Slight improvement in poverty numbers

Published 12:58 pm Friday, September 21, 2018

The persistence of poverty in Kentucky continues.

… CNHI Kentucky’s Ronnie Ellis reports the strong economy has helped lower the poverty rate in Kentucky. Still, Kentucky has one of the highest poverty rates in the country. In Kentucky 17.2 percent of Kentuckians lived in poverty in 2017. That figure is better than the 18.5 percent state poverty rate in 2016. Ellis also reports that the number of children living in poverty in Kentucky has decreased.

The improvement is most certainly good news. We suspect this has a lot to do with the strong economies to be found in the state and nation. Also, you cannot forget about all of the people on the front lines of this fight — the nonprofits, the social workers, the educators, the churches, etc. — who work every day to help people remove themselves from the devastating plight of being poor.

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We also think it is important to keep the proper perspective when it comes to poverty. These statistics represent how the poorest of the poor are doing. The federal poverty line is defined as a family of four with a family income of $24,850 or less. We, however, believe we state the obvious when we say people making more than that are still very poor. They are most often what we call the working poor — working full-time jobs, sometimes two, but their salaries aren’t enough to really make ends meet, yet they find a way to make the rent, the utilities, feed their kids.

So what is the answer to all these problems? Of course the most immediate response is jobs. Very true. Continuing to grow the economy is very, very important. The commonwealth of Kentucky and the nation need to continue with pro-growth economic policy that is helping the state and country flourish. But in addition to jobs, there are a lot of causes of poverty that go beyond whether a job is available or not.

At the top of our list is education. It is very difficult to rise out of poverty and get a good paying job without some form of education. Kentucky, meanwhile, has been cutting education funding year after year. This is not wise public policy if one is truly committed to fighting poverty.

Another issue we believe is very important — but which is almost never talked about — is health. Poverty will beat you down. Hopelessness comes with the territory. Drug abuse, alcoholism and tobacco are often intertwined with poverty. This is of course not always the case, but it is, undeniably, a part of the equation. Our society needs to be re-evaluating its approach to health and wellness specifically when it comes to raising our children with the awareness that one’s health is critically important. We don’t believe our society, nationwide, is doing enough on this front.

To us, the most important part of the equation is empowerment. People in poverty need to believe their situation is not hopeless. In almost all cases it takes one on one work with people to show them the pathway forward. About planning for the future, about working to get a trade skill or education, about getting a bank account and keeping it.

Today we give thanks for some slight improvement on this critically important issue, but we also keep in perspective the fact that there is a long, long ways to go.

The Independent of Ashland