The Toll of Persistent Poverty

If your total income is deemed insufficient to purchase basic food, shelter, clothing and essential services, then you would be classified by the U.S. Census Bureau as “impoverished” – and you would not be alone.

Approximately 11% of counties in America are defined as “persistently poor” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service (ERS), meaning that over 20% of their population has been living in poverty for the past 30 years. Over 85% of these persistently poor counties are regionally concentrated in the South. In these high-poverty counties, ERS reports that three quarters of the poor are racial and ethnic minorities.Poverty Map

Let’s reflect for a moment on these statistics.

The residents of over one in ten counties in America have been unable (or unwilling?) to propel their neighbors above the poverty line over a period of three decades.  Racial and ethnic minority groups – particularly in the South – are disproportionately living in poverty.

Since we live in an individualistic society, some might question why it is the prerogative of these residents to “propel their neighbors above the poverty line” by supporting policies and funding programs that will elevate the income of the entire county.

In the spirit of the holiday season, I would argue that it is beyond goodhearted – it’s actually logical to help your neighbor – when you consider the toll that poverty takes on neighborhoods, schools and workplaces in the community at large.

  • Neighborhoods: Researchers have drawn the correlation between poverty and violence. To make surrounding neighborhoods (and thus the entire county) more safe for residents, we need to eliminate poverty.
  • SchoolsIt’s common knowledge that kids who enter the classroom hungry and experience challenges at home are less likely to excel at school work and standardized tests. And, don’t we all want a healthy and equitable learning environment in our children’s schools?
  • Workplaces: People living in poverty are often hungry, lack access to nutritious foods, have greater decision fatigue and reduced access to health care. This can hinder productivity within workplaces and impact the economy of the entire county.

In 2014, let’s all resolve to take measures that will help to eliminate poverty in our cities and counties – especially if living in one of the 353 persistently poor counties in the U.S.

Comment below and let us know what you will do to eliminate poverty in the new year.

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I have extensive experience coordinating communications and outreach initiatives focused on health and social issues. In my current position as Project Specialist, I provide communications technical assistance to regional and federal efforts within the National Partnership for Action initiative, with support from the Office of Minority Health. I am a former Peace Corps volunteer who worked on health and social affairs projects in the Federated States of Micronesia. Read more.