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Hard look at poverty coming in late July

As has often been said, the first step in solving any problem is recognizing that the problem exists. Unfortunately, problems are rarely so simple that a direct cause and easy solution can be clearly defined, especially at the societal level. When a large problem is broken down into its constituent factors however, we can more clearly see the how, where, what and why, which may lead to new perspectives and possible solutions.

While we do not live in a poor country by any means, poverty is a consistent reality for many Americans, and more specifically Missourians. In a series of articles to be published next month, the Daily Journal will be examining poverty in the Parkland from a variety of angles.

The organization “Missourians to End Poverty,” which is made up of a wide variety of businesses, non-profit organizations, faith-based organizations and many others, identifies five primary factors of poverty in its biennial Missouri Poverty Report.

These factors include:

Economic and Family Security – This factor, which may seem as the most obvious to some, consists of an individual or family’s ability to provide for itself, based upon employment, wages, household income, debt, taxes and property.

Education – Ranging from high school graduation rates to earning potential for post-secondary degrees, this factor consists of trends showing relationships between educational attainment and financial security.

Food and Nutrition – While generally connected to income, a lack of access to adequate nutrition is one of the key hardships faced by Missouri families living in poverty. This factor can be lessened by the presence of supplemental state programs or local food pantries, which are not always equipped to serve all individuals in an area facing income insecurity.

Health – Whether it be financial strain caused by out-of-pocket medical expenses or the psychological stress associated with poverty, the health of individuals and families without financial security is a serious factor that can manifest in several ways.

Housing and Energy – For many who find themselves in or near poverty, the first concern is maintaining consistent housing. This problem is complicated by an area’s average rent, the availability of affordable housing and how those factors interact with employment and income levels.

According to 2016 census information compiled in the 2018 Missouri Poverty Report, Missouri falls in the middle of the road when it comes to overall poverty statistics. About 12.7 percent of people living in the United States live below the poverty level, while 14 percent of Missourians live below the same level – down from 16.2 percent in 2012. For Missouri children, however, that number is closer to 19.2 percent.

In actual numbers, 826,358 total Missourians – including 260,867 children – live below the federal poverty level.

Over the course of the upcoming week-long series the Daily Journal will be examining each of the five contributing factors of poverty in our area with the assistance of local officials, help organizations and agencies who work daily on the frontlines of helping those who face income insecurity.

In addition, we’ll be telling the story of individuals and families who have found themselves in a poverty situation. Some have climbed out to reach a stable place, while others are living in the struggle every day.

Be watching for the series titled “Working to debt: The face of poverty in Missouri’s Parkland” coming in late July.

Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at jscott@dailyjournalonline.com.

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