from The Troy Messenger
By Matt Clower, The Messenger
According to a report issued this month by the Alabama Poverty Project, more than 20 percent of Pike County's population is living below the poverty line.
Pike County's poverty rates are higher than the average across the state. The report, which is based on numbers from the 2000 census, indicates 16.1 percent of the state's population lives under the poverty line. For, Pike County, the number is 23.1 percent, or 6,562 people, making it the 16th poorest county in the state.
The overall poorest county is Wilcox County, with 39.9 percent of the population in poverty. The wealthiest county in the state is Shelby County, with just 6.2 percent of the population impoverished.
Although the numbers are based on a six-year-old census, the figures still seem accurate compared to numbers obtained from the Pike County Department of Human Resources.
Florence Mitchell, DHR director, said the department currently serves 2, 775 households in Pike County, with 5, 360 individuals.
Mitchell said it was likely many more people in the county do live in poverty but simply do not seek government help.
“Some people don't want to come in and ask for assistance, they don't want the stigma of relying on assistance from the government,” Mitchell said.
Numbers of course, tell only part of the story. Its one thing to say there are thousands of people living in poverty in Pike County. Understanding the myriad of reasons why poverty happens is another matter. But one thing is certain, most cases of poverty are not caused people who don't want to work.
“Poverty is such a complex issue. You have so many factors that come in to play,” Mitchell said.
As DHR director, Mitchell said she sees numerous factors that contribute to people living in poverty.
“Lack of education, health issues. It's really such a minority who are actually not wanting to work,” Mitchell said.
In fact, according to the statics, many people living in poverty are actually unable to work, being either too young or too old to do so.
The Alabama Poverty Projects indicates that 2,129 living in poverty in Pike County are under the age of 18 and 808 people are over the age of 65.
Current numbers from the DHR actually indicate higher numbers, with 3,078 clients either under 18 or over the age 60-more than half of the total number of clients the department serves.
Mitchell said DHR most often deals with working poor- people who are employed, but not making enough to support their families, or in some cases multiple families living together.
Pike County is certainly not alone in its struggle with poverty. Pike County is a close neibhor to the Black Belt region, which by far bears the load of the state's poverty.
The majority of Pike County's neighbors have similar, if not worse, poverty levels. Barbour county has 26.8 percent poverty, Bullock county has 33.5 percent, and Crenshaw County has 22.1 percent.
Charlie Harris, chairman of the Pike County Commission, said he was initially surprised by the figures of Pike County's poverty. He said looking around the county, he did not see the evidence of poverty.
But Harris, who represents Brundidge, where the highest concentrations of poverty are, ultimately agreed the figures were an accurate picture of his district.
Harris also agreed that fighting poverty was something the County Commission could do, by continuing to work towards economic development.
“It all comes back to economic development,” Harris said. “We have to continue trying to bring in industries that are going to bring good jobs into the county,” Harris said.
County Administrator Harry Sanders noted that the report, based on the 2000 census, would not take into account new industries that have already opened in the county, like the Wal-Mart distribution center.
“Our unemployment rates are very positive right now, we are below the national average,” Sanders said.
But the specter of lost jobs still looms in Brundidge, which saw the Piknik food processing plant close last year followed by an announcement by Russell that the cutting plant will close within the next two years.
Therefore, in order for the county to have any resources to fight poverty, Sanders said economic development remains a priority for the county's leaders.
“In order for the county to continue to provide the citizens all the services that they need, it is important that we continue to word toward developing our economy,” Sanders said.
Both Harris and sanders feel positive a future census would reveal improvement in the economic situation of many citizens.
“There's already good things that have happened since 2000,” Harris said. “We just have to use that momentum to go forward.”
“I don''t think these number are indicative of a big problem, but a big opportunity to do more,” Sanders said.
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