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Your View: An explanation

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I would like your help in contacting a person who appears to be quite upset with something that she believes that I said in a visit with the Scott County Commission in July. I am especially concerned because it appears that caller may have contacted SpeakOut twice about these comments and may have also written an anonymous letter to at least one other entity, a state association (MACA) to which I personally belong and to which my employer has an organizational membership. From this combination, I can tell the caller/writer is quite upset. Since she obviously reads the Sikeston paper carefully, I hope to be able to reach her through you and to ease her mind regarding her concerns.

Apparently, the caller/writer is under the impression that I, and maybe DAEOC, thinks that low-income individuals are "low people" and that they just need to get a job. If she had been at the Commission meeting, I think she would have heard all of my comments and understood that I was repeating a misconception that we frequently hear from some segments of the community. Certainly a number of callers to SpeakOut have voiced that belief in the past and I believe that I mentioned that to the Commission.

My comments actually noted that the reality is that most low-income families DO have jobs. They just don't have jobs that pay a LIVING wage. I did not use exact figures, I only spoke in generalities about the fact that most low income workers work multiple jobs. There are statistics to support my generalization, I just did not use those figures in my brief discussion with the Commission.

The 2004 U.S. Census notes that two-thirds of people living in poverty work an average of 1.7 jobs. That is a figure that surprises many people, especially people who are most vocally critical of the low income. MACA arranged a meeting between Gov. Blunt and Dr. Donna Beegle last year at which Dr. Beegle quoted those figures to Gov. Blunt. He was so surprised, he asked Dr. Beegle to repeat that statement.

I also provided information to the Commission from MACA regarding a living wage in Missouri and offered to direct the Commissioners to a website that estimated what a living wage would be specifically for Scott County. The federal government considers the poverty level as a family of four living on less that $20,650 a year or $1,720 a month.

The Missouri Women's Council, a bipartisan group made up of members from the Missouri House and Senate and appointees of the Governor, have issued a report detailing the income needs of various types of households for every county in Missouri. In Scott County, the estimated self sufficiency income needed for household of two adults, an infant and a preschooler is $35,063 annually or $2,922 per month if the employer provides health insurance or $44,947 annually or $3,746 if the employer does not provide health insurance. These figures all change if the composition of the household is different.

The information regarding the number of persons in poverty working 1.7 jobs puts the lie to the idea that people are poor because they want to be poor. Yes, some people are lazy and don't want to work, but far more people want to provide for their families and work hard to do so.

Another misconception the caller/writer had was that I think that people just need to get more education so they can get a better job. The concern was expressed because of a comment that I made in answering a question asked by the Commission regarding how a family goes about getting help from DAEOC. My comment in answering the question was that the first step was for the family to go to our Family and Community Development office where an assessment would be completed that would look at things like employment and education to see if the person had a job and if they did, could they get a better job by having more education.

That was a very brief description of what happens in our offices and I think that I indicated that to the Commission. The fact is that the assessment looks at many more things than whether or not someone has a job and how much education they have. Those are just two of many factors that are reviewed.

Certainly education impacts the earnings power of any worker; however, as the writer pointed out in her letter to MACA, getting a better job is not the answer to increasing income for every low income person and household. Some people really are not able to work and/or benefit from educational opportunities due to health or other factors.

In cases where education or employment may not help a family, we may be able to help with life skills like budgeting classes. In many cases, we only address some of the conditions of poverty. We can refer to resources or help with programs that we operate to improve the physical condition of the home, weatherize to make the home more comfortable in extreme weather and save on utilities. We can sometimes help with utility bills, rent or mortgage payments, food, medical supplies and the like. In other words, we can help the family survive.

I would like the caller/writer to understand that my comments in the original article were not misquoted by the reporter, they just did not include every statement that I made and I was not trying to provide a lot of detail to the Commission. I was just giving them an overview of information I thought they had some basic knowledge about anyway. It never occurred to me that anyone would ever think that I would have a low opinion of low income people and I did not think that was what the reporter conveyed in the article.

If the caller/writer had been at the Commission meeting, it may have left her with a very different perception of the meeting than was apparently conveyed by either myself or the reporter. If she has any questions or concerns, she is welcome to contact me at our Central Office in Portageville (800-748-8320) or by email (jbarham@daeoc.com). If I am not available, I will respond as soon as I can.

Sincerely,

Jean Barham, Executive Director

DAEOC