“There’s nothing surer
The rich get rich and the poor get children
In the meantime, in between time
Ain’t we got fun?”
~Ain’t We Got Fun, 1921
The first news from the 2010 Census about poverty wasn’t good. On Sept. 14, the Associated Press reported that 46.2 million Americans were living in poverty—nearly one in six people—and that the poverty rate had climbed in one year from 14.3 percent to 15.1 percent. Tennessee, according to the same report, fared even worse, with a 16.7 percent poverty rate. In human terms—out of every 100 Tennesseans, almost 17 are living below the poverty line.
The news got worse. AP reported on Nov. 3 that the nation’s “poorest poor” now account for one in 15 people, or 20.5 million Americans. This means “an income of $5,570 for an individual and $11,157 for a family.”
Then, on Nov. 20, a study commissioned by the New York Times chimed in with a newly coined term: the “near poor”. The Census Bureau was using a new method of measuring poverty, called the Supplemental Poverty Measure, and this one showed that 51 million people have incomes less than 50 percent above the poverty line. This new tabulation was 76 percent higher than the figures released in September. “That places one in three Americans either in poverty or the fretful zone just above it,” said the NYT.
But not here in Chattanooga and Hamilton County, right? Things are booming here, aren’t they? Those statistics don’t apply to us…do they?
Even before all the statistics mentioned were published, researchers at the Brookings Institute had released a report on Oct. 7, 2010 called “The Great Recession and Poverty in Metropolitan America” using data from the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey. These numbers confirmed, “the worst U.S. economic downturn in decades exacerbated trends set in motion years before, by multiplying the ranks of America’s poor.
“An analysis of poverty in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, based on recently released data from the 2009 American Community Survey, indicates that:
“Several metro areas saw city poverty rates increase by more than 5 percentage points, while many suburban areas experienced increases of 2 to 4 percentage points between 2007 and 2009. The city of Allentown, PA saw a 10.2 percentage-point increase in its poverty rate, followed by Chattanooga, TN with an increase of 8.0 percentage points.” (Italics ours.)
This, taking into account that the old numbers, based on the 2000 census, were already bad enough: According to a presentation prepared by the City of Chattanooga Social Services Department in 2005:
“According to the 2000 Census, there were 26,843 individuals living in poverty in Chattanooga—17.9% of the total population—compared to 12.4% nationally.
“The poverty rate for children under 18 was 27% in Chattanooga—compared to 16.6% nationally.
“2002 data is only available at the county level. In Hamilton County, 12.9% of all individuals and 18.6% of all children were living in poverty.”
“We are seeing a big increase in people who have never needed help before,” says Al Tucker, a social services delivery manager for the Social Services Department. He estimated, depending on the month, that numbers are up between 25 and 35 percent this year.
But numbers don’t have faces. Numbers are easy to ignore. The Pulse asked contributor Cody Maxwell to help tell the story of poverty in Chattanooga.
I was standing in line early one Saturday at St. Elmo’s Amman Market with a dirty, barefoot 3 year old. Her baby belly was sticking out from under her favorite pink princess shirt, which stopped fitting her properly a year ago.
We’d been waiting all morning for mama to get in the shower. When we finally heard the water running. we snuck the keys out of her purse and ran out to the car. The plan was coming together. We’d whispered it the night before, in the dark just before going to sleep—tomorrow we’d sneak and go get chocolate.