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Knowing the facts

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I have spent a big part of my adult years as a social worker. This took several different forms, usually it was connected with the activities of our church or a community agency trying to support charitable activities and bring solutions to both local and global problems. However, during three of those years, I was in active case work.

Those years I met some of the most remarkable people I have ever known. Some were remarkably adept at trying to con me. But most of them were good hard-working people who were down on their luck because of something beyond their control. I enjoyed my associations with them (well, most of them anyway) but I went home to our nice parsonage thankful for our health, the house, our above average children, and an above average husband. I knew I was blessed.

One thing that bothered me during those three years was that good people who were in comfortable situations often jumped to the wrong conclusions about the people in my case load. I tried to clarify situations as much as I could without betraying confidences, but my explanations did not stop the criticisms.

Recently three women who had attended the School for Christian Missions at Fayette, Mo., brought part of one of their courses, a study of poverty issues, to a group here in Nevada. I was grateful for one of the work sheets used in the course. This was a hand-out from the University of Missouri Extension office in Columbia. It was titled, "What Do You Know About Poverty in Missouri?"

This sheet explained that poverty is measured by the amount of money needed to buy the lowest-cost nutritionally adequate diet identified by the United States Department of Agriculture and multiplying that figure by 3. Those whose income falls below that amount are considered in poverty. In 2009 the poverty threshold for a family of four in the United States was $22,050.

Missouri employers must pay a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. That means that a worker earning the Missouri minimum wage would have a full-time monthly salary of $1,257. Of course that is for the ones who have a full time job. There are many employed persons who are not hired for the full time 40 hour week.

In spite of some of the dire news reported on TV, the hand-out states that the overall poverty rate in the United States is not higher now than it was in the 1950s. The poverty rate is fairly equally divided between the rural and urban areas and is not confined to either the cities and suburbs or to the rural areas.

One figure that surprised me was that in 2009 the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Missouri was $670 per month. It has been years since we have paid rent because of living in parsonages and now living in our own retirement home. If we had to cough up $670 a month for our living space we would certainly have to stop having our Sunday dinners in a restaurant!

We might worry that things are worse in Missouri than in other states. That is true for half of the other states, but we are better off than the other half. We rank 24th in comparison to other states. (That was based on figures from 2003-2005).

Then we will end with this fact. The maximum cash welfare benefit in Missouri for a single parent with two children under the age of 6 is $292 per month. (Thank heavens that Nevada has the Housing Authority which can help this single parent find a home.)

This isn't my usual attempt at a humorous column. It really is nothing to laugh at. But seeing the facts helps us all see things in a different light. I'll be back next week hopefully with happier thoughts.

Carolyn Gray Thornton
Middle Age Plus