Missouri poverty decreases, Columbia residents remain worried

Trends show an increase in nationwide poverty, but not in the state of Missouri.

The new United States Census Bureau Report showed a decrease in poverty in Missouri.

The report, released Sept. 13, showed Missouri poverty levels dropped from 15.5 percent in 2009 to 14.8 percent in 2010.

These numbers go against the national trend. In 2009, the poverty rate was at 14.3 percent but rose to 15.1 percent in 2010. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, this is the fourth consecutive annual increase and the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published.

Associate Professor of Economics Saku Aura said Missouri was not hit as hard as other states during the recession.

“While we’ve had unemployment issues in Missouri both structural and related to the recession, we didn’t have a housing market boom here and then we didn’t have much of a crash either so that’s why Missouri hasn’t been hit in a way like California or Florida or Ohio or places like that,” Aura said.

Despite this decrease in poverty, people in Columbia still face food insecurity, Central Missouri Food Bank Communications Coordinator Rachel Ellersieck said.

“We have people who need help getting enough to eat, whether or not they’re in poverty is irrelevant to what we do,” she said.

Ellersieck said poverty statistics don’t take into account individuals with temporary unemployment or individuals with other monetary obligations.

“If they’re considered legally over the poverty limit but they’re still struggling to pay their bills or to pay medical costs, some of those poverty statistics might not take into account situational poverty where somebody is struggling for one month because their construction job just got finished and they’re in-between jobs or they’re paying their medical bills,” she said.

Ellersieck said there has been an increase in first-time clients during the last few years.

“It’s more the anecdotal, when people come in and tell us a story about how they just recently lost their job and they never thought they’d have to come to a pantry, but they come in anyways," she said.

The decrease in poverty did not directly correlate with household income either. The report also showed that median household income in the Midwest dropped from $49,684 in 2009 to $48,445 in 2010, a -2.5 percent change.

Aura said poverty and household income are related concepts but not the same.

“Poverty rate is a number below a fairly artificial threshold and median income for households tracks is the point in population where half of the people have higher incomes and half of the people have lower,” he said.

Aura said poverty is not surprising in this economic atmosphere.

“There’s nothing sort of sensational about poverty numbers in the sense that it’s not like you have a stock market crash overnight and then suddenly stock market loses 15 percent of value or something like that,” he said. “We have some long-running trends in the United States, and then we have had a bad recession and nothing what you wouldn’t have expected based on what happened.”

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