Poverty on the rise in Victoria County

Dec. 18, 2010 at 6:18 a.m.

Poverty is on the rise in Victoria County.

During the past 10 years, the number of county residents living below the poverty level jumped 18 percent (12.7 percent to 15 percent), according to 2005-2009 American Community Survey data released last week.

Individuals who earn $10,830 per year or less are considered impoverished, according to the survey.

Victoria County is the only county among those in the surrounding area to experience such an increase during the past decade.

"I wouldn't call the situation alarming," said Ray Perryman, a state economist. "But it is a wake up call."

Victoria's poverty rate is higher than the national average of 13.1 percent, but below the state average of 16.3 percent.

Surrounding Calhoun, DeWitt, Goliad, Jackson, Lavaca and Refugio counties all experienced decreases since 2000.

Even so, those counties' poverty rates remained in the double digits, too.

"More than likely, the increase in Victoria County relative to surrounding counties merely reflects the fact that it is an urban county, while the others are relatively rural," Perryman said. "Population tends to concentrate in urban areas, including lower income groups. Some of the surrounding counties have actually seen net losses in population."

Victoria's arsenal of community resources could also explain the increase in poverty.

"When people need certain resources during times of poverty, they move to communities that have those resources," said Dale Fowler, president of the Victoria Economic Development Corp. "Victoria, being a larger city in this geographic region, may be attracting more people who move here to get some help."

Poverty trends varied among races, too, according to the data.

Only one in 13 Caucasians is impoverished, while the numbers increased to one in six for Blacks and one in four for Hispanics.

"The poverty rate among Hispanics is much higher than most other population segments, and they have dominated population growth in the past 10 years," said Perryman.

Community agencies reported seeing firsthand the increased poverty's effect on the community.

Gene Martin, executive director of Christ's Kitchen, said his organization is feeding 3,000 more people now than they were 10 years ago.

Ginny Stafford, executive director of Mid-Coast Family Services, said the number of people applying for the eviction prevention program quadrupled within just the past 15 months.

"The recession has affected a lot of people, including those who are employed," said Henry Guajardo, executive director of Workforce Solutions of the Golden Crescent. "It has been a very difficult road to recovery."

Guajardo said his agency first witnessed in the fourth quarter of 2008 an increase in the number of people who need public help or jobs.

Many agencies are struggling to continue delivering services to the growing number of impoverished residents.

"We're able to make it because we have generous donors. If we have a need, they step up and help us," said Martin. "We depend on God, and so far He has always came through."

Major Ernest Lozano, the Salvation Army's commanding officer, said these developing trends reflect the reality of the economy.

"It's a problem everyone is facing. We're not immune," Lozano said. "With poverty going up, there is an increased need for all agencies to provide social services. We're trying our best to stretch our resources out."

In the future, Perryman said he expects the poverty numbers to get worse before they get better.

"Given current demographic patterns, I would expect poverty rates to rise modestly," he said. "This pattern could be reversed, however, if we can improve educational outcomes."



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