Poverty Leaps In El Paso

Darren Meritz, El Paso Times, Aug. 31

El Paso’s income levels plunged and poverty rates jumped dramatically between 2003 and 2004, Census Bureau estimates released Tuesday indicate.

The statistics bear one truth for job seekers in El Paso: Good work is hard to find.

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Ignacio Chavira, a father of five children, has a part-time job with Bienvivir, a health services company for seniors, and has been looking for full-time work for eight months. But he said there’s little in El Paso for him.

“El Paso is a service city, nothing else. There are no high-paying jobs in El Paso,” said Chavira, 42. “It’s very difficult because you know the wages are very low, and with people coming from Juárez, you know they have a lot of people to choose from.”

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The figures showed that 32.3 percent of El Paso County residents lived in poverty in 2004, up from 27.4 percent a year earlier. Only Hidalgo and Cameron counties in Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley had higher poverty rates among the country’s urban counties, according to the Census Bureau.

Median household income in El Paso County dropped by more than 6 percent, to $28,925 in 2004 from an inflation adjusted $30,787 a year earlier. Income levels in Texas and the rest of the United States were essentially flat in that period.

Last year was the second consecutive year of declining income and rising poverty levels in El Paso County. An estimated 26.7 percent of the population lived in poverty in 2002, and the county had a median household income of $31,992 when adjusted for inflation.

That means income levels have declined about 10 percent in two years.

State demographer Steve Murdock cited immigration from Mexico as one of a number of complex factors influencing poverty rates and income in El Paso.

“Immigrants, whether you’re looking at Irish and Germans 200 years ago or Hispanics today, come in with relatively low levels of education and they take relatively low-level jobs,” Murdock said.

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Besides a large immigrant population, El Paso and other border cities tend to have larger families and more women as heads of households—all indicators of lower median household income and poverty, Howard said.

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