Highlighting Disparities Among People of Color in Tucson

Jennifer Pullen, Senior Research Economist

Access to racial and economic data is vital to help leaders and policymakers take action when inequalities exist. The MAP includes race & ethnicity data when available for all of its core indicators. Additionally, data on gender and family types are included when appropriate. Feature articles are also included on the MAP to further enhance the depth of information available. According to the National Equity Atlas, all residents, regardless of race, ethnicity, or neighborhood would have the resources and opportunities necessary to fully participate in economic, social, and political life. This article explores how connected Tucsonans are in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion using a wide range of indicators that explore access.

Housing is a significant expense for most households regardless of if they own or rent. Households that pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing-related costs are considered cost-burdened. These cost-burdened households are more likely to struggle to pay for other basic needs such as healthcare, childcare, transportation, and even food. The MAP tracks housing cost burden rates annually by tenure, age, and income. The National Equity Atlas has housing cost burden rates by race & ethnicity. In Tucson, 31.7% of all households were housing cost-burdened in 2020. That increased to 51.0% for renters. Native Americans posted the highest housing cost burden rate at 61.0%, while those who are Mixed/Other race had the lowest rates at 48.0%.

On average, homeowners have significantly lower housing cost burden rates in Tucson and nationally. When exploring housing cost burden rates for homeowners in Tucson by race & ethnicity, we find that they are consistently lower than their national peers. While Native Americans who rented had the highest housing cost burden rates, those that owned their home had the lowest at 17.0%. Latino homeowners in Tucson had the highest housing cost burden rates at 25.0%. Figures 1a and 1b highlight the housing cost burden rates by race and ethnicity for homeowners and renters. Use the dropdown box to change from homeowners to renters.

Figure 1a-b: Housing Cost Burden Rates by Race & Ethnicity and Tenure (2019)

Living in poverty is an important indicator of financial distress among households. Families whose income level is near or below the poverty rate have difficulty accessing necessities such as housing, food, and healthcare. Local poverty rates help drive government decisions related to spending on adorable housing, free and reduced school lunch, and other forms of public assistance. High poverty rates have been linked to undesirable social outcomes such as reduced homeownership rates. The MAP tracks annual poverty rates by race & ethnicity, age, and family type. Tucson posted one of the highest poverty rates among peer western metros in 2020 at 15.9%. Native Americans had the highest rate at 38.0%, followed by American Indian and Alaska Natives at 32.6%. White, non-Hispanics posted the lowest poverty rate in Tucson at 11.2%.

The National Equity Atlas explores poverty in a slightly different way by measuring the percentage of the population living in high-poverty neighborhoods. This is defined as census tracts with a poverty rate of 30 percent or higher and is broken down by race and ethnicity for 2019. In Tucson, 65.8% of Native Americans lived in high-poverty neighborhoods (Figure 2). That was the highest rate by far, with Latinos posting the second highest rate at 26.0%. The white, non-Hispanic population posted the lowest share of people living in high-poverty neighborhoods at 9.6%.

Figure 2: Percent Living in High-Poverty Neighborhoods by Race & Ethnicity (2019)

Reliable transportation is crucial for accessing economic and educational opportunities that exist within a region. In most U.S. communities, reliable public transportation is not available. That means access to a car is critical. In Tucson, 8.0% of households do not have access to a vehicle (Figure 3). That varied significantly when broken down by race and ethnicity. Native Americans had the lowest percentage of households without access to a vehicle at 25.0%, followed by Blacks at 17.0%. At the other end of the spectrum, the white, non-Hispanic, Latino, and Asian or Pacific Islander populations posted rates near 7.0-8.0%.

Figure 3: Percent of Households without a Vehicle by Race & Ethnicity (2019)

The percentage of disconnected youth within a region varies widely by race and ethnicity. It is vital that young people have access to jobs or educational experiences. Disconnected youth (those not working or going to school) experience long-lasting impacts that include lower earnings, poor health, and higher unemployment rates. That impacts society as a whole, with lower tax revenues for communities and higher public expenditures. An upcoming feature article on the MAP will dive into the youth disconnected trends in Tucson and Arizona. In the meantime, the data from the National Equity Atlas shows that in Tucson, Native Americans had the highest share of 16 to 24-year-olds that were disconnected at 38.0% (Figure 4). The Mixed/Other, Latino, and Black populations had youth disconnected rates near 15.0%, while the white, non-Hispanic rate was 10.0%. The Asian or Pacific Islander population had the lowest youth disconnected rate in 2019 at 2.0%. The trends illustrated in Tucson were consistent across the state and nation.

Figure 4: Percent of Disconnected Youth (ages 16 to 24) by Race & Ethnicity (2019)

Air quality is important to the well-being of a region’s residents. It is of particular concern to those who have sensitivity to air pollution due to respiratory or other health conditions. The MAP tracks annual trends on Tucson’s overall air quality. Data are also available illustrating exposure to air toxins by cancer and non-cancer risk for select races and ethnicities. The National Equity Atlas reports this data as index values. Values range from 1 to 100, with 1 representing the lowest risk. In 2019, for cancer and non-cancer risk, the Black and Latino populations had the highest air pollution exposure index of 67 for Tucson, while the Native American and white, non-Hispanic populations had the lowest at 54 and 55, respectively. That translates to the Black and Latino populations having more exposure than 67 percent of U.S. census tracts. Figure 5 highlights the air pollution exposure index by race and ethnicity for the western states and select MSAs.

Figure 5: Air Pollution Exposure Index by Race & Ethnicity (2019)

Many of the factors discussed above and in the previous two articles on diversity, equity, and inclusion play a role in the longevity of an individual’s life. The National Equity Atlas points out that racism and structural inequities in education, income, wealth, health care, and other areas can accumulate throughout one’s life span and can correspond to racial gaps in life expectancy. The overall life expectancy for all racial and ethnic groups has increased over the past fifteen years. However, wide variation exists among the different races and ethnic groups. In Tucson, the life expectancy for the Asian or Pacific Islander population was the highest at 84 years of age (Figure 6). The Native American population’s life expectancy was 13 years lower at 71. Similar variations existed nationally and within the state of Arizona.

Provisional data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for the nation shows that the life expectancy rate has recently declined. In 2021, life expectancy was 76.1 years which was a decline from 77.0 in 2020. Excess deaths due to COVID-19 and other causes in 2020 and 2021 led to an overall decline in the life expectancy between 2019 and 2021 of 2.7 years for the total population according to a recent report by the CDC.  

Figure 6: Life Expectancy by Race & Ethnicity (2016)

It is often necessary to explore a wide range of indicators to get a true sense of how equitable, diverse, and inclusive a region is. The MAP explores more of these indicators annually within the core indicator offerings. However, more detailed analysis is sometimes needed to highlight areas of interest to the Tucson region. This is the third article in a series. If you missed the first two articles on diversity, equity, and inclusion the links are listed below.