Living in poverty

Published 9:44 am Friday, January 20, 2012

Illustration by Troy Cooper

FRANKLIN—Michelle Stivers blames the increase in Western Tidewater children living in poverty on the 2010 closing of International Paper’s Franklin mill, when 1,100 lost jobs.

A report released this week by Voices for Virginia Children indicates that 33 percent of Franklin’s children lived in poverty in 2010, meaning a family of four made less than $22,314. Twenty percent of Southampton County’s youth and 12 percent of Isle of Wight County’s kids also lived in poverty.

“IP’s closure had an impact on this rate for our area,” said Stivers, director of social services for Southampton County. “As you know, not only were the employees of IP affected, but also the families and children of those businesses who dealt with IP were as well. Our agency has assisted people who have never needed our help before, so the effect was widespread.”

All three municipalities saw their child poverty rates increase since 2007. According to the report, which used the 2010 U.S. Census for its data, Franklin’s poverty rate grew by 4.2 percentage points, Isle of Wight’s by 1.6 percentage points and Southampton’s by 1.2 percentage points.

Franklin and Southampton County rates were above the state average of 14.6 percent. The national average was 21 percent.

Danville had the highest rate at 41.7 percent and Petersburg came in second at 41.4 percent, up from 13.7 percent in 2007, according to the report. Falls Church in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area had the lowest rate at 2.3 percent.

“Naturally, you don’t want to hear that you have a 20 percent child poverty rate; however, in comparison to the increase in the country (3.6 percent), the state (1.7 percent) and even the other Western Tidewater localities, Southampton County has not fared too badly from 2007 to 2010 with a 1.2 percent increase,” Stiver said.

She noted that only three of 120 localities experienced a decrease in the rate.

Alan Hogge, director of social services in Franklin, doesn’t see the city’s poverty rate improving without new jobs.

“As soon as the unemployment issues in Western Tidewater and the southern part of the state are improved and our economy gets into a better state, there’s not a whole lot of improvement expected,” Hogge said.

He noted that although 33 percent is high, the population of children living in Franklin has decreased.

“That will automatically raise the poverty percentages,” he said. “Typically folks who live below the poverty line don’t have the option to move. They are stuck where they are.”

Isle of Wight County is encouraged that its child poverty rate is below the state average.

“But the slight increase over the past couple of years is an indication that we need to continue to support regional collaborations that promote a safe, child-friendly environment and create opportunities for our children to succeed in school and in life,” said spokesperson Don Robertson.