Some Washington counties are struggling with high poverty rates

Sep 20, 2012

New figures on poverty from the Census Bureau show big differences between counties in Washington state.

Counties in the Puget Sound region had a lower poverty rate than the nation as a whole in 2011. The rate for counties around Seattle didn’t change much compared with 2010.

It’s a different story in other parts of the state. Franklin County in eastern Washington had a 30 percent poverty rate – twice the national rate.

Dean Schau is an economics professor at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, which is in Franklin County. He says one of the main reasons why poverty is so high there is because the county has so many immigrants doing low-wage agricultural work.

"They start at the bottom, they don’t pay very well, it’s very seasonal, and hopefully they’re on some type of a path in which they and their families will get better work and more education," Schau said.

He says Franklin County also has a high rate of teenagers having babies, which gets in the way of achieving higher education.

In neighboring Richland, in Benton County, there are a lot fewer poor people. The poverty rate in Benton County is about 10 percent. Richland is home to many high-skilled workers because of the nearby Hanford nuclear site and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Other counties in Washington with high poverty rates are  Yakima, Grays Harbor, Grant and Cowlitz.