Poverty numbers on the rise
The poverty rate in the United States dropped from 13.1 percent in 1990 to 12.4 percent in 2000. But, between 2000 and 2010, the percentage jumped to 14.9 percent with some 12.4 million living in poverty.
On a more focused front, while the population in a four-county Southern Indiana area (Harrison, Floyd, Washington and Clark) grew 8.4 percent from 2000 to 2010, those living in poverty increased by an eye-opening 59.2 percent. (That ‘living in poverty’ figure is $11,490 in annual income for one person with $4,020 tacked on for each additional person in the household.)
Those figures and many others were the topic of a discussion Monday about poverty by Dr. Melissa S. Fry, director of Indiana University Southeast’s Applied Research and Education Center during a Youth Worker Caf’ at the Harrison County Community Foundation building in Corydon.
During a 90-minute presentation, Fry shared poverty figures the AREC compiled from a year’s worth of research and gave a few indicators of why the region may be struggling with poverty.
After a national study of the increase in concentrated poverty in the nation’s metropolitan areas was completed, AREC conducted its own study and focused on the Louisville Metro area, which includes 13 counties (four in Southern Indiana and nine in Kentucky), in order to share those figures with policymakers and, perhaps, highlight areas of concern and the implications of poverty prevention and economic security.
After declining through the prosperous decade of the ’90s, poverty rates increased throughout much of the area from 2000 to 2010, mirroring a national trend that came about due in large part to the great recession.
Statistics show that, in 1990 in Harrison County, the areas where the poverty rate was between 10 and 19 percent were in the south, southwest and extreme northern parts of the county, with the Corydon, Lanesville and Ramsey areas between 0 and 9 percent. By 2000, the entire county was in the 0- to 9-percent range.
After the recession, not only did the earlier areas that were in the higher poverty range in 1990 return to their figures, but the Corydon and Ramsey areas also had poverty rates climb between 10 to 19 percent.
Two-thirds of the census tracts in the more rural communities of Washington and Harrison counties increased poverty rates as the 21st century began. Five of Harrison and Washington counties’ 12 census tracts shifted from low to moderate poverty and another two tracts saw rates climb from moderate to high poverty.
One obvious area in which poverty can be avoided is in the area of well-paying jobs. But, Fry said, there’s more to the answer than just jobs.
‘It’s really quite costly to us as communities where we can save by keeping students in school. People don’t think beyond suspension,’ Fry said. ‘We need to prevent dropouts and expulsions. Dropouts and expulsions cost us a lot because then we have to put in to have high school equivalency programs. They are great programs but, if we could prevent the dropout to begin with, then we could save on other support services.’
Regarding jobs, Fry pointed out that the median living-wage income in this area for a single individual is $32,000 to $33,000, and many families are living on a lot less than that while also having children they need to support.
‘While we welcome some new jobs to this area and it’s wonderful and great, but the greatest job growth in our area after the recession has been in low-wage jobs,’ she said. ‘On $10 an hour, you simply can’t get yourself out of public housing and into affordable housing.’
Corydon Elementary School counselor Cheryl Lone was one of about 20 people who attended the seminar.
‘A starting teacher with a bachelor’s degree is only making $32,000 and that’s a job that requires a bachelor’s degree,’ Lone said. ‘If you work for the welfare office, you start off making less than that and you have to have a degree. To me, that’s as much of an issue that, if you have a four-year degree, you can barely make living wage.’
Fry added that the average salary of a college graduate from IUS is making $32,000 to $33,000 a year, which is at the living wage.
‘We need to be welcoming new jobs, but those jobs have to pay well enough that people can support themselves because we all have to pay for those who don’t have living-wage jobs,’ Fry said.
Finding affordable housing in the area can also be difficult for those living at or below the living wage.
‘A minimum wage worker, in order to find housing deemed affordable, which is 30 percent of your income, would need to find housing rent (at) $348 a month. It’s not very easy to find housing in our area for $348 a month. So, we end up with all kinds of folks who can’t even afford housing on the earnings they are bringing in,’ Fry said. ‘The median market rate for rent is over $700, so we have a mismatch between what our housing stock offers and what can reasonably afford to be paid.’
Fry will give another free seminar on Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Indiana University Southeast’s University Center in Room 122.