Falling Behind - The Missourian: Editorials

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Falling Behind

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Posted: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 6:32 pm

If you were surprised to learn the poverty rate in Franklin County nearly doubled in a year, the people and agencies that serve the poor were not. They’ve known for some time that the number of poor in this area is on the rise. That’s true here and across our state.

According to figures released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau, Franklin County’s estimated poverty rate in 2012 was 16.2 percent compared to 8.5 percent in 2011.

Our county’s poverty rates generally track state and national averages. Nationwide, the count of America’s poor remains mired at a record number: 46.2 million, or about 15 percent of the population. In Missouri, the percentage of those living in poverty is 15.5 percent.

We are aware of skepticism regarding Census Bureau data and how poverty is measured and defined. But you don’t need official reports to confirm what is happening in our area. Just ask any of the volunteers at the various food pantries or workers at the agencies that provide assistance to the poor in our county. They corroborate the official statistics — more people are in need of help.

But the trends in this most recent Census report are alarming. The trajectory of the curve on poverty is headed in the wrong direction in Missouri and in Franklin County. More people are slipping through the cracks and into poverty.

In fact, since 2000, the percentage of Missourians living in poverty has nearly doubled. That number grew at more than 3.5 times the national average, according to Census Bureau figures.

The new census data revealed some other clues about the overall economic health of this area. The estimated median household income in Franklin County fell from $52,127 in 2008 to $42,214 in 2012. And the percentage of people without health insurance rose from an estimated 9.3 percent in 2008 to 13.1 percent in 2012. These trends influence the poverty rates.

It’s not hard to discern the reasons for the higher poverty figures. The lingering effects of the recession, including high unemployment continue to push people into poverty.

Wage stagnation, especially for the working poor, is also a factor. Many people who lost high-paying jobs have returned to the work force at jobs that pay much less. The reality is that a large segment of our population is just one medical calamity away from bankruptcy and poverty.

The census report demonstrates more people are falling behind in the land of opportunity.

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