WEST JEFFERSON-A recently released economic snapshot of Ashe County by the North Carolina Justice Center provides further insight on the growing economic hardships much of the population endures on a daily basis.
According to the findings presented by the left-leaning think tank, nearly 21 percent of the county’s residents lived in poverty and struggled to make ends meet in 2014. The state’s poverty rate, however, was only 17.2 percent.
Additionally, Lansing, Crumpler and Creston were identified as “pockets of poverty,” by Feed America which made the designation by utilizing U.S. Census data.
Compounding this problem was the fact that 31.2 percent of children in the county (1,555) lived in poverty in 2014 compared to the statewide average of 24.1 percent.
“That’s nothing new to us,” said Michael Sexton, director of the Ashe County Sharing Center food pantry and outreach. “Three out of ten children are what we call ‘food insecure.’ That means they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”
Sexton added the numbers don’t lie either. Around 63 percent of children in the Ashe County School system receive free or reduced meals, he said.
To help combat food insecurity, Sexton said the sharing center has partnered with Mountain View Elementary School to begin the Children’s Pantry and Backpack Outreach. The nonprofit chose MVES because of it serves the Crumpler area, which was identified as one of the county’s three pockets of poverty.
“It’s a dual program in that the first Thursday of each month, we take two boxes or 50 pounds of food to the parents of the children enrolled in the backpack program,” said Sexton.
Then each Friday, the students get to take home a backpack of child friendly food and snacks.
“It’s a two prong attack on food insecurity,” said Sexton.
The food needs of those impoverished people living in Lansing and Creston are addressed by the sharing center’s mobile food pantry.
But the problem of food insecurity doesn’t stop with children. One in six adults in the county are also food insecure, said Sexton.
Food insecurity could very well have origins in low wages and wealth disparity. According to the report, 45.2 percent of the county’s residents were low-income on average from 2010 to 2014, meaning their incomes were less than twice the federal poverty, which is $47,700 for a family of four in 2014.
The snapshot also provided details on the population’s ability to provide for themselves basic necessities. The county’s hourly median wage of $12.69 equaled 81.2 percent of the state median wage of $15.63 in 2015. The county’s median hourly wage also fell by $1.08 since the recovery began in 2009, according to the data.
For a family of three it costs $20.22 per hour to make ends meet in the county, where the hourly median wage falls short of what’s needed by about 63 percent.
Economic disparity was also highlighted in the report.
The richest 5 percent of the county’s households had an average income that was 22 times greater than that of the poorest fifth of households and 6 times greater than that of the middle fifth of households on average from 2010 to 2014, said the report.
A total of 4,515 of the county’s residents also received assistance from the food and nutrition services, or food stamps, program in December 2015 with 16.4 percent of residents receiving assistance.
Due to the return of the three-month time limit for non-disabled childless adults, 213 people in this county (and more than 100,000 statewide) could lose food assistance in 2016 if they don’t meet certain exemptions, said the report.