Joco Opinion

June 17, 2014

Editorial: Reducing poverty needs to be a higher priority

A near record number of Johnson Countians live in households below the poverty level. And a new report’s findings should challenge elected officials and the business community to support programs to reduce the county’s poverty level.

The recession is over, the stock market has been soaring and Johnson County’s job market is getting stronger.

Yet a near record number of Johnson Countians still live in households below the poverty level.

The latest report from United Community Services of Johnson County lays out the numbers: 37,500 people in the county lived in poverty in 2012, nearly matching the high of 37,940 in 2009.

Most of these residents had jobs, but they did not provide enough in wages to lift them above the poverty line, or about $23,000 for a family of four in 2012.

And 6.8 percent of the county’s residents had income below the poverty level in 2012, down slightly from the record high of 7.1 percent in 2009.

Both figures are far higher than the 3.4 percent poverty rate of 2000.

The report’s findings should challenge elected officials and the business community to support programs to reduce the county’s poverty level.

Projects that help provide people in their daily lives — such as food and clothing — certainly are welcome and needed.

But the prosperous county has to be thinking bigger and more long-term.

The Johnson County Commission especially has to be looking for ways that the programs it funds can help people find ways to get a better education and, thus, higher paying jobs. One improvement would include more and better bus routes that can get people from where they live to where they work, often in fast-food or retail stores.

In addition, the business community must consider supporting an increase in the minimum wage, which could help people cope with the higher cost of living in the county.

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