A two-day report: Poverty in Augusta

EDITORS NOTE: Poverty is an equal opportunity offender, touching nearly every demographic group. One group is affected more often : single women who head households.

 

These households experience the highest poverty rates nationally, in Georgia and South Carolina, and in the three-county Augusta area.

Today and Friday, The Augusta Chronicle profiles some of the women facing poverty and their difficulties , youths who come from these households and what can help decrease the high poverty rate of a city such as Augusta.

Christa Glosson says she is trying.

Ms. Glosson, 24, has a job at a day care center, but the business doesn't open until next month. She's signed up for GED classes but has missed more than a month because of a broken transmission on her 1991 Ford Escort.

The single Hephzibah woman provides for her 5-year-old daughter, her mother and 9-year-old niece. They're living below the poverty line.

Her situation is not unique.

In the United States, according to 2008 U.S. Census data, single women who head households where no husband is present have a poverty rate of 28 percent, nearly three times the rate for all family households. In Georgia, the poverty rate for these households is 30.2 percent. The rate is 40 percent in Richmond County. Columbia County's rate was 20 percent, five times higher than its overall household poverty rate.

The slide into poverty for Ms. Glosson began about three years ago, she said, after her stepfather, Raymond Hobbs, the family's other breadwinner, died of a heart attack.

Her mother has a degenerative bone disease and can't work, Ms. Glosson said.

When the engine in the family's car died, she didn't have reliable transportation to her cashier's job at the Walmart on Deans Bridge Road, where she had worked four or five months.

She had to quit the job.

Next, she worked as a photographer at Augusta Mall, then was laid off because the business had hired too many people, she said.

When she was offered a job at the day care center, she took it. While waiting two months for the inspection that would permit it to open, she hasn't worked.

"This is a guaranteed job, so I don't want to quit," Ms. Glosson said.

But she doesn't have the money to repair the car and the closest bus stop is more than 10 miles away -- on Deans Bridge Road or Peach Orchard Road.

Last month her family was threatened with eviction from the mobile home that costs them $400 a month. The landlord has worked with them, Ms. Glosson said, even giving them three months' free rent after the death of Mr. Hobbs, who performed maintenance for the neighborhood.

A friend, who usually helps out with $100 each paycheck, stepped in. Their only other income comes from cleaning houses or baby-sitting, $20 here, $30 there. There's also the $80 a month for her niece's child support. She says she hasn't received the $103-a-month, court-ordered child support from her daughter's father in months.

All four members of the household receive food stamps, and she and daughter, Nevaeh, are on Medicaid. She worries about the basics.

"I don't want to lose where I'm staying; I don't want my power cut off," she said.

Forget luxuries that some might consider necessities. Nevaeh understands she can't get her that Tinkerbell DVD or extra toys, Ms. Glosson said, and she's used to hand-me-downs. For Nevaeh's Halloween costume, Ms. Glosson used an old pink church dress, sewed last year's fairy wings to it and painted her face.

Last Christmas was the first year she signed up for toys from the Salvation Army. They're not gifts from a list to Santa, but she's grateful for the help.

"She's like, 'Mom, all I want for Christmas is a (Nintendo) Wii,' " she said.

"It breaks my heart because the only thing she wants I can't give her," she said, wiping away tears.

Sometimes, it takes a toll on her.

"People say 'don't lose faith,' " Ms. Glosson said. "I feel like I've done everything in my power ... unless I'm missing something."

But she doesn't plan on staying in poverty.

"(Just) because you're a single mom and you're in poverty, it doesn't mean you can't get out of it," she said.

If she can find a way to work at the day care, she'll be the assistant teacher of the class for 1-year-olds. She'll get minimum wage and work from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., which will be a good schedule to be with her daughter.

"I won't be able to take her to school, but I'll have the time after school with her," Ms. Glosson said.

Her long-term plan is to be an ultrasound technician. She wants to be an example for her daughter, have her life together more and be in a more stable financial situation.

There are significant challenges in her way -- transportation to work and, like many single moms, child care. Her mother already has her hands full caring for Ms. Glosson's 9-year-old niece and, on occasion, a nephew.

