Census: Poverty in area counties inches up
Dec. 23, 2017 at 11:37 p.m.
Poverty levels are inching upward in Gregg and three of the four counties surrounding it, new data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveal.
"And we're coming up on Poverty Awareness Month (in January)," said Lyndell McAllister, program director for Bridges Out of Poverty, an arm of the city of Longview's Partners in Prevention.
McAllister mused on the Census numbers for Gregg County, which show poverty in the county edged upward from 16.9 percent of the population in 2012 to 18.2 percent in 2016, with a spike of 19.2 percent in 2014.
In raw numbers, that was 19,848 county residents in 2012 and 21,785 in 2016 — a slow overall rise.
"I would say so," she said, stressing that poverty is about more than money. "It's not just financial. It's emotional, spiritual, physical, mental. We have to look at things like motivation.
"In the middle class today, food is taken care of. In poverty, it's, 'Did you have enough?' In middle class, it's, 'Did you like it?' "
Other cultural divides are exposed in the greater access to nutritious food that the middle class enjoys. The more impoverished a neighborhood, the more likely it's in a food desert where healthy choices are rare and fast food is abundant.
"So, teaching about prevention doesn't happen as much in poverty because healthy foods are not available," McAllister said. "Among the poor, health issues are a huge concern. And depression and mental health issues are much higher."
Paula Hill, a former Gilmer Intermediate School principal, said her eyes were opened by author Ruby Payne. During her nine years leading the campus, Hill encouraged her teachers to read Payne's work, "What Every Adult Should Know About Generational Poverty."
"Usually, you don't get out of generational poverty (unless) it's just so painful that you find a way to get out, or you have a talent or skill — look at pro ball players," Hill said. "The biggest (factor) is the relationships. It will be because someone had a relationship with them. The relationships that the teachers built, and the differences we saw in kiddos and what we saw in improvement is, in my opinion, what it's about."
Ricky Rigsby, director of the Upshur County Community Fund, credited Hill with educating him on the chasm between the two financial classes.
"One of the things she helped me with is understanding how poverty works," he said. "Let's say my rent is $500 a month. I only have $400, so poverty would think, 'Since I don't have the funds to pay the rent, let's find something that I do have the money to pay for.' "
If the water bill is $60 and the electric bill is $100 and close to cut-off date, he said, "I'll just let them cut it off. Some of the holes they are locked into, some of the morés, make it difficult for them to get out of poverty."
Hill and Rigsby questioned the Census numbers for Upshur County county, which among Gregg, Rusk, Harrison and Panola are the second-best on the poverty meter.
Upshur's poverty rate the past five years, according to the Census, hovered between 13.5 percent and 15.8 percent — from 5,527 people in 2012 to an estimated 5,387 this past year.
Panola County's percentages are best of the five counties but are rising, from 12.3 percent in 2012 to 14.6 percent this past year, or 2,882 people in 2012 to 3,372 in 2016.
Rigsby called the Upshur numbers suspect.
"It makes me want to check the rest of the demographics," he said. "Because, we are seeing teenage pregnancies and methamphetamine. I really expected them to be much higher."
Maybe he's wrong about that. If he is, he can partially blame the agency he runs, which supports a local food pantry and a pregnancy center.
"There's no question we have several initiatives going on in Upshur County," he said. "I hope I could be able to say that these things are working, that we're seeing some results here."
In Longview, McAllister and Partners in Prevention Manager Holly Fuller will host a 20-week course beginning early next year for anyone who wants to learn the best paths out of the culture of poverty.
Called "Getting Ahead in a Just-Getting-by World," the free course teaches attributes that members of the middle class take for granted, such as being on time and dressing well for interviews.
"It teaches how people in the middle class workplace see the world," McAllister said. "And we provide a meal and child care."
For information about joining the class, call (903) 237-1019.