Kids Count report: Decade saw sharp rise in Calhoun County poverty
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Oct 17, 2012 | 3499 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When Maudine Holloway arrived at work Tuesday morning, the phones were starting to ring with requests from Anniston residents who needed help paying their power bills.

The Monday night cold snap, she said, reminded people that they better get their power turned back on before winter.

“It scared folks who don’t have any lights,” said Holloway, director of Community Enabler Developer, an Anniston nonprofit that provides low-income Anniston residents with basic needs.

Holloway wasn’t at all surprised by a new report that finds Calhoun County residents — and particularly children — significantly worse off economically in recent years than they were in 2000.

Voices for Alabama Children, a Montgomery nonprofit, released its annual Kids Count report Tuesday. The study is part of a years-long effort to track quality-of-life indicators that affect the lives of Alabama kids. Those numbers take time to collect — which is why the figures released Tuesday reflect the state of the community back in 2010. But compared to numbers from 2000 and 2001, they show just how far removed the new economic normal is from the boom years of the late 1990s.

Nearly 32 percent of Calhoun County’s children lived below the poverty level in 2010, according to the report. That’s compared to 22 percent at the beginning of the century. The county number is about three percent higher than the statewide average in both 2000 and 2010, according to the report.

Adult poverty in the county soared, too. Fifteen percent of the general Calhoun County population lived in poverty in 2000, rising to 23 percent in 2010. Median household income in the county dropped from $41,286 to $37,918 over the same period.

Voices executive director Linda Tilly said the numbers reflected trends across the state.

“Calhoun County falls in the middle of the pack,” she said.

Child poverty was near 50 percent in some Black Belt counties, she said. Even the best-performing community — the largely suburban Shelby County — saw a rise in poverty.

For Tilly, the most alarming Calhoun County number was a spike in child poverty. In 2009, 27 percent of the county’s kids were below the poverty line. The number jumped by five percent by 2010.

“What we’re seeing in these numbers is situational poverty, not generational poverty,” Tilly said. In other words, the ranks of the poor are increasingly made up of people who’ve lost good jobs, rather than those who grew up in poverty and are struggling to climb out.

Workers at local relief agencies have seen that shift.

“At one point, some of our donors became our clients,” said Robin Gladd, financial officer for All Saints Interfaith Center of Concern, a nonprofit relief agency on West 15th Street.

Holloway, of Community Enabler, also said her agency had seen a large number of first-time customers in recent years.

What’s not clear in the numbers, though, is whether the economic recovery is taking hold in Anniston. At local agencies, workers say customer need hasn’t increased since the depths of the recession, but it hasn’t slackened either.

“We’ve been very busy, but demand has leveled off,” Gladd said.

On other measures of well-being, the county and state have a more mixed record. Births to unmarried teens rose from 10 percent to 12 percent locally, but dropped by a percentage point statewide.

Infant mortality dropped, with the current rate of 8.7 per thousand births the lowest the state has ever posted. State officials celebrated that number earlier this year, attributing the change in part to statewide effort to investigate the cause of individual infant deaths.

Tilly said the state did something similar in the 1990s, creating the Alabama Child Death Review System to look at the causes of accidental death of older children. She said that system found that car accidents were a major cause of mortality among minors, and led to graduated driver’s licenses and improved child safety seat laws.

The Kids Count numbers show the result of that effort, Tilly said. The rate of preventable teen deaths dropped by more than half in Calhoun County in the last decade, with a lesser but sizable drop statewide.

“That says to me that when advocates see a problem in the data, and look for a solution, things can get better,” she said.

Capitol & statewide correspondent: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.
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