Arizona's Vulnerable Populations

 April 2014

Opening Remarks

The 104th Arizona Town Hall was held in Tucson on April 27-30, 2014. We discussed and developed consensus with fellow Arizonans on the topic of Arizona’s Vulnerable Populations.

An essential element to the success of these consensus-driven discussions is this background report that is provided to all participants before the Town Hall convenes. Arizona State University has prepared a detailed and informative report that will provide a unique resource for your Town Hall panel sessions.

Special thanks go to the following individuals from ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy for spearheading this effort and marshaling many talented professionals to write individual chapters: Joseph Garcia, Director of Latino Public Policy Center and Director of Communication; and Andrea Whitsett, Special Projects Manager, Arizona Indicators.

For sharing their wealth of knowledge and professional talents, our thanks go to the authors who contributed to the report. Our deepest gratitude also goes to Arizona State University President, Michael Crow; and Dean of the College of Public Programs, Jonathan Koppell, who made great efforts to ensure that the university could provide this type of resource to Arizona.

The 104th Town Hall could not occur without the financial assistance of our generous Professional Partners, which (at the time of this printing) include Premier Partner APS, and Civic Leader Snell & Wilmer.

When the 104th Town Hall ends, the background report will be combined with the recommendations from the Town Hall into a final report. This final report will be available to the public on the Town Hall’s website and will be widely distributed and promoted throughout Arizona. The Town Hall’s report of recommendations and background report will be used as a resource, a discussion guide and an action plan to increase resiliency for Arizona’s vulnerable populations.


J. Scott Rhodes
Board Chair, Arizona Town Hall

104th Research Committee

  • Warren Prostrollo, Chair
  • Jay Kittle, Vice Chair
  • Arlan Colton
  • Kim Demarchi
  • Darryl Dobras
  • Susan Goldsmith
  • Billie Fidlin
  • Jim Holoway
  • Tara Jackson, Ex Officio
  • Jonathan Koppell
  • Rita Maguire
  • Elizabeth McNamee
  • Patrick McWhortor
  • Ray Newton
  • Pat Norris
  • Steve Pedigo
  • Scott Rhodes, Ex Officio
  • Fred Rosenfeld
  • Chad Sampson
  • David Snider
  • Bob Strain
  • Marissa Theisen
  • Devan Wastchak
  • Terri Wogan
  • Larry Woods


Contributing Authors

Antonia Adams-Clement
Mesa Community College

Nina Babich
Senior Fellow
Corporation for a Skilled Workforce

Andrea Banks
Rio Salado College

Eric Bjorklund Banks
Ph.D. Student in Sociology
University of Arizona

Luke Black
Arizona Community Action Association

Luis de la Cruz-Parra
Maricopa Community College District

Dr. Richard Fabes
Founding Director
T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Arizona State University

Felicia Ganther
Maricopa Community College District

Joseph Garcia
Morrison Institute for Public Policy
Arizona State University

Dr. Maria Harper-Marinick
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost
Maricopa Community College District

Kevin Hengehold
Energy Program Director
Arizona Community Action Association

Dr. Lane Kenworthy
Professor of Sociology and Political Science
University of Arizona

Julie Knapp
Scottsdale Community College

Kelly McGowan
Strategic Initiatives Manager
Arizona Community Action Association

Dr. Ray Ostos
Maricopa Community College District

Kathleen Perales
Mesa Community College

Suzanne Pfister
President and Chief Executive Officer
St. Luke’s Health Initiatives (SLHI)

Dr. Michael S. Shafer
School of Social Work
College of Public Programs
Arizona State University

Julia Grace Smith
Ph.D. Student in Sociology
University of Arizona

Ed Strong
Senior Fellow
Corporation for a Skilled Workforce

Cynthia Zwick
Executive Director
Arizona Community Action Association

Introduction by Jonathan Koppell

Defining and understanding ‘Arizona’s Vulnerable Populations’

Nearly 1.25 million Arizonans live in poverty – or about 19 percent of the population, according to recent Census Bureau data.

They are individuals and families who live in an almost constant state of distress, not knowing where the next meal will come from; juggling financial obligations against meager incomes (the federal poverty line is $15,510 annually for a family of two, $23,550 for a family of four); choosing between electricity and prescription medication; struggling to navigate a maze of public programs and bureaucracies intended to serve as a safety net.

They are our poor.

But there is another population – or populations, really – not so easily identifiable, rarely studied and seldom a topic of discussion by policymakers or community leaders. They are Arizona’s vulnerable populations.

Vulnerable Populations

Like the poor, vulnerable populations are struggling on a daily basis but usually do so in silence, undetected by traditional radar and rankings, often unaware themselves of their high risk for being pushed or pulled into full-blown crisis. Ineligible for financial assistance under strict eligibility guidelines, they don’t qualify as poor because vulnerable populations are not yet in full crisis.

To be clear, this report is not about the “poor,” at least not in the limited sense of the word.

Arizona’s Vulnerable Populations, prepared for the 102nd Arizona Town Hall, is about our underemployed wage earners, our single-parent households, our deployed or returning military members, our undereducated and unskilled workforce, our debt-ridden neighbors, our uninsured friends, our family members with no savings for an emergency, much less retirement.

