Sun, Nov. 17

Poverty is for real in Verde Valley<br>Full-time employment no guarantee against hunger

The good news is that the number of people in Cottonwood living below the poverty level is smaller than it was in 1989.

The bad news is that Cottonwood still has a higher percentage of people below the poverty line than most of Yavapai County.

Based on a recent report by the Arizona Community Action Association comparing poverty levels in 1989 with those in 1999, Cottonwood has more than 1,200 people, or 13.5 percent of its residents, living below the poverty standard. That is a decrease of almost 8 percent from 1989 when about 1,300 Cottonwood residents were living below the poverty level.

Although some analysts may see the Cottonwood figures as encouraging, 34 percent, or 55,722 people in Yavapai County are classified as either living below the poverty level or among the working poor. Nearly 20,000 county residents are living in poverty. According to the ACAA report, almost 7,500 families in the county are living on less than 50 percent of the poverty-level income. Those families are classified as "very poor."

The poverty level is defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2003 as a family of four living on an income of $18,400 or less. But the same family could make up to double that amount and still be classified as being among the working poor.

Sedona experienced a 45-percent increase from 681 to 986 in the number of residents living below the poverty level during the 10-year period.

Even though the 2000 Census shows Cottonwood with a decrease in its poverty stricken families, John Ask, community resource specialist for the Central Arizona Food Bank, feels that the numbers of poor and working poor are now growing throughout the Verde Valley. The food bank distributed nearly 1 million pounds of food in 2002.

"We have a lot of people," Ask said. "We have over 600 elderly adults that come in here to get help every month."

The food bank also serves many families with children. More than 2,200 families in the Verde Valley had to turn to the food bank in 2002 to receive emergency food items, according to Ruth Cheneweth, director. Some of those families required emergency food on more than one occasion during the year.

Ask said the food bank probably serves about 200 families on a regular basis. "If this place wasn't here this community would be in sad shape," Ask said.

"You hear that the economy is getting better," Ask said. "But it isn't. We still have people losing their jobs."

Ask said that wages in the Verde Valley are generally too low for many families to rise out of the poverty or working-poor classifications. "The wages are so low that at least 40 percent of the people who come in here have full-time jobs," he said. "That alone is a bad situation. The people with low wages will be coming to this food bank when they retire."

During the 20 years between 1979 and 1999, the number of people living in poverty in Yavapai County more than doubled from 8,652 to 19,552. With 11.9 percent of its residents classified as living at or below the poverty threshold, the county is still below the national average of 12.4 percent and the state average of 13.9 percent.

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