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Missoula Measures - Poverty


Why this topic?

Almost every positive personal and community outcome is negatively affected by poverty, including short- and long-term health. Of particular concern are children living in poverty. Poverty is to a great extent a community problem of resources, rather than just an individual problem. The status of resources like affordable housing, transportation, education and training, jobs providing a living wage, health insurance, and available child care to a large extent determine an area’s poverty rate.

How are we doing?

In 2010, 9.6% of Missoula County families lived in poverty, compared to 11.1% of families in the Montana, and 11.8% of families in the US. For the average family of four in the U.S., the poverty guideline (used to determine eligibility for programs) is defined by an annual household income of $22,550 for 2013. US Poverty Guidelines

It is estimated that nearly 50% of impoverished Missoula children live in deep poverty, which is half of the poverty level. The UM student population of 13,000 does skew these data and makes our status appear worse as many students live in a different kind of poverty than struggling families. 



graph number of Missoulians living in poverty 1990, 2000, 2010 

Related Data


Missoula Children in Poverty

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For the past several years, an average 40% percent of Missoula County’s elementary (K-8) students received free or reduced price school lunches. Eligible for free or reduced school  lunches - District 1, and Outlying County Schools

Although the children most vulnerable to living in poverty are those under five, children under 18 years of age in the U. S. continued to represent a large share of the poor population (about 39 percent) even though they were only about 26 percent of the total population Poverty in the U. S., 1998, U. S. Census Bureau, Sept. 1999, Census Bureau website.


Poverty in Missoula - All Ages

Percent of Missoulians living below poverty, 2010 

Source: US Census

While Montana’s poverty rates resembled the national rates, they were the highest for states in the Northwest Region Who Is Poor?, 1999, Institute for Research on Poverty, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison. Most likely this reflects two factors: 1) presence of seven American Indian reservations in the state; all-age poverty rates in the U. S. are highest among minorities ; 2) poverty rates in rural areas are higher. In the past two decades, unemployment increased in rural areas while part-time and “informal” employment increased, and earnings of rural workers decreased in relation to urban workers. The “working poor” (workers earning below-poverty wages) are more common in rural areas .

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Brief Background

Who is poor?

The 2013 annual income poverty thresholds (used for statistical purposes) for a family of 4 was $23,550.  US Poverty Guidelines  The official poverty definition counts money income before taxes and does not include capital gains and non-cash benefits (such as public housing, medicaid, and food stamps).

According to the 2004 Census almost 20% of Montana’s children under age 18 lived in poverty, and children under age 5 were at an even higher level of poverty. Montana continues to rank low in median household income. Compared to other states in the Northwest, Montana had the highest rate of poverty. It can be estimated that 12% of Montana's population is “food insecure,” and of that number, almost 5% was “food insecure with hunger.” Both children and adults living in poverty have difficulty accessing food in a sustainable manner that meets their nutrition needs.  Hungry in Montana Report - 2012.

Employed American Indians are more likely to earn wages below poverty levels. Underemployment is more prevalent among rural minorities than non-minorities Paul Miller. Poverty levels on the seven Montana reservations are the highest in the state, reaching up to 50 percent of the population Montana State Advisory Council on Food and Nutrition, 1993.

Additionally, almost 21 percent of aged persons not living with family members are poor. Fifty percent of people in Missoula County over the age of 60 live alone and have annual incomes of less than $10,000 Report to the Community, Missoula Aging Services, 1999.

graph % of families with children in poverty, US, 2011 


 graph percent of families with children living in poverty, 2011, US, Montana, Missoula 



Hunger is measured as a lack of food security and food deprivation. Poor families, particularly young families and those headed by single women, are at the greatest risk for hunger. 10% of Montanans experience hunger on any given day. (J.Smith) Problems also arise in the quality of nutrition poor families receive. Many diets are restricted to only a few kinds of foods. Children who are hungry do not fare well in school WIC, MCCHD. Inadequate nutrition can cause social withdrawal, delayed motor skills development, and delayed physical growth Dramatic Increase in Montana's Young Child Poverty Rates, The Prevention Connection, Vol. II, Issue 4, Winter, 1998.



Related Websites

National Center for Children in Poverty

Montana Poverty Report Card 2011

Consumer Price Index Conversion Factors - to convert today's dollar value to that of a previous year

Links to health data, statistics and information from many national sources.


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