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Arizona is home to the nation’s fifth-highest poverty rates

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

PHOENIX — A recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau found nearly 18 percent of Arizonans live in poverty. That’s the fifth-highest poverty rate in the country.

The findings didn’t come as a surprise for Cynthia Zwick, executive director of the Arizona Community Action Association.

“It’s a position that we’ve been holding on and off for a couple of years,” she said. “We sort of bounce between fifth, fourth and sixth place.”

Nationally, the poverty rate is 14.7 percent. Washington, D.C. has the highest poverty rate, with 21 percent of its residents living in poverty. California comes in a close second with 20.4 percent.

Zwick said one of the main reasons why Arizona has such a high poverty rate is due to people still struggling to recover from the recession.

“When we experienced the recession in 2008 and the years that followed, many Arizonans lost their jobs and either became unemployed or took jobs that didn’t pay what they were making prior to the recession hitting,” she said.

Zwick said another reason is the “proliferation” of low-wage jobs. She said about a quarter of the jobs in Arizona pay the minimum wage, “which is not enough money for families to live on.”

Many of those jobs also don’t provide health insurance, and they have irregular work schedules.

Zwick said her group is working to help Arizonans facing poverty in a number of ways. That includes managing the Home Energy Assistance Fund, which helps families pay their utility bills. The group also administers the Raise Arizona program, which is made up of employers who are committed to paying workers a living wage.

Zwick said encouraging businesses to pay a living wage, which she said in Maricopa County is $14.33 an hour, would help reduce the poverty rate in Arizona. She added “a meaningful investment in education” would also help.

“We know that folks who have a quality education and can stay in school benefit long term,” she said.

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