”

A closer look at income in Dallas

Credit U.S. Census Bureau/American Community Survey
A look at Census tracts shows income disparity across North Texas. The darker colors represent areas with higher median household incomes. The lighter colors represent poorer areas.


Among the task force’s recommendations:

  • Establish a minimum wage of $10.25 an hour for city contractors’ employees.
  • Improve early childhood education with Dallas ISD. Encourage kids to read as soon as they can, encourage pre-Kindergarten enrollment and more parental involvement.
  • Create an Office of Community Opportunity at Dallas City Hall. The office would coordinate and evaluate efforts to combat poverty in the city.

In Dallas, the poor population is spreading

Credit City of Dallas
Areas shaded in red show concentrated poverty -- those areas have expanded over the past decade, Census data show.

City leaders react: 'We have to have the courage as a city'

Rawlings says he’s concerned that a community opportunity office could create another layer of bureaucracy at City Hall and could stifle prompt, effective action. He does like the idea of a minimum wage boost – he recently said he wants the City Council to consider raising the minimum wage for workers employed by city contractors. Dallas already pays city employees more than $10.25 an hour. 

Credit Doualy Xaykaothao / KERA News
Dallas City Council member Dwaine Caraway

Council member Dwaine Caraway suggested the city focus on attacking poverty the same way it focused on lowering the crime rate. The city spent more money on police to lower the crime rate – and the city is safer as a result, Caraway said. He suggested placing an item on an upcoming bond program that lets voters decide whether to spend $50 million on addressing poverty. “If we’re going to knock out a home-run ... let’s put enough money out there so we can make a dent in the problems that are in front of us,” Caraway said.

Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates called for more study on the impact a higher minimum wage would have on the budget and on contractors working for the city.  “It troubles me the large shift of haves and have-nots. We have to have the courage as a city to address it. … If we don’t do something today, it’s going to cost us more down the road.”

The mayor asked the task force – and City Manager A.C. Gonzalez – to keep looking for best practices and partnerships to combat poverty.

Previous KERA coverage

Here's a look at our recent coverage of salaries and poverty:

  • In Texas, a worker needs to make $16.77 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment – or an annual salary of nearly $35,000. In North Texas, you need to earn a bit more. In Dallas, you need to earn $17.56 an hour. In Fort Worth-Arlington, you need to make $18.04. In Texas, a minimum-wage worker would have to work 93 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom rental, according to a study from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
  • North Texas is 91 million meals short.That’s how many breakfasts, lunches and dinners it would take to feed everyone in the region who’s hungry. But here's something that might surprise you: More people with jobs are getting meals from food pantries than anyone else.
  • Here’s a look at efforts to increase the minimum wage around North Texas. “So many individuals work in entry-level positions of our concessionaires," Rawlings said in June. "Do we as a city want to spend the money and make sure they get a leg up or are we trying to get it as cheap as possible? What is the right thing for taxpayers, for citizens, for the city of Dallas? And that discussion needs to be had."
  • Texas is one of the worst states for kids, a study says. An annual national report on children's well-being doesn’t have a lot of good news for Texas. The Kids Count study, released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, shows that Texas still ranks in the bottom 10 states.
  • One out of every three North Texans is walking a financial tightrope. They could be knocked off by just one crisis: a medical emergency, an eviction, a job loss. They don't have enough money to weather a financial storm that lasts 90 days. KERA has explored the issue in “One Crisis Away,” an ongoing series.
  • The American Community Survey shows a wide income disparity across North Texas. There’s a significant difference between Dallas’ more prosperous northern half and the area south of Interstate 30. In one Census tract of Lake Highlands, the median household income is $131,058. In the M Streets in East Dallas, it’s $93,396. But in South Dallas, the median household income varies from $28,457 north of Fair Park to just $14,721 in another tract near Fair Park.

Read the presentation from the poverty task force

Dallas Mayor's Poverty Task Force Issues Recommendations


Watch the poverty task force's presentation here:

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.
Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.