Poverty Level Rises in Region
September 13, 2009 | By Enrique Rangel | Amarillo.com | Link to article
In 2007, one of every four residents in Potter and Hall counties was poor, a rate twice as high as the rest of the nation. And in all likelihood the number of destitute people in those counties and in most of the Texas Panhandle increased last year.
That conclusion is based on the annual poverty report the U.S. Census Bureau issued last week.
The agency said the official U.S. poverty rate in 2008 was 13.2 percent, up from 12.5 percent the previous year, and the most affected regions in the nation were the South, Midwest and West. Under the 2009 federal guidelines, a family of four living on $22,050 or less a year is considered poor.
"This was the first significant increase in the poverty since 2004," the Census report said. "In 2008, 39.8 million were in poverty, up from 37.3 million 2007, the second consecutive annual increase in the number of people in poverty."
The agency will release a comprehensive state-by-state poverty report Sept. 22.
To Pat Ware, vice president of Amarillo National Bank, Thursday's Census report is a prelude of what to expect when the agency releases its state-by-state poverty rates.
"It can't be good for the Panhandle because we continue with job losses," Ware said. "This will make the economic recovery for the area even more difficult."
There are 3,000 fewer Amarilloans working this year than last year, according to the bank's economic analysis for August. And local wages are down 6 percent because employers have been forced to cut wages for hourly workers.
That in turn has hurt the city's economy. In August, sales-tax collections were $5 million compared with $5.3 million the same month last year, a 6 percent decline.
The way it looks, the poverty rate will stay high, at least the remainder of this year, in the Panhandle and many other parts of the nation, according to Ware and others.
"It's very daunting," said Jodie Levin-Epstein, deputy director at the Center for Law and Social Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates policies for low-income Americans. "This report says that one of every eight of us was living in poverty last year. The story here is that for a very rich nation we start out with a high poverty rate."
For the Panhandle and the South Plains, the situation is even worse.
As of 2007, the state poverty rate was 16.3 percent. But in Potter and Hall counties, as well as in 10 other counties in the Panhandle/South Plains region, it was between 20 and 26 percent, equal or higher than the poverty rate in the 43 counties along or near the border with Mexico, the poorest region in Texas.
Executives at the High Plains Food Bank in Amarillo know what to expect when the census issues its state-by-state poverty rate report, communications director Zack Wilson said.
"Our demand has increased," Wilson said. "We see it in our food distribution and in the amount of families that ask for help.
"A lot of people are telling us that they can't make ends meet," Wilson added. "In Potter County alone, a little over 25 percent, that's over 25,000 people, don't have enough money to feed their families or for basic necessities."
In the South Plains the situation is just as dire, said David Weaver, director of the Lubbock-based South Plains Food Bank.
"Here in the Lubbock area one in five people are poor," Weaver said. "Over the last year we've seen a 25 percent increase of people who turn in to the food bank for help."
But as in the Panhandle, "fortunately our donations have been holding up, which is a very pleasant surprise," Weaver added. "We've been able to meet the demand."
Who is poor
Here is the complete poverty line breakdown for up to eight people per household in the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia.
Poverty level per person
For families with more than eight members, add $3,740 for each additional person.