County poverty rate above state's

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

1 in 4 children in Barry County live in poverty

According to the United States Census Bureau, poverty rates in Barry County are higher than the statewide poverty rate, and one in four Barry County children live in poverty.

Bureau statistics show 18 percent of county residents were living below the poverty level between 2008 and 2012, while the statewide poverty rate for the same time frame is 15 percent. The same 15 percent rate applied to the United States, as 46.5 million people were living at or below the poverty line.

Stan Kelley, president and CEO of Freedom Bank in Cassville and president of the Cassville Industrial Development Corporation, said a number of things can lead to having a poverty rate higher than the statewide rate.

"We have a lot of manufacturing jobs in the area, but some of those jobs have a lower pay scale compared to pay scales statewide," he said. "Being in a rural sector, wages tend to be a little less than metropolitan or city-influenced sectors."

Households residing outside of metropolitan areas have historically had lower incomes than the urban counterparts, according to the Housing Assistance Council. In Barry County, the median household income is $38,153 while the statewide median income is $47,333.

Poverty among children has also been affecting the county, as in 2007, the U.S. Census reported that 25.7 percent of people under the age of 18 in Barry County were living in poverty. The statewide rate for the age group was 18.3 percent.

Steve Dunker, who works with the Aurora Project and is a guardian ad-litem, said through his work, he sees a lot of families in poverty, many of which are one-parent homes.

"In my work enforcing child support laws, I see a lot of parents who fail to pay, and that drives down the standard of living down for their kids," he said. "Then, many of the custodial parents have to go on government assistance, like food stamps, and that's not good.

"There's also been times I've seen one parent say he or she does not want child support, and we have to make sure, if that is truly the case, that there is an adequate amount of income to support the child.

Dunker said as a guardian ad-litem, he sees the standard of living heavily affected by parents' education level.

"A low standard of living can have an element of abuse and neglect, and if that happens, we have to get a hold of the children's division and make a report to them," he said. "Then, they will get involved to help the family get out of that situation.

"Poverty also appears to be tied into the level of education. A lot of parents I see living in poverty have not graduated from big school and may have difficulty reading, and that makes a difference when it comes to acquiring job skills because that lack of education puts them at a disadvantage."

This year, food stamp usage has spiked to nearly 20 percent in the county, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services.

In 2011, residents of Barry County received a combined total of $10,667,847 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, the USDA reported. Barry County, and similar counties located outside of metropolitan areas, tend to have a higher percentage of the population receiving SNAP benefits because incomes generally run lower in non-metropolitan counties, according to a survey done by the Food Research and Action Center.

Kelley said poverty rates can be affected by families in which one spouse may work part time or may not work at all.

"A lot of families now have one spouse who is self-employed while the other spouse works somewhere in the community," he said. "That can lead to a the rate being lower as well."

Poverty can also affect domestic disputes. According to Seligman Police Chief Terry Burgess, police reports increase at the end of the month typically because of financial problems.

"It seems like money is usually a dominating factor for low-income and poverty-ridden families involved in domestic violence incidents," he said.

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