Poverty is key issue at workshop

Published 9:33 am Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Gathering at Wedgewood Cove focuses on how to strengthen families

Seventeen percent.

That’s the number of children in Freeborn County living in poverty, according to data from 2010.

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Though the number may seem high, there are things community members and organizations can do to reduce that statistic, said Donnae Rae Scheffert, who presented a workshop Monday in Albert Lea about poverty.

“What I’m hoping is that every person will say I can do something to help,” Scheffert said. “Let’s look at what we’re already doing and see what else can be done.”

Teachers, human services workers, workforce center officials, child care providers, police, human services staff and health officials attended the workshop at Wedgewood Cove Golf Club, which was funded through a grant obtained by the Freeborn County Family Collaborative and through collaboration with the United Way of Freeborn County and Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea.

Scheffert presented information about the effects socioeconomic status can have on children and families and tried to help those in attendance gain a better understanding of the divisions between different social classes.

“Let’s look at what we can do to give people a hand up as opposed to a handout,” said Mary Laeger-Hagemeister, the grant’s coordinator.

Scheffert, of Northfield, said she grew up in poverty herself and attended a country school. She talked about what she has done to change her own outcome and how she has worked to help others change their cycle.

She said each year child poverty costs an estimated $500 billion to the U.S. economy.

This year, the federal poverty level is $23,500 for a family of four, and in Freeborn County, there are 3,654 families out of a total of 13,210 that make less than $25,000 a year, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.

That is 27.6 percent of all families in the county.

Poverty can be linked with negative conditions such as substandard housing, homelessness, inadequate nutrition, inadequate child care, unsafe neighborhoods and lack of access to health care, according to the presentation.

Data show that Freeborn County had lower average weekly salaries in 2012 compared to neighboring communities.

In Albert Lea, the average weekly salary was $664, but in Owatonna it was $774 a week and in Austin it was $824 a week.

The presentation stated the most effective way to move out of poverty is to have a good job and build assets for long-term prosperity.

Scheffert talked about closing the gaps in state and federal programs available to help those in need and sharing information about socioeconomic status to reduce myths and stereotypes.

She also talked about developing a community success coach who can work with families who are trying to rise above poverty.


Poverty by the numbers:

• 17.2: Percent of children in Freeborn County in poverty.

• 21.2: Percent of children in Freeborn County receiving food support.

• 45.8: Percent of students in Freeborn County receiving free or reduced-price lunches.

• $42,450: Median household income in Freeborn County.

• 6,872: Children ages 0-17 in Freeborn County.

• 42.2: Percent of babies born to unwed mothers in Freeborn County.

• $23,500: annual income at poverty level in Freeborn County.

• 24.1: Average percent of households in Freeborn County making more than $75,000.

• 9.2: Percent of elderly people in Freeborn County who are in poverty.

• $500 billion: Cost of child poverty each year in the U.S.