Urban League Releases Report On Income, Poverty In 10 Arkansas Cities

(from left) Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Mervin Jebaraj, assistant director of the Center for Business and Economic Research; Sherman Tate, state Urban League board chair; and Ken Wade, executive director of the Urban League of the State of Arkansas.
Credit Steve Brawner / Talk Business and Politics

Poverty rates increased for African Americans in Little Rock from 2010-13 while median incomes for all races dropped in Fort Smith over that time period, according to a report released Thursday (Sept. 1) by the state’s Urban League chapter.

The report was prepared for the Urban League of the State of Arkansas by the University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business Center for Business and Economic Research. Copies were presented in the Governor’s Conference Room with Gov. Asa Hutchinson on hand.

The board of directors of the National Urban League voted the state office as an official affiliate in November 2014 after several years of local activists laying the groundwork. Previously, it existed about 25 years ago in only the Little Rock area. Satellite offices will be located in Springdale and Helena-West Helena.

Herman Lessard, senior vice president of affiliate services for the National Urban League, said the African American population is migrating back to the South, and the Urban League is trying to redeploy its affiliates across the country. Sherman Tate, board chair, said the League will push educational excellence.

The report focused on 10 cities: Little Rock, Fort Smith, Bentonville, Jonesboro, Pine Bluff, Texarkana, El Dorado, Blytheville, West Memphis, and Helena-West Helena. Researchers identified six indicators: population, educational attainment for those over age 25, median income, poverty rates, rental costs, and health insurance rates. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey was compared for whites, African Americans and Latinos.

Mervin Jebaraj, assistant director of the Center for Business and Economic Research, said the study found that the higher the educational attainment, the higher the incomes and the lower the poverty rates. Communities with lower median incomes paid a higher percentage of their income for housing – for many, more than the maximum 30% that is considered the limit to be considered “affordable,” despite Arkansas’ low housing costs.

Following were some of the findings.

• In Little Rock, 51.6% of the population in 2013 was white, 42.2% was African American, and 6.2% was Hispanic. The median income for whites in 2013 was $61,979, an increase from $57,609 in 2010. African Americans, meanwhile, saw their median incomes decrease from $32,143 in 2010 to $30,641 in 2013. Overall poverty rates increased from 17.4% in 2010 to 18.6% in 2013. African Americans in poverty rose from 26.1% in 2010 to 27.7% in 2013, while Hispanics in poverty rose from 34.3% in 2010 to 41.4% in 2013.

• In Fort Smith, the median income for all races dropped two consecutive years, from $37,340 in 2011 to $36,618 in 2013. The percentage of residents living below the poverty line rose from 21% in 2010 to 25% in 2013. More than 40% of African Americans, 45.9% of Hispanics and 23.3% of whites lived below the poverty line in 2013. Meanwhile, 20.3% of the population has a bachelor’s degree, but only 40.5% of Latinos have a high school diploma.

• In Jonesboro, African Americans’ median income fell from $21,569 in 2010 to $20,698 in 2013, meaning that group’s income was less than half of whites’ ($44,920) while Hispanics’ income was $31,133. The percentage of Jonesboro residents living below the poverty line rose from 22% in 2010 to 24.2% in 2013. Among African Americans, the percentage rose from 45.8% in 2010 to 48.4% in 2013, while poverty in the Hispanic community rose from 36.6% to 41.5%.

• In Bentonville, African Americans make up 2.9% of the population but are doing better than members of other groups. In 2013, they earned an average of $75,234 – an increase from $32,305 in 2011, which was more than whites ($58,121) or Hispanics ($37,773). Fifty-one percent of African Americans had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2013, up from 40% in 2010 and the highest of the three ethnic groups. However, 30% of African Americans lived below the poverty line, which was a much higher rate than whites (8.5%) or Hispanics (9.8%).

Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research, said the high median incomes among African Americans is because of the population’s small number, with many working for major employers such as Wal-Mart Stores