Poverty report puts spotlight on Alabama issues

Published 11:14 pm Thursday, July 28, 2016

We’re aware that numbers can have the same effect on readers as a dose of Sominex, if not a high-powered barbiturate. Sometimes the story is in those numbers, however, and no commentary or exposition is really needed. That’s about the case with the Alabama Poverty Data Sheet, which was released this week by Alabama Possible, a nonprofit organization that describes its mission as removing “barriers to prosperity in Alabama through education, collaboration and advocacy.”

The numbers, based on Census Bureau estimates:

• Alabama’s population is 4,858,979; 19.2 percent live below the federal poverty line. (This year, that ranges from $11,880 in income for an individual to $24,300 for a family of four and $40,890 for a family of eight.)

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• Alabama ranks as the nation’s fourth poorest state; nineteen of its 67 counties have overall poverty rates of 25 percent or higher.

• Food insecurity is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as when “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year”; 18.8 percent of all Alabamians and 26.4 percent of children fall into that category.

Of those living in poverty:

• The racial demographics: 33.9 percent of Hispanics/Latinos, 31.6 percent of African-Americans and 13.8 percent of whites.

• The family breakdown: 49.6 percent of female-headed households with related children, 27.4 percent of children, 23.5 percent of families with related children and 10.8 percent of adults over 65.

• The educational breakdown: 30.8 percent without high school diplomas, 16.1 percent with a high school diploma or GED, 12.2 percent with some college or an associate’s degree; and 4.3 percent with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

How does Etowah County stack up? Pretty badly:

• Nineteen percent of its estimated 103,057 residents live below the poverty line, including 36.1 percent of African-Americans, 31.2 percent of Hispanics/Latinos and 15.9 percent of whites.

• Families: 55.1 percent of female-headed households with related children, 29.5 percent of children, 24.8 percent of families with related children and 11.2 percent of adults.

• Education: 31.6 percent of those sans a high school diploma, 16.5 percent of those with a high school education or GED, 11 percent of those with some college or an associate’s degree and 3.7 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

• Food insecurity: 16.5 percent of the county’s overall population and 26.9 percent of children.

We won’t do a complete breakdown of adjacent counties, but overall poverty rates are 24 percent for DeKalb, 22 percent for Marshall, 20.5 percent for Cherokee and 14.3 for St. Clair. And the numbers in this region are miniscule compared to those in Alabama’s Black Belt, such as Perry County’s whopping 46.9 percent rate. So, what’s the point, other than confirming the value of education (especially college, which has taken a back seat in the push for career tech) and two-parent households?

Perhaps it’s simple reinforcement that no matter how much politicians tout employment numbers and economic recovery — spouting variables and qualifiers that defy easy comprehension — there are massive problems in this state and county that aren’t going to be cured overnight, and certainly not with a finger snap or smooth promises. Perhaps bringing those problems into the spotlight, in a way where they can’t be ignored or denied, will begin the process toward real solutions, although government can’t and shouldn’t do it all.

Perhaps there’s a will to engage in that process. Nothing will happen without that.

Online – www.gadsdentimes.com