Poverty rates rise locally and across U.S.

By: Megan Peterson Email
By: Megan Peterson Email

(WEAU) - New census numbers show more Americans are living in poverty than previously thought: 49.1 million or 16%.

People living right here in Eau Claire County are some of those struggling. The county saw the highest poverty rate increase in the state in the last 10 years.

Volunteers prepared lunch at The Community Table on Monday.

"We've been averaging 113 meals a day," Director Rachel Keniston explained.

Director Rachel Keniston says the number of people going there for a good meal is increasing.

“Many of our guests report that it is the only meal that they get during the day," she said.

The number of people living in poverty is up locally and across the United States.

"Right now, 18% of the people in Eau Claire County are below the poverty threshold and if you add in those who are near poor or low incomes, 34% of the residents are either poor or low income," Eau Claire County UW-Extension Family Living Agent Julie Keown-Bomar said.

Numbers released Monday are from a new supplemental poverty measure. It offers a more accurate count according to family living agent Julie Keown-Bomar.

"There have been a number of complaints about the way that we measure poverty in the U.S. Basically since the 1960's we've been measuring it the same way and so much has changed in our society since the 1960's in terms of family's structure and child care costs and housing costs that that way of determining poverty, many people find it inadequate," Keown-Bomar explained.

She says the new measure is a work in progress, but she says it gets more of the heart of how people are getting by.

Keown-Bomar says she's not shocked by the increase in poverty rates considering the tough economic times we're in.

"I think folks are struggling to pull in an adequate wage, household supporting wage. So even though they may be working, the wages just aren't enough really to lift them out of poverty," she said.

That's why Rachel Keniston at The Community Table stresses the doors to a warm meal are always open.

"If we can help people realize that using meals like The Community Table frees up income that can be used for medicine for elderly people, for families so that at the end of the month there's money to pay their rent and they don't need to move," Keniston said.

Next week is Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week. Keniston says on Thursday, November 17th agencies that serve will have their doors open in the afternoons for open house. For more information on other events going on next week: clickhere

The supplemental poverty measure showed Americans 65 or older had the biggest poverty jump: 15.9%. For Hispanics, poverty rose to 28.2%, surpassing that of African Americans for the first time.


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