- Associated Press - Thursday, September 18, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - About 5,500 more people were living in poverty in Rhode Island in 2013 compared to the previous year, new U.S. Census Bureau figures show.

The number of Rhode Islanders living in poverty increased 0.6 percent to nearly 144,500 people, or 14.3 percent of the state’s population, according to the Census Bureau’s annual review of poverty in the United States. Rhode Island also had the largest segment of poor residents among the New England states, whose rates remained unchanged or dropped.

The percentages of poor in the other five states in the region were: 8.7 percent in New Hampshire; 10.7 percent in Connecticut; 11.9 percent in Massachusetts; 12.3 percent in Vermont and 14 percent in Maine. The poverty rates were still below the national figure of 15.8 percent.

But as with any statistical survey, the bureau survey has margins of error, which mean the rate increase and the overall percentages could be slightly higher or lower. The survey also showed that the median income for Rhode Island families was $55,902 in 2013. But given the margin of error, this was of no statistical difference from 2012 levels.

Kate Brewster, executive director of the nonprofit Economic Progress Institute, said the data confirms that the recovery from the recession has been far too slow for many Rhode Island residents. She said she thinks the state should invest more in workforce training programs and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit.

“Given the persistent, high level of poverty, we should be doing more to help people and give them the tools they need to get better jobs and support their families,” she said.

Many jobs in the state pay low wages and the higher poverty rate places a strain on families, nonprofits and the economy, she said.

The food pantries that work with the Rhode Island Community Food Bank served the same number of people in July as they did in July 2013 - 62,000 people.

Andrew Schiff, chief executive officer of the food bank, said he had expected the demand to lessen with the national economy improving and spurring job growth and with Rhode Island’s unemployment rate falling.

The state Department of Labor and Training said Thursday that the jobless rate was 7.7 percent in August, the same as in July. The rate was the lowest it has been since July 2008, having fallen nearly 2 percentage points in the past year. But it still ranks among the highest in the country.

Schiff said he thinks many people fell into poverty when the benefits program for the long-term unemployed lapsed last year.

“We were hoping to see much more improvement for the people we serve,” he said. “At this point, six years after the recession, you’d figure we would. But that day has not come yet.”

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