Figures say S.C. poverty drops; reality says otherwise
By Jennifer Standard Edited by Doug Fisher
Fewer South Carolinians fell at or under the poverty line last year, the Census Bureau said Thursday, but those helping the poor say they still see the need in a state where unemployment hovers above 10 percent.
South Carolina was one of the few states where the poverty rate decreased as the national rate went up, from 13.2 percent in 2008 to 14.3 percent last year.
The decrease in South Carolina's poverty rate, from 14 percent to 13.7 percent, translated to about 6,000 fewer people at or below the poverty line of $10,956 for one person and $21,954 for a family of four.
The bureau estimated 618,000 South Carolinians out of a total state population of almost 4.6 million were at or below the poverty line.
Harvest Hope Food Bank in Columbia hasn't seen a reduction in need, spokesman Skot Garrick said. "We continue to get lines of people needing food," he said.
The food bank, which covers 20 S.C. counties, helped about 685,000 families last year, according to its annual report. The amount of food handed out doubled from the year before.
Garrick says people have told him of struggling to pay utilities or buy food, of not having even enough on Social Security retirement to buy food, of working jobs but coming to the food bank because they can't make ends meet.
"One in four children under 5 go to bed hungry in South Carolina every night," he said.
More than one out of every four people the food bank served in June came in for the first time "and said it was due to unemployment," Garrick said. South Carolina's July unemployment rate, the last month for which figures are available, was 10.8 percent.
At the Free Medical Clinic on Harden Street, the number of people seeking help has jumped 40 percent during the past 18 months, Executive Director Dennis Coker said.
"There are people who used to donate money that are now using the clinic." Coker said.
More than half of those using the clinic are unemployed at some point during the year, he said.
In addition to South Carolina, the Census Bureau said poverty rates dropped in Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and Wyoming. The largest drop, 3.9 percentage points, was in Louisiana where 14.3 percent of the population was at or below the poverty line.
The largest increase, 5 percentage points, was in Mississippi, which also had the nation's highest poverty rate at 23.1 percent.