So, a question: What are we going to do about it?
It’s too convenient, and too easy, to chalk up the county’s meteoric rise of child poverty to the effects of the Great Recession. Did it have an effect? Absolutely. But, as the annual Kids Count report released Tuesday by Voices for Alabama Children explained, Calhoun County’s poverty rate increased 10 percent in the last 10 years. Too many area children were living in extreme low-income situations before the recession took full flight in the fall of 2008.
Chief among childhood poverty’s causes is the chain reaction of bad economies, substandard education, tepid job markets and, in some cases, poor decisions by parents. Sadly, some children live without because of all of those factors. Others are affected by only one. Either way, the result is largely the same.
Calhoun County is fortunate to have mechanisms in place that provide differing levels of assistance. Nonprofits, anti-poverty groups and an encyclopedic list of churches help families in need. For several years, the problem hasn’t been too few agencies to help the poor. It has been that Calhoun County residents, by and large, have given amply of their time and their money, and there’s only so much of that to go around. At times, that well can seem nearly dry.
Clearly, the current formula isn’t succeeding. Charities are working overtime; those residents of means are helping as they can; and still the poverty rate, for children and adults, is rising. If obesity is a countywide epidemic — which it is — so, too, is poverty, especially that which affects our youngest and most vulnerable.
What’s needed isn’t more of the same.
Pockets of Calhoun County leadership are changing: a new mayor and council in Anniston, a few new council members in key cities such as Oxford and Jacksonville, even changes on the Calhoun County Commission (Pappy Dunn’s death, Eli Henderson’s campaign for the circuit clerk’s job). It’s time to think big and out of the box.
That change offers the county’s leadership the opportunity to join hands and make decreasing the local poverty rate a goal on par with job creation and the improvement of public education. It’s all intertwined, anyway. If Calhoun County’s mayors and council members think poverty isn’t a high priority, they’re wrong. The numbers don’t lie.
Improvement doesn’t start with jumps; it starts with baby steps and countywide conversations. Calhoun County can’t take another decade of poverty increases. Somehow, some way, the time to act is now.