Poverty spells grim Christmas

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 26, 2000

for many Pike County residents

Staff Report

Nov. 25, 2000 10 PM

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It may be a bleak Christmas for many in Pike County.

According to the 1997 poverty rates recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau, 24.6 percent of Pike County’s population is living in poverty. That translates into 6,778 people.

Annette Jones Watters, manager of the Alabama State Data Center at the University of Alabama, said the Census Bureau defines poverty according to guidelines set by the Office of Management and Budget.

"The poverty thresholds vary by family size and composition," Watters said. "That is, a large family and, therefore, every member in it, can be poor even if that family has somewhat more income than a small family."

Poverty thresholds do not vary by geography, but are updates each year because of inflation.

"The official poverty definition counts money income before taxes and does not include capital gains and non-cash benefits, such as public housing, Medicaid and food stamps," Watters said.

According to the estimates for Pike County, there are 2,439 residents under the age of 17 living in poverty and 1,651 of them are between the ages of 5 and 17.

The 1997 numbers show Pike County’s median income is $23,915.

Pike County’s numbers are higher than the state average.

In Alabama 700,944 people are living in poverty, which is 16.2 percent. Of those, 60,970 are under age of 17. The median family income is $30,790.

Shelby County (6.8 percent) is the only county in the state which did not have a double-digit poverty rate. Perry County’s 36.6 percent poverty rate was the highest.

Watters said the information is an estimate and not an actual count.

"The estimates have a range," Watters said. "For example, the percent of Perry County’s population living in poverty could be as low as 28.4 percent or as high as 44.7 percent."

Information used by the Census Bureau includes the Current Population Survey, the Food Stamp and Supplemental Security programs, summary data from federal income tax returns and data from the 1990 census.

Watters also said the estimates are "much less precise than what we will learn form the long form of Census 2000."

But, that information will not be available until 2002, so current estimates will be used to allocate federal funds to programs, such as Head Start and others that rely on formulas to calculate eligibility, she said.

"If there is good news in this latest set of estimates, it is that poverty levels in Alabama have generally declined through the decade," Watters said. "Even in very poor counties, fewer people are living in poverty now than at the beginning or midpoint of the 1990s."

The Alabama State Data Center, housed in the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama, is the lead agency in the state in a cooperative arrangement with the U.S. Bureau of the Census. The ASDA provides data, interpretation and analysis.