To various degrees these vulnerable populations are at high risk of sliding into outright financial disaster, perhaps due to a sudden loss of job or a reduction in work hours, a blown car engine, a near-paralyzing bout with depression, subprime credit scores or garnished wages for a defaulted student loan.

An estimated 43.5 percent of U.S. households do not have a basic safety net to weather emergencies or prepare for future needs, such as a child’s education or homeownership, according to the 2014 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard by the Corporation for Enterprise Development. The numbers are even higher for Arizona with 45.7 percent of all Arizona households – and an alarming 67.4 percent of Arizona households with people of color – at high risk of falling into abject poverty.

The poor have a safety net (with its extensiveness of coverage the usual topic of debate and discussion). But since most of our social services apparatus essentially is modeled after a hospital emergency room and not a family physician, at-risk conditions experienced by vulnerable populations often go undetected and untreated until they reach full crisis, when the prognosis for recovery is at its worst.

Also noteworthy is that this report, assembled and managed by Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, is a departure from the traditional Town Hall publication in that it’s more of a sample summary of various topics to better understand vulnerability in a more inclusive way.

Built around five major factors of vulnerability – access to resources, family dynamics, healthcare, education and employment – this report and complementary but enhanced website are designed to provide Town Hall participants and eventually other Arizonans with the framework for discussing vulnerable populations.

For some, this will be the first of what we hope will be many such conversations. As a society, we should continue to talk about addressing our poor, of course. But we should also include deliberation about vulnerable populations to find ways to keep more individuals, families and communities from slipping into poverty as the gap between the haves and have-nots widen and the Middle Class constricts.

We thank the many authors and contributors to this report and accompanying website, which will be offered to the general public after the Town Hall discusses, deliberates and digests the topic of vulnerable populations and forms its important recommendations and conclusions.

There are a lot of numbers in this report, but it’s important to remember that numbers represent people. Each has a story to tell; each has a potential for achievement. Another key understanding is that if we have vulnerable populations, (and most assuredly we do), then we also have a vulnerable state, and thereby a vulnerable future for Arizona.

If the Great Recession has taught us anything – with its many bankruptcies and foreclosures resulting from the massive job loss due to the housing-market collapse spurred by the economic nosedive – it’s that we are only beginning to truly appreciate just how collectively and connectively vulnerable we are, regardless of our individual and present financial standing.

For a more secure future, Arizona must ensure its citizenry is more financially secure.

It makes far more sense to address this fragility in a preemptive manner than attempting to pull somebody from the depths of poverty after the shock of some unfortunate episode leaves him or her reeling. This is the challenge before the Town Hall, and we hope this report on Arizona’s vulnerable populations provides the necessary background and framework that will lead to productive discourse and positive outcome.

Thank you for your participation.

Jonathan Koppell, Dean

2014 Liquid Asset Poverty Report Card

There is poverty (those already in crisis) and liquid asset poverty (those at high risk of falling into abject poverty). Nearly half (43.5 percent) of U.S. households in the United States do not have a basic safety net to weather emergencies or prepare for future needs, such as a child’s college education or homeownership. They are among the nation’s high-risk, vulnerable populations living in Liquid Asset Poverty.

Final Recommendations

Key points to keep in mind when discussing vulnerable populations include:

  • Vulnerable populations are not identified as “poor” since the poor already are in full crisis. Vulnerable populations are at high risk for slipping into crisis due to one or more factors or stressors.
  • Incomes are only one factor contributing to vulnerable populations. There often are more than one stressor or contributing factor, including family status, education levels and geographical region.
  • Ethnic minorities – especially Arizona’s burgeoning Latino population – are among those most vulnerable due to several factors. With Arizona’s changing demographics, especially troubling is the state’s educational attainment gap for Latinos, who represent Arizona’s future majority workforce and population.

Other segments of Arizona’s general population who are most vulnerable include:

  • Developmentally disabled individuals
  • Single-parent families
  • Workers with seasonal jobs, fluctuating hours or temporary employment
  • Workers not earning a livable wage or receiving employee benefits
  • Individuals or those unable to withstand a temporary financial emergency
  • Those who use “payday loans” or similar high-interest loans
  • Those who have subprime credit and pay high banking fees
  • Those who do not use traditional financial services such as banks
  • Those without healthcare insurance or with a costly medical bill
  • Those who are underemployed or whose jobs are especially susceptible to economic ebbs and flows
  • Those who are undereducated and those without marketable skills, certificates or degrees
  • Those with little or no family support system, especially newcomers
  • Those who live in rural areas or depressed urban areas without close proximity to financial, healthcare and community services
  • Those without access to resources, including Internet and public libraries
  • Those without access to reliable transportation, including mass transit
  • Those suffering from health problems, including behavioral health

This report is not intended to ignore the poor, but rather include vulnerable populations in such discussions by community leaders and policy makers to prevent vulnerable populations from slipping into full crisis – a hole that has proven to be difficult to escape, given the stubborn syndrome of abject poverty.

This somewhat new conversation also should note that with such a large segment of Arizona’s population as vulnerable, this in turn makes Arizona as a whole vulnerable. There is an economic case to address triggers of vulnerability, with lessons of the domino effect experienced by Arizona at a disproportionate level in the recent Great Recession. The sliding scale that makes up Arizona’s vulnerable populations shows the connectivity of all economics. There is no “them,” just “us.”