Dinwiddie takes stand to reduce poverty in county

By Michael Campbell News Editor

Data from the United States Department of Agriculture reports one-forth of children in rural, nonmetropolitan areas were poor in 2014, when compared to one-fifth of urban, metropolitan children.

Now Dinwiddie is doing its part to break the cycle of childhood poverty in the county.

During their meeting last month, supervisors unanimously passed a resolution on the Rural Impact County Challenge, serving as a “call to action to reduce the number of children living in poverty, commit to sharing lessons learned with other counties in [the] state and across the country to support a national initiative.”

The Rural Impact County Challenge is a program of the National Association of Counties and serves to bring together its member counties in an effort to reduce the number of children and families living in poverty in rural communities.

“Small towns and rural communities are home to millions of Americans, are a vibrant part of our nation’s economy, and include some of the most beautiful landmarks in the country,” NACo said on their website. “Rural America provides the vast majority of food, energy, and environmental benefits for the rest of the country.”

“Despite this critical role in our nation’s economy, too many Americans in rural areas are not sharing in our nation’s economic growth,” the group continued.

According to data from the American Community Survey developed by the Census Bureau, while the overall rate of poverty is higher in non-metro counties than in metro, the difference between non-metro/metro poverty rates varies significantly across regions.

Between 2010 through 2014, the ACS reports “the South had a non-metro poverty rate of 21.7 percent—nearly 6 percentage points higher than in the region’s metro areas.”

2014 Census data shows, among all ages sampled, approximately 12 percent of people in Dinwiddie are living in poverty, defined by the Department of Health and Human Services as a family of four making $24,250 or less annually.

The poverty level for a single person, as defined by the Census Bureau in 2014, is $12,071 or less annually.

Dinwiddie’s poverty rate is almost in line with the statewide rate of 11.8 percent as of 2014, which was a slight increase from previous years, placing it 12th in the nation.

Census data further shows in 2014, the percentage of children age five to 17 living in families in poverty rested at just over 16 percent. Additionally, individuals under the age of 18 in poverty were counted at nearly 18 percent.

When compared to neighboring localities, Dinwiddie’s poverty rate is one of the lowest in the region.

The neighboring Tri-Cities of Petersburg, Colonial Heights and Hopewell had poverty rates of 26, 11 and 19 percent, respectively. Nearby Prince George had a 2014 poverty rate of 10 percent, while Chesterfield’s rate rested at eight percent.

For county administrator Kevin Massengill and the board of supervisors, the size of the county, approximately 507-square miles, presents it own challenges in the fight to end poverty.

“We feel like we have pockets of rural poverty,” he remarked. “Usually, urban poverty is much easier to deal with since you have the dense environment and, whether it’s food, shelter or support, it’s just down the city block.

Massengill added, “The geography here makes you stranded. We feel like Dinwiddie would be a great case study for the rest of the nation for how you address it and what type of tactics can be used.”

Dinwiddie was selected among a handful of communities around the nation to take part in this grant initiative and, as they work with NACo, county officials will work with a “poverty coach” that will assess the situation in the county and create a road map to address the issues with a multi-disciplined mindset.

“If you look at free and reduced lunch rates across the county, it’s higher than probably where we want them to be,” Massengill remarked. “It’s not as difficult of a number as it is in some other localities but, if we are going to transform all of Dinwiddie, we need to recognize all of Dinwiddie for what it is.”

For state officials, from a historical and societal point of view, they admit poverty can be hard to deal with.

“Despite the war on poverty and the efforts that preceded it, and nearly continuous economic growth, at least one-tenth of the population lives on an income below a meager threshold, and reducing this fraction has proven difficult,” officials with the Department of Social Services stated in a presentation titled “Poverty in Virginia.”

Officials add that reducing poverty on a larger scale faces “a number of major challenges,” including the current economic and budgetary environment, the increase in female-headed families, slower wage growth for less-skilled men and the concentrated nature of poverty.

As part of their research, a number of recommendations were made by the state’s Poverty Reduction Task Force, including calling for increased opportunities for future economic security by investing in children and their education, expanding workforce readiness by expanding access to career development programs and employment supports and expanding safety-net opportunities for families in crisis, among others.

According to the Council on Virginia’s Future, among the Commonwealth’s peers, Maryland had the lowest poverty rate in 2014 at 10.1 percent, while North Carolina and Tennessee both had considerably higher rates — 17.2 and 18.3 percent, respectively. New Hampshire again ranked best in the nation with a poverty rate of 9.2 percent, though this too is an increase from the 8.7 percent rate found in 2013.

The national average decreased slightly: 15.5 percent in 2014 compared with 15.8 percent the previous year.

Copyright 2016 by Womack Publications