Waco poverty down, but ...

Updated: Mar 4

By Jeremy Rhodes


With the release of the Waco Snapshot Report, I will be devoting a few newsletter columns to the findings of the report.


The City of Waco has seen a gradual reduction in poverty rates since 2015, with a 2019 poverty rate (the most recent data available) of 26.2%. Unfortunately, Waco’s poverty rate remains much higher than the state poverty rate (14.7%) and the poverty rate of 10 of Waco’s peer cities (the 10 cities have an average poverty rate of 18.2%). The current income threshold for poverty is $21,960 for a family of three, and each additional family member adds about $4,500 to the threshold. More than a quarter of Waco’s households make less than this income threshold.


While a decrease in poverty is good for our community, it is important to provide context for these numbers. The chart below shows the poverty rates broken down by the 4 most populous racial/ethnic groups in Waco. As of 2019, about 21% of Waco’s White residents live below poverty, while over 35% of Waco’s Black residents live below poverty. The current poverty rate for Asian residents of Waco is 18%, while the poverty rate for Latinos is 28%. All groups have seen at least some improvement over the last 5 years, but the improvement for White residents is small. The poverty rate for Black residents has improved by 3 percentage points. The rate for Latinos has improved by about 5 percentage points, while the poverty rate for Asian residents has declined by a whopping 22 percentage points.



Finally, the divergent poverty rates in our community can also be understood by looking at the geographic distribution of poverty. The map below displays poverty rates from 2019 by each census tract. The highest poverty rates (greater than 50%, in some cases) occur in the Carver section of East Waco, the Brook Oaks section of North Waco, and much of South Waco surrounding Baylor University. (Keep in mind that Waco’s areas are not named according to conventional cardinal directions; for more explanation, see the snapshot report.) At the same time, the western suburbs of Waco see poverty rates in the single digits.

Jeremy Rhodes, Ph.D., is director of research and community impact with Prosper Waco.