Self-Sufficient survey looks at Georgia's poverty rate - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Self-Sufficient survey looks at Georgia's poverty rate

By Jennifer Emert - bio | email

November 11, 2008

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - A Dougherty County family of four must earn more than $41,000 a year to survive without help from family, charities, or the government.

That's according to a new self-sufficiency study from a group of nonprofit Georgia agencies. The median income in Dougherty County in 2000 was just $28,600. The report found in the last six years, the cost of health care, food, child care, housing and transportation have increased significantly.

What does it take to get by in Georgia? In south Georgia on the high end a family of four in Lee County needs more than $44,000 a year to make it without help. On the low end in Baker County it takes about $33,000. The Self Sufficient study found Georgia's food prices have increased an average of 17% in the last six years.

The Southwest Georgia Food Bank is finding it hard to help many families fill the gap.

"We estimate the demand here in southwest Georgia, we serve 20 counties, to be about 12 million pounds and last year we did about 3.1 million," said Brett Kirkland, Food Bank of Southwest Georgia President/CEO.

That means nine million pounds more is needed. Nearly 40% of people who are served through the Food Bank have some employment and use the service only as a supplement. Food is not the only cost that's gone up, medical costs have also grown by 50 percent.

It's evident at the Samaritan Clinic which sees 45 patients during their once a month free clinics.

"We could easily be open every Saturday because the need is definitely there," said Barbara Williams, Samaritan Clinic Coordinator.

In Dougherty County 20% of the population is under insured or has no insurance. The study shows families have also seen their costs increase for transportation, housing, and child care. In fact the only place many got a break was taxes.

Agencies such as the United Way say the demand for help is overwhelming and many agencies are also feeling the pinch being asked to do more with less.

"A lot of our partner agencies, a lot of their programs, they've had to lessen those programs, and serve less people because the funding is just not there. A lot of the federal grants are not guaranteed anymore," said Dewayne Myles, United Way President.

They say Georgia needs to work on replacing the 125,000 manufacturing jobs lost since 2001 and developing a stronger safety net of social services. They hope the report shines a light on the poverty problem and prompts more action.

United Way leaders say the study better defines poverty in Georgia. They along with other agencies who commissioned the report suggest improving education and encouraging economic development to help deal with the problem.

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