Poverty is not just about moneyWhat does it mean to be poor? Clearly, there are different meanings for different people living in different parts of the world.
By: The Bismarck Tribune, The Jamestown Sun
What does it mean to be poor?
Clearly, there are different meanings for different people living in different parts of the world.
Take Haiti. The average family of six makes about $500 a year. In America, that would define the poorest of the poor. But Haiti IS one of the poorest countries in the world. Real income for an average family has not increased in more than 20 years.
Rice and beans is Haiti’s “national dish.” Haitians have two meals a day — coffee or juice and bread (possibly an egg) in the morning; a larger afternoon meal is heavy in carbohydrates.
Peasants eat when and where food is available. A snack before bed is a real treat and fruits are the envy between meals.
What little undesirable land is not owned by the government or by the rich is usually taken over by squatters.
In the United States, the Census Bureau reports that one in nine North Dakotans live in poverty. That means we could have about 75,000 citizens in the Peace Garden State living in poverty.
That seems hard to visualize with the opulence in which many in our state live. North Dakota has the nation’s lowest unemployment rate, a decade of economic prosperity (primarily in the oil, energy and agriculture fields) and dramatic population growth in its biggest cities. The state’s per capita income has risen to 17th from 38th in the past decade, the biggest advance of any state.
So just what does it mean to live in poverty in North Dakota? A daylong summit will address that topic on Aug. 30 in Mandan, sponsored by the North Dakota Economic Security and Prosperity Alliance.
A starting point could be poverty guidelines in America. In all U.S. states, except Alaska and Hawaii, poverty guidelines run from earning $10,890 (for an individual) to $37,630 (for a family of eight).
North Dakota’s median household income is $47,898, with a high of $60,631 in Mercer County and a low of $27,473 in Sioux County. The lowest unemployment rate in 2010 was in Slope County at 1.6 percent; the highest was 11.5 percent in Rolette.
But despite the positive economy, there are many other factors to consider. For instance, a two-bedroom apartment in Dickinson is advertised on the complex’s website for $1,700 to $2,075 a month. A “like” place to live in Bismarck is listed at $665. The same high prices can be found throughout the oil patch, and lower rents in rural areas to match lower wages.
Historically, many state workers also have held more than one job because of lower wages than in other states — even though that seems to be changing, specifically in non-service industry positions.
It sometimes seems we are becoming a state of “haves” and “have-nots,” especially when factoring in poverty and homelessness and other societal concerns of North Dakota’s Native people living a difficult reservation existence.
Living in poverty isn’t just about money and finding a job. Anyone wanting to work in North Dakota can find work. Still, there is the issue of under-employment.
The summit at the end of the month at the Seven Seas in Mandan is titled “Governing for Prosperity.” Attendees will get a look at issues facing working families in the state, our unique economic situation, wealth disparities, public policy, federal programs, leadership and coalition-building.
It’s great that we can count our blessings on a daily basis. But let us not forget about those who aren’t as fortunate. Possibly some answers will be generated from the summit.