"Right now, I'm just looking for that step up, for that help up to know what to do," Ms. Glosson said.

Reach Sarah Owen at (706) 823-3223 or sarah.owen@augustachronicle.com.

POVERTY RATES

for all people

13.2%

in the United States

14.7%

in Georgia

15.7%

in South Carolina

24.1%

in Richmond County

5.7%

in Columbia County

16.8%

in Aiken County

Poverty Rates

for households headed by women with no husband present

28%

in the United States

30.2%

in Georgia

33.7%

in South Carolina

40%

in Richmond County

20.9%

in Columbia County

36.2%

in Aiken County

U.S. FAMILY HOUSEHOLDS (two or more people)

- 78.8 million total

- 14.4 million (18.3 percent) headed by women with no husband present; 28 percent of these households are below the 100 percent rate of poverty, compared to 10.3 percent of all family households

- 5.2 million households (6.6 percent) headed by men where no wife is present; 13.8 percent of these households are below the 100 percent rate of poverty

- 59.1 million households (75 percent) headed by married couples; 5.5 percent of these households are below the 100 percent rate of poverty

GEORGIA

- 2,364,041 family households

- 520,658 (22 percent) headed by women with no husband present; 30.2 percent of these households had incomes below the poverty rate in the past 12 months, compared to 11.1 percent of all family households in the state

- 1,685,437 households (71.3 percent) headed by married couples; 4.9 percent of these households had incomes below the poverty rate in the past 12 months

SOUTH CAROLINA

- 1,142,172 family households

- 247,966 (21.7 percent) are headed by women with no husband present; 33.7 percent of these households had incomes below the poverty level in the past 12 months, compared to 11.6 percent of all family households in the state

- 822,091 households (72 percent) headed by married couples; 4.6 percent of these households had incomes below the poverty rate in the past 12 months

RICHMOND COUNTY

- 47,818 family households

- 17,528 (36.6 percent) headed by women with no husband present; 40 percent of these households had incomes below the poverty level in the past 12 months, compared to 21.1 percent of all family households in the county

- 26,656 households (55.7 percent) headed by married couples families; 11.9 percent of these households had incomes below the poverty level in the past 12 months

COLUMBIA COUNTY

- 30,234 family households

- 3,809 (12.8 percent) are headed by women with no husband present; 20.9 percent of these households had incomes below the poverty level in the past 12 months compared to 4.2 percent of all family households in the county

- 25,358 households (83.8 percent) are headed by married couples; 1.9 percent of these households had incomes below the poverty level in the past 12 months

AIKEN COUNTY

- 42,149 family households

- 8,299 (19.6 percent) headed by women with no husband present; 36.2 percent of these households had incomes below the poverty level in the past 12 months, compared to 13.2 percent of all family households in the county

- 31,512 households (74.7 percent) headed by married couples households; 6.9 percent of these households had incomes below the poverty level in the past 12 months

Source: 2008 American Community Survey by U.S. Census Bureau


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BASICS DEFINE LEVELS

The definition of poverty most commonly used by state and federal government and many experts is determined by basic food needs.

In the early 1960s, the Social Security Administration published an analysis of poverty defined as people who couldn't afford the cheapest of basic grocery lists developed by the Department of Agriculture in 1955 to be nutritionally adequate for short periods. The analysis also relied on the department's research showing that the typical family of three at the time spent about one-third of the household's after-tax income on food.

Using the grocery list and personal budget information, the federal government devised a poverty level for other family sizes, including for single adults.

That original poverty level is updated annually by the U.S. Census Bureau to show the impact of inflation on food prices.

Some advocates for the poor say the formula unfairly ignores many families because it doesn't include the cost of other necessities, such as housing, transportation, child care and health care. On the other hand, critics of government spending say the formula shows too many people in poverty by not including the value of benefits such as food stamps, unemployment checks and welfare payments as income.

Efforts to devise more comprehensive poverty level figures have failed to catch on.

- Morris News Service

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