Greenville News (South Carolina), January 21, 2008: Child poverty up in county after dip in late ’90s

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By Lark Reynolds


People on the state’s welfare rolls reflect a deeper level of poverty than indicated by U.S. Census estimates, a state official says.

To qualify for welfare in South Carolina, a household must have an income that is 50 percent or more below the federal poverty guidelines, said Linda Martin, director of the family independence program for the state Department of Social Services.

“That’s dirt poor,” she said.

The number of children in Greenville County schools living below the poverty line increased by 3,380 between 2000 and 2004, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. The total number of school-age children in the county rose by 3,971 during that time.

In 2004, the agency had 922 households on welfare and 14,100 on food stamps in Greenville County, according to DSS data.

Most neighboring school districts showed a similar trough pattern during that time period, as did estimates for child poverty statewide and nationwide. For example, Pickens County dropped from 13.8 percent in 1995 to 11.4 in 2000, then rose to 14.9 percent in 2004.

Census estimates for 2005 put the rate for the Greenville County school district at 15.7 percent, but the bureau warns that because of a new collection method, the 2005 figures should not be compared with previous years.

Judy Snyder, director of Graduate Greenville, said county residents often don’t associate significant poverty with Greenville County, but it’s there.

“We look like a really prosperous community,” Snyder said.

She said in August 2007, volunteers with Graduate Greenville visited the homes of students who had not shown up for the first day of school to try to persuade them to stay in school.

“They were absolutely floored at some of the areas they went into to try to find these kids,” Snyder said. “They had no idea that that existed in this county.”

Scott Dishman, the special projects coordinator for A Child’s Haven, said a few Greenville County neighborhoods have child poverty rates of more than 50 percent. One near Cherrydale has a 70 percent rate.

“In the state, when people talk about child poverty and poor school conditions, they often talk about the I-95 corridor,” Dishman said. “We have a lot more children in poverty in this county. The numbers are higher here. Some of the percentages are higher there.”

Availability of affordable housing is a contributing factor to child poverty, said the Rev. Beth Templeton, director of Our Eyes Were Opened, an outreach of United Ministries that prepares people to work with poverty issues.

“If a family doesn’t have a stable place to live, then it’s very difficult for the parents to do what they need to do to take care of their family,” Templeton said.

Greenville County has experienced a lag in the number of available, low-rent units in recent years as old housing was demolished and rehabilitated.

Mary Blackstone Ross, executive director of the Greenville Housing Authority, said while 600 substandard units have been demolished to make way for new affordable housing developments, currently only 221 of those units have been

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