One year after a special two-part series in The Northwestern, "Living on the Edge: The Peril of Poverty," recently released statistics show the number of people living in poverty is on the rise in Winnebago County. In fact, an additional 4,100 residents saw their incomes slide enough over the past two years to be considered living in poverty.
The U.S. Census Bureau's 2005 American Community Survey, which was released in October, reported that more than 15,500 individuals in Winnebago County, or 10.4 percent of the county's population, were living in poverty based on federal guidelines. That 36.1 percent increase means 4,100 more county residents are now living in poverty as opposed to the 11,000 the U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2003.
For a family of four, the federal poverty line for 2006 is an annual income of $20,000. But in Winnebago County, the cost of living for that same family is more than twice that amount. Penn State University's "Poverty in America" project determined the living wage in Winnebago County for a family of four is $42,356.
Local agencies that help individuals who are struggling have seen the results of the increase.
Tim Gessler, the manager of the financial assistance division at Winnebago County Department of Human Services, said an increase in the number of individuals seeking help closely mirrors the increase in the number of residents who are considered living in poverty.
In April 2006, 15,068 county residents received BadgerCare or some other type of medical assistance, a 36.7 percent increase over the 11,030 residents who received the same benefits in April 2003.
While not as large, the number of residents seeking food assistance has also increased.
Gessler said in 2005, 11,543 county residents received assistance through FoodShare, a food and nutrition program based on the federal food stamp program that helps Wisconsin residents not only purchase food, but also make healthy nutritious choices. That's an increase of 25.8 percent over the 9.175 residents who received nutrition aid in 2003.
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