COLUMBIA — While the U.S. median income rose and the poverty rate declined in 2015, new data depicts a more stagnant story for Columbia.

Almost a quarter of Columbia residents lived below the poverty line in 2015, according to new numbers released on Thursday by the American Community Survey. The 2015 rate of 24.6 percent fell slightly from the 2014 rate of 24.9 percent, with a margin of error of approximately 3 percent.

The new data show the median income at $44,160 for 2015, which fell from the 2014 median income of $46,624. The margin of error for both was over $4,000.

The release of local statistics followed a release of nationwide data from the U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday that the U.S. poverty rate decreased by 1.2 percent from 2014 to 2015 and the median income increased by 5.2 percent.

The state of Missouri also saw its poverty rate lower from 15.5 percent in 2014 to 14.8 percent in 2015 and its median income raise by almost 4 percent.

The poverty rate "is more intractable than I wish it was," said Second Ward City Councilman Michael Trapp. "It’s a hard number to move positively." Trapp has worked on the city’s strategic plan to reduce income inequality.

“If you’re poor in Boone County, you’re much more likely to stay in poverty for your life than the national average,” Trapp said.

He said one of the best ways out of poverty is a living wage job. He pointed to a recent decision by Columbia Public Schools to increase wages for maintenance workers and encouraged major employers in the community, such as the city and the university, to follow suit.

Andrew Grabau, executive director of the Heart of Missouri United Way, said the poverty rate in Columbia speaks to the high cost of living in the community.

“A majority of the individuals that are classified as impoverished in our community work,” Grabau said. He said that residents working minimum wage jobs have to work 71 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

“That ability to move from poverty to the next is based off of education level,” Grabau said. He also cited other contributing factors, such as meaningful employment.

Trapp also emphasized the need to provide skills training to workers so they can access higher-wage jobs. He pointed to a loss of manufacturing jobs as a contributor to the poverty level.

Both Grabau and Trapp agreed that increased access to health care would alleviate the poverty rate. Trapp cited Medicaid expansion as step in the right direction.

“If you’re managing your health care, you can move into jobs,” Trapp said.

“I’m not surprised by the census data,” Trapp said. “It outlines the tremendous task that we have in front of us.”

Supervising editors are John Schneller and Allison Colburn.

  • Erin McKinstry is an Enterprise reporter for the Columbia Missourian. Reach her by email at emckinstry8@gmail.com or by phone at 314-800-4764.

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