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The Journal Gazette

Poverty reach spreads in Fort Wayne, Indiana

Population of poor areas doubles in a decade, census finds

Corona

The lines at the Community Harvest Food Bank and other social service agencies attest to the needs of people facing poverty, who are more often the people next door.

Since 2000, the number of people living in poverty areas more than doubled in Indiana to an estimated 1.4 million in 2010, according to a recent census report. That's nearly a quarter of Hoosiers, up from 9.3 percent a decade earlier.

That means many more Hoosiers, if not in poverty themselves, live near those who are.

A census tract with a poverty rate of 20 percent or more is designated as a poverty area by the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2010, more than 77 million people nationwide – nearly a fourth of the population – lived in such neighborhoods. (The report uses data compiled between 2008 and 2012, with 2010 as the midpoint.)

The numbers are no surprise at the food bank, which serves northeast Indiana counties.

The number of needy families has been consistent over the years, said Steve Corona, the agency's resource development officer.

“About 60 families every day … they're taking about 7,000 pounds of food off of our shelves. And that's not changed over the past year,” he said.

In Allen County, the central and southeast part of Fort Wayne had some of the largest poverty increases last decade. In 2009 some neighborhoods had poverty rates of 40 percent, 50 percent and above. But poverty rates of 20 percent and above were also found in the northwest and northeast sections of the city.

While Indiana is not a high-poverty state – its poverty rate is just below the national rate of 15.9 percent – only six other states had larger increases in residents living in poverty areas.

Several factors are at play, said Matt Kinghorn, an economic analyst in Bloomington for the Indiana Business Research Center.

“One reason that Indiana has one of the highest percentage-point jumps is because it had comparatively low poverty rate numbers in 2000. It was well below the U.S. average in 2000,” Kinghorn said. “So, part of it is just coming from a smaller base.”

Also, median household income put Indiana in the bottom third of states. Income has not kept pace with inflation, “so more and more families are having a tougher time making their dollars stretch,” he said.

In addition, there were more than 200,000 fewer jobs in the state in 2010 than in 2000, which resulted from the industrial decline during the period, Kinghorn said. “These poverty numbers are showing some of the effects of that industrial decline.”

The data also show that poverty is becoming less concentrated.

“I think the images, a lot of people think that poverty may be confined to inner cities or off the beaten path rural areas. But I think we're seeing, especially since the Great Recession, we're seeing poverty on the rise even in suburban areas.”

The Midwest, which had the lowest percentage of people living in poverty areas in 2000 at 11.7 percent, had the largest increase – 9.8 percentage points – during the period.

Ellen Cutter, director of IPFW's Community Research Institute, noted by email that employment in the Midwest declined by 4.3 percent during the period. Median household income in the Midwest now lags the nation $64,272 to $64,585.

And Indiana's 19.4 percent growth in median family income during the period ($50,261 to $60,012) ranks 49th, ahead of only Michigan, she added.

“These employment and income dynamics highlight challenges within the state, and point to some factors contributing to the changes in poverty distributions,” she said.

All area school districts have had increases in the number of students eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch, an indicator of low-income households, said Corona, a member of the Fort Wayne Community Schools board. About 70 percent of FWCS students qualify, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

The number of people in the nine counties served by the food bank in northeast Indiana has remained the same or dropped slightly in recent years, Corona said. Many are in the category of “food insecurity,” people “living on the good-natured ability of organizations like ours, families and friends to get them through week by week.”

People see the unemployment rate go down “and they say hunger and poverty must be going down,” Corona added. “And it's not.”

rshawgo@jg.net

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