Valdez
"I come from the poorest ZIP code in San Antonio."

Lupe Valdez on Wednesday, April 11th, 2018 in an interview with Austin American-Statesman commentator Ken Herman

Mostly True

Lupe Valdez: 'I come from the poorest ZIP code in San Antonio'

Democratic gubernatorial aspirant Lupe Valdez, shown here in April 2018 with hopeful Andrew White, made a Mostly True claim about poverty in the place she grew up (PHOTO: Jay Janner, Austin American-Statesman).

Lupe Valdez, who ran ahead of fellow Democratic candidates for governor in the party’s March 2018 primary, later told a commentator she’s better qualified than the other Democrat still in the race because of challenges she’s overcome.

Valdez replied to an April 2018 question about why she’s the better pick heading in the May 22, 2018, primary runoff with Houston investor Andrew White: "First of all, I come from the poorest ZIP code in San Antonio and I had to struggle to get to where I am. I had to struggle to go to school. I had to struggle to go to college. I had to struggle in the military. I was always a person struggling to get further along. I know what it is to have to struggle in your everyday life. And the majority of Texans are still struggling today."

Valdez has long lived in Dallas County, where she served as the county sheriff into 2018. Still, we were curious about the relative poverty of where she grew up on San Antonio’s Westside.

Campaign cites editorial

When we sought more information, Kiefer Odell of Valdez’s campaign replied by email that Valdez grew up on Calles Street, which runs just a few blocks, "in the 78207 zip code in San Antonio and lived there until she went to college."

Odell pointed out a March 2016 San Antonio Express-News editorial describing the 78207 ZIP code, which had been featured nearly 50 years earlier in a CBS News documentary, "Hunger in America,"

In 78207, the editorial said, "nearly half of the adults don’t have a high school diploma. Nearly 60 percent of adults are not working. Unemployment is up. Income is far below the state’s median level. The poverty rate is stuck at 42 percent." The editorial said: "Generations have passed, and it’s hard to say that life in the 78207 ZIP code is demonstrably better than when ‘Hunger in America’ was released."

Odell pointed too to a September 2017 account from the Rivard Report, a San Antonio news website, citing a new study finding 78207 among the city’s most distressed areas.

The analysis by the Economic Innovation Group, a think tank and advocacy group whose mission is to "advance solutions that empower entrepreneurs and investors to forge a more dynamic American economy," includes a clickable U.S. map that enabled us to isolate San Antonio’s ZIP codes by levels of distress. According to the research, rooted in American Community Survey data for 2011-15, the inner-city 78207 ZIP code ranks among nine San Antonio ZIP codes with distress scores of 90 percent or more. Within 78207, the research suggests, 47 percent of adults lacked a high school diploma; 46 percent weren’t working; and 41 percent of residents lived in poverty.

Parsing federal estimates

From the start, we confronted a hitch in fact-checking Valdez’s claim; the U.S. Postal Service put ZIP codes in place everywhere in July 1963. At the time, Valdez, born in 1947, was in her teens.

Still, we were able to get information tied to ZIP codes for recent years and nearly 20 years past plus data reflecting on poverty rates by neighborhood tracing as far back as 1960.

With help from Jeff Bloem of the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota, a resource suggested by Lloyd Potter, the Texas state demographer, we downloaded information collected in 1989 for the 1990 Census. Our sort of those results showed that at the time, 51 percent of residents of the 78207 ZIP code lived in poverty and the ZIP code ranked first among local ZIP codes in its raw count of residents in poverty (28,155). On the flip side, three less populous San Antonio ZIP codes had bigger shares of residents in poverty -- 78203 and 78208 (57 percent each, with 4,234 and 2,901 residents in poverty, respectively) and 78215 (53 percent, 657 people in poverty).

For close-to-current data, we queried the bureau’s American FactFinder to fetch estimated poverty rates by ZIP code according to the American Community Survey covering 2012-16. Results: In those years, the 78207 ZIP code ranked second in San Antonio with 41 percent of residents (20,122 people) living in poverty--trailing the less populous 78202 ZIP code, which had 45 percent of residents (5,426 people) living in poverty. According to our sort, San Antonio ZIP codes with the next-highest poverty rates were 78203 (37 percent, 2,343 people); 78208 (35 percent, 1,527 people); and 78225 (33 percent, 4,576 people).

By email, Potter cautioned against reaching conclusions based solely on the differing percentages. Once you consider ACS margins of error, Potter advised, the 78207, 78202, 78203 and 78208 ZIP codes had poverty rates not statistically distinct from each other. 78207 "is one of four ZIP codes with the highest percent living in poverty" in San Antonio, Potter summed up, and "we couldn’t say anyone was more poor than the other with statistical certainty."

Potter also pointed us to Heywood Sanders, a University of Texas at San Antonio professor. When we inquired, Sanders had handy older breakdowns of poverty by neighborhood. By email, Sanders provided a 1974 bureau report, based on surveys taken in 1969, indicating that Westside neighborhoods including Calles Street accounted for the city’s greatest concentration of low-income residents. In 1969, the report states, 51,215 of the area’s 117,800 almost entirely "Spanish language" residents, 43.5 percent, lived in poverty; the report states that 36.2 percent of residents of the next-worst-off San Antonio neighborhood lived below poverty.

Sanders also checked his records for poverty levels gauged for the 1960 census. According to that census, Sanders told us, the census tract taking in Calles Street ranked about sixth in the city for its share of residents in poverty with worse-off neighborhoods mostly on the Westside, which was once known as the Mexican Quarter or, more colloquially, Little Mexico, Sanders said.

Why so long?

We also inquired into the roots of 78207’s persistent high poverty.

Potter, saying that he works in the ZIP code, said it’s "commonly known to be one of, if not, the poorest areas of the city. Many people familiar with the city would be likely to say that even without looking at the data."

Another authority, Christine Drennon, director of the urban studies program at San Antonio’s Trinity University, identified a few factors. By email, Drennon said that when housing in the area was "originally built in the early part of the 20th century, most of it was NOT deed restricted, yet (it) was situated amongst deed-restricted neighborhoods. In addition, the lots were smaller and the infrastructure nearly nonexistent.

"That resulted," Drennon wrote, "in a non-Anglo population living in very humble housing which was later redlined and thus denied capital for rehab or upgrades. Due to local and federal policies like these, wealth was racialized, such that today this area is both poor and non-white. The housing was never replaced, thus it continues to house some of our poorest families," Drennon said.

Patti Radle, a member of the San Antonio Independent School District board of trustees, said by phone that she’s lived in the 78207 ZIP code since 1969. Poverty abides, she said, "but it’s a wonderful place to live because of the character of attention to family." Affordable housing remains a need, Radle said, and smaller streets lack sidewalks though thanks to citizen activism, many streets are far better than before.

Our ruling

Valdez said: "I come from the poorest ZIP code in San Antonio."

Poverty rates by ZIP code aren’t available for much of Valdez’s growing-up years though figures based on surveys taken in 1959, 1969, 1989 and from 2012 through 2016 show Valdez hails from the part of San Antonio long home to the greatest number of people in poverty. That said, a few other less populous ZIP codes occasionally had greater shares of residents in poverty.

We rate her claim Mostly True.


MOSTLY TRUE – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information. Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

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Mostly True
"I come from the poorest ZIP code in San Antonio."
San Antonio, Texas
Wednesday, April 11, 2018