Lauren Slagter -Poverty by the numbers: Howard County
Posted: Wednesday, August 26, 2015 5:00 pm Kokomo Tribune
By Lauren Slagter
Poverty by the numbers: Howard County
24.2 percent -- the percentage of Howard County children living in poverty in 2013, the most recent data available from Kids Count. By comparison, 21.9 percent of all Hoosier children were living in poverty that year.
14,112 -- the average number of Howard County residents who received SNAP benefits, or food stamps, each month in 2014.
189 -- the average number of Howard County families who received TANF benefits, or welfare, in 2014.
23.9 percent -- the percentage of Howard County children in 2013 who experience food insecurity, meaning they are unsure about the next time they will eat.
Poverty by the numbers: Tipton County
- 14.5 percent – the percentage of Tipton County children were living in poverty in 2013, the most recent data available from Kids Count.
- 1,436 -- On average, 1,436 Tipton County residents received SNAP (food stamps) each month in 2014.
- 16 -- On average, 16 Tipton County families received TANF (welfare) each month in 2014.
- 22.1 percent -- the percentage of Tipton County children experienced food insecurity in 2013, meaning they are unsure about the next time they will eat.
With nearly one-quarter of Howard County children living in poverty, those who work with youth are often tasked with bridging the gap between different socioeconomic levels.
Jeff Newton, executive director of Kokomo Urban Outreach, wants people to understand the plight of the poor so they can offer more relevant assistance and help to break the generational cycle of poverty. He offered insights into the culture of poverty at an Indiana Youth Institute youth worker café held Tuesday at New Life Church in Kokomo.
About two dozen youth workers attended the forum on poverty, where Newton acted like an ambassador at times explaining the differing perceptions people in poverty and people in the middle class have of each other.
“Much of what I’ve learned is from the neighbors,” Newton said, referencing the residents of Garden Square public housing apartments, which Newton serves through Kokomo Urban Outreach after living across the street from the complex for several years.
He also drew from the research of Ruby Payne, an expert on the culture of poverty. Payne defines poverty as going without at least three of seven basic types of resources: financial, emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, support systems and relationships or role models.
“One of the things you can do to change the story [of poverty] is understand who you’re working with, what their life is like, the difficulties they have and the resources they’re coming up with,” Newton said, noting the balancing act between helping people and enabling them. “Giving people food is not helping anybody out of poverty. It’s helping them through it, which is important too, but it’s not helping them out.”
He dispelled myths about poverty and then discussed patterns he has noticed that keep people in poverty, emphasizing that everyone’s circumstances are unique. His presentation was based on a Kokomo Urban Outreach workshop, “Out of Sight, Out Mind: the plight of the poor.”
“People in the middle class believe everybody living in poverty is on welfare. That’s not true,” Newton said, pointing out the temporary nature of food stamps and welfare. He led attendees through a budget exercise to demonstrate how good financial planning does not make it any easier to provide basic necessities with limited income.
Working families where a parent makes minimum wage need assistance just as much as families where no one is employed, Newton pointed out.
He summarized the cycle that keeps many people in poverty, defining terms that may be unknown to people from another socioeconomic class.
For boys and girls alike who grow up in poverty, one of the first things they learn is when “mother’s day” is, which refers to the day each month that their mothers get paid and can afford more items for their household.
After realizing the significance of mother’s day, children in poverty begin to worry; boys tend to worry about their mothers, food and having a place to live, while girls tend to worry about their siblings and take on a caretaker role at an early age. When they start school, low-income children will begin to notice they don’t have the same vocabulary, social skills or material possessions as their more affluent peers, which can lead to low self-esteem.
By middle school, boys brought up in poverty are angry. When they complain to others about the disadvantages they have experienced, they’re told to “man up.”
“They say, ‘Man up and realize this is your life forever. It’s never going to get any better,’ because they haven’t known anything else,” Newton explained, adding “manning up” often includes starting to smoke, drink, have sex and commit petty crimes. Those behaviors can lead to incarceration, which interrupts their education, and those boys or young men are left with few options except to repeat the cycle in which they grew up.
Girls take a different route in middle school, Newton noted. Rather than get angry, they begin looking for love. Their mothers are working to provide for their families, the siblings these girls care for rebel against them and they feel estranged from their peers at school. The girls realize they can gain attention from boys, and they start seeking boyfriends and often become pregnant. Young mothers then raise their own children in the same circumstances in which they grew up.
“You have boys who have been told to man up and you have girls looking for love. That doesn’t work out very well because you have boys and girls connecting at a young age,” Newton said. “That’s not saying that middle class girls don’t have sex, but they have more resources available to them.”
There are three main avenues to getting out of poverty, Newton said: having a hidden talent that will vault you to fame, which is rare; or education and mentoring, which are most effective together.
“When you have both of those together, you can get them out,” Newton said. “When they don’t have those, especially early on, it’s very difficult. You have to come around the whole family.”