WSU Cougar Head Logo Washington State University
WSU Insider
News and Information for Faculty, Staff, and the WSU Community

Study: Legal problems of poor triple in past decade

PULLMAN, Wash. – A statewide survey of more than 1,600 low-income Washingtonians found that seven of 10 face at least one significant civil legal problem each year and the average number of problems per low-income household has tripled over the last decade.

The majority of low-income Washingtonians do not receive the legal help they need to solve these problems: More than three-quarters of those with civil legal problems struggle without a lawyer or any type of legal help.

The survey was commissioned by the Washington State Supreme Court and conducted by Washington State University’s Social and Economic Sciences Research Center.

“We now have greater clarity than ever that we’re witnessing the erosion of the proud American principle of Justice for All,” said former U.S. Attorney John McKay in a news release from the Equal Justice Coalition, which advocates for legal services for low-income Washingtonians. “We’re standing at a point in our history with the information to defend the rights of those who are most vulnerable. This report allows us not just to see the problem, but act for a solution.”

The results indicate nearly a half million Washington residents who live in poverty are unable to find help with their civil legal problems such as access to healthcare, consumer finance and debt collection, and employment related issues.

Low-income persons of color, victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, persons with disabilities and youth experience substantially higher rates of legal problems than the general low-income population.

“We must recognize the consequences of a system of justice in our state that denies a significant portion of our population the ability to assert and defend their core legal rights,” said Supreme Court Justice Charles K. Wiggins, chair of the Civil Legal Needs Study Update Committee. “We can and we must do better.”

Washington has one state-funded legal aid attorney for every 11,628 eligible residents, which is less than half the nationally recognized minimal level of service of one legal aid attorney for every 5,000 eligible low-income residents.

The 2015 Washington State Civil Legal Needs Study Update follows a similar study published by a state Supreme Court task force in 2003. In response to the 2003 study, the Legislature devoted more resources to address the civil legal problems of low-income Washingtonians and established an agency to administer and oversee the state investment in civil legal aid.

Find the 2015 Washington State Civil Legal Needs Study Update at Find the state Office of Civil Legal Aid at



Next Story

Recent News

WSU Core-to-Career program announces members of third cohort

Twenty-one Washington State University faculty have been named as the newest members of the Core-to-Career professional development program that impacts undergradutes’ career readiness.

Sharing American political and judicial expertise overseas

Recipient of a Fulbright Senior Specialist award for a three-week visit to Slovakia, WSU’s Cornell Clayton held a series of lectures for graduate and undergraduate students focusing on contemporary American politics.

College of Education appoints Eric Johnson as associate dean

Eric Johnson, an English language learners professor, will begin his two-year term on Aug. 16 and will focus heavily on faculty and staff professional development aimed at fostering an inclusive and equitable educational environment within the college.

WSU lab joins network identifying new pathogens

As part of the $1.7 billion Pathogen Genomics Center of Excellence, the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory will play a key role preventing the spread of disease-causing pathogens, including new COVID-19 variants.

Find More News

Subscribe for more updates