Poverty on the rise in county

Published 7:41 pm Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Decatur County has seen an increase in the number of residents who live in poverty areas from 2000 to 2010, according to a report released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The report, named “Changes in Areas With Concentrated Poverty: 2000 to 2010,” was published at the end of June and is based upon data from the 2008-2012 five-year American Community Survey.

According to the report, in 2000, 50 – 79.9 percent of Decatur County residents lived in “poverty areas,” or areas in which more than 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. That percentage increased to 80 – 100 percent of residents living in poverty areas in 2010.

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In 2010, an average of 28.9 percent of Decatur County residents and 34.7 percent of Bainbridge residents lived below the poverty level.

“There’s generational poverty, and there’s situational poverty,” Dr. Suzi Bonifay, Decatur County Board of Education assistant superintendent said. “We have a lot of generational poverty here. We’ve also had, when the economy was down over the last several years, a lot of situational poverty.”

Poverty thresholds are determined by the U.S. Census Bureau every year and are based upon the size of a family and how many children younger than 18 are in a family.

Among all children in the United States, the proportion of those living in poverty areas was 27.9 percent in 2010, up from 20.3 percent in 2000, according to the report.

The Decatur County School System has seen this increase with the number of students who apply for free or reduced lunches, Bonifay said.

“Last year, because the rates had increased so significantly, we were eligible to provide all students with a free breakfast and lunch program. All students are eligible to eat regardless of their income level,” Bonifay said.

Bonifay said that students cannot focus in class if they are hungry or sick.

“There’s a connection between that readiness for learning and poverty,” Bonifay said.

The Board of Education also works to help children who may not have food on the weekend and provides them with something to take home on Friday afternoons during the school year, Bonifay said.

The study reveals a correlation between poverty and education. In 2000, there were 18.8 million people that lived in poverty areas in the U.S. with a high school diploma or less, while in 2010, that number increased to 27 million people.

“I want to say it was 2009-2010, we had approximately 108 kids who dropped out of school. Out of that 108, 57 we economically disadvantaged,” Bonifay said. “We do have a number of kids who come back to school and go through one of our alternative programs; some kids do need to work. We’ve tried to provide a little more personalized learning and some options for students who had some mitigating home circumstances to allow them to continue working on a high school diploma while they’re also working full-time.”