Poverty down, but families still struggling

Fewer families are living in poverty, but local helping organizations say the need for assistance hasn’t decreased.

The number of families living in poverty in Johnson County dropped to 4.4 percent in 2016, compared to 12.2 percent in 2013. The number of individuals living in poverty fell to 6.6 percent, down from 13.7 percent in 2013, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data.

For example, a family of one adult and two children earning less than $20,420 is considered to be living in poverty. A family of two adults and three children would be considered to be living in poverty with an income less than $28,780.

Other data also is showing improvements, with increases in the number of local residents who have insurance coverage and a lower unemployment rate. But at the same time, the county’s median income fell from 2015, though it is still up from previous years, and the number of families receiving food stamps increased, according to the data.

The Interchurch Food Pantry, which serves as many as 90 families per day, has not had a decrease in need, and officials are expecting to have an increase of at least 10 percent in visits compared to last year, after an increase of 23 percent the year before, manager Carol Phipps said.

The families coming to the pantry for help are often facing health issues that make them unable to work or do not have the skills needed for jobs available, and their income has continued to drop, Phipps said.

“The figures are looking up, but there is a low income segment of our population that isn’t faring as well,” Phipps said.

Families who come to see them are often part of the working poor, who have jobs, but just don’t make enough to cover all their bills and buy food to feed their family, she said.

“Their incomes are not enough to cover what is coming at them,” Phipps said.

“They just can’t get enough money to make it through the month.”

A key part of the population that is in need of services is classified as making too much money to be considered to be living in poverty, but not enough to cover the cost of living, United Way of Johnson County Executive Director Nancy Lohr Plake said.

A 2014 study showed that 21 percent of Johnson County residents met that classification.

One key piece of information officials will want to track is whether the people who are no longer living in poverty are instead meeting that classification, she said.

That is a concern because those residents make too much to receive assistance, but still can’t afford the cost of living, she said.

“That is so much of what we are addressing in our community,” she said.

By the numbers

Here is a look at recent Census data for Johnson County showing how local residents are faring economically:

Living in poverty

Families

2015;5.4%

2016;4.4%

Individuals

2015;7.3%

2016;6.6%

Median household income

2015;$68,744

2016;$65,991

Unemployment rate

2015;4.5%

2016;3.7%

Uninsured

2015;8.6%

2016;6.7%

Receiving food stamps

2015;5.6%

2016;7.3%

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau

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Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at agoeller@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2718.