published Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

School-age poverty rises in several counties across region

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Area counties with statistically significant increases between 2007 and 2010 in poverty in families of related children ages 5-17


* Bradley

* Hamilton

* Marion

* Polk

* Warren


* Catoosa

* Dade

* Whitfield

Source: U.S. Census Bureau


The U.S. Census Bureau measures poverty by comparing total annual income to dollar values -- or thresholds -- that vary by family size, the number of related children and ages. If the family's before-tax income is less than their threshold, the family and its members are in poverty. A similar threshold measurement is used for individuals.

Local educators began to suspect an increase in school-age poverty by watching cafeteria lunch lines. Social workers in aid agencies noticed an uptick in the number of families seeking food and holiday help.

A U.S. Census Bureau report released Tuesday confirmed what those closest to school-age children have been seeing -- poverty levels among those ages 5 to 17 are increasing.

For school-age children, 1,862 of the nation's 3,142 counties had poverty rates higher than the 19.8 percent national average last year. In the Chattanooga area, 21 out of 22 counties are included on that list.

Of those local counties, eight are listed among the more than 600 that have had statistically significant increases in school-age poverty between 2007-10.

Dade County, Ga., is one of them.

Dade County School Superintendent Shawn Tobin said the numbers confirmed what his staff already knew -- the number of students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunch is up. So is attendance, he said, because students know they'll get at least two daily meals at school.

"It hits rural areas hard," he said. "We're using all available resources. Sometimes they're for basic needs. I find that we're spending more time as well calling Lions Club for glasses. "

In addition to jackets, bookbags and sacks of food that churches provide to students to take home for the weekends, the schools are providing information, Tobin said, including answers to questions about where to find medical care and how to get help with the bills.

In Catoosa County, which also has seen a three-year spike in school-age poverty, has been tapping its children's fund to help local families. School employees and local businesses have been contributing to the fund for more than 10 years.

"If [families are] about to be evicted or they're having real hardship situations, they can call us," said Marissa Brower, Catoosa schools spokeswoman. "The fund helps with electric bills, water, clothing, food and children's medication so that the children, our students, don't have the stress of their family being evicted or something like that."

The fund has been dipped into more often in recent years, Brower said.

Hamilton County also is on the Census Bureau's three-year poverty list.

"These are hard times and I don't think any of us are in denial about that," County Mayor Jim Coppinger said. "Obviously we're disappointed. I think a lot of it is driven by the recession."

The Samaritan Center, which operates within Hamilton County, has been handling extra cases this year, said Sharon Smith-Hensley, social services director at the center.

"Our numbers are going up. We're getting new clients in that we've never seen before," Smith-Hensley said. "We're getting the newly marginalized client. They've never been in this situation before."

Rick Mathis, interim CEO of the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies, said the South is suffering from both decreases in median income and higher rates of poverty.

"In this region, the comparatively high increase in the number of school-age children in poverty within Hamilton, Bradley and Catoosa counties is particularly troubling," Mathis said.

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about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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Emersization said...

How many of those children have illegal immigrant parents?

November 30, 2011 at 12:58 a.m.

I bet far less than there are people that work for the school system itself!

November 30, 2011 at 1:12 a.m.
Emersization said...

I agree if we take care of the illegal immigration problem, then we can address the problem of underpaying school employees. Yes, there is a slippery slope.

November 30, 2011 at 8:03 a.m.
sla2010 said...

actually I have worked in several of the schools in these counties and they are not children of immigrants all the time, some are you american born children who has to deal with no food being at home because mom or dad lost their job. I have two kids in one of these school systems and I intentionally send more food or whatever with my kids to share with others they say "didnt have money for lunch today" it is heart breaking to see because these kids can't help the situation they are in!

November 30, 2011 at 8:13 a.m.
Momus said...

It's these kids own fault that they are poor. They need to work for there education and food.

"Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they'd begin the process of rising." - Newt Gingrich

November 30, 2011 at 8:19 a.m.
alphapythia said...

Are you kidding? We're talking about hungry kids and you care where they were born? Hungry kids... I hope to God you aren't Christian. I'd hate to try to explain that to He who told us it was our central obligation to care for the "least of these."

November 30, 2011 at 8:48 a.m.
brokentoe said...

alphapythia said... Are you kidding? We're talking about hungry kids and you care where they were born? Hungry kids... I hope to God you aren't Christian_

Scary, ain't it? Unfortunately, most do proclaim to be "Christians." But then again, standing in the parking lot at a truck stop doesn't make one an 18 wheeler, and going to church doesn't make one a "christian". Jesus Christ would have nothing in common with todays "Christians" who wear the title. There's nothing "Christ-like" about them. They usually mean-spirited, intolerant bigots who the Bible has spoken of and condemned.

November 30, 2011 at 10:25 a.m.
sla2010 said...

Do not group all Christians into that group. Granted there are some like that who make the ones not like that look very bad. But I for one and no mean spirited or intolerant. And I do NOT wear the title, you have to live the title to call yourself a Christian.

November 30, 2011 at 10:40 a.m.
mrredskin said...

population goes up and employement decreases. Of course poverty will rise! Come on, Ansley :)

November 30, 2011 at 11:30 a.m.
onetinsoldier said...

Every County listed is and has been a repugnant County for years and this is what you get when you vote for repugnants. Increased poverty, increased prices, and decreased choice. The repugnants have failed at every turn to do anything but destroy the fabric of the USA, and when brought to task for it they blame anyone but themselves. Today they want to blame Mexican immigrants like this BOZO Emersization. Blame the A$$holes you've been voting for and not some poor immigrant you ignorant fool. Blame the idiots that didn't provide you with an education. Blame the idiots that shipped your jobs over seas with there unfettered free trade. But of course you won't you racist idealogue.

November 30, 2011 at 12:57 p.m.
potcat said...

Good grief man, be it a illegal or American, no child should go hungry.How could any Teacher see a child not eat lunch at school because of money, i do not believe it,i would go get a tray and give it to the child regardless.

Go to CBS.Com and watch 60 mins. Sunday night program about homeless hungry children in Florida, its REAL and happening every day in America, can you believe it, i can't!!!

November 30, 2011 at 4:52 p.m.
teach_them_all said...

I send food home with kids on Fridays when I know they won't get to eat again until Monday morning at school. Our school does food baskets for our needy families. I keep peanut butter and crackers in my desk and extra milk and juice in my classroom fridge. This is a very real problem teachers deal with every day in addition to all of the duties of teaching.

November 30, 2011 at 9:17 p.m.
Rtazmann said...


January 16, 2012 at 12:32 a.m.
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