Recession Could Be to Blame for Rise in Lancaster Co. Poverty

By: Keller Russell Email
By: Keller Russell Email

The 2010 census has revealed effects of the recession. The census found two of Nebraska's largest counties -- Lancaster and Douglas -- with climbing poverty rates.

While economic and census specialists can't positively define what's the cause for a rising ratio, they have theories. Some say the current economy likely played a big role.

At the People's City Mission, the line of people who need help is long and growing.

Mission executive director pastor Tom Barber says they'll serve 30,000 different people this year between the mission, its distribution center and medical clinic. He says over the last five years the number of people they've helped has increased by about 400 percent.

"I think the biggest issue is the economy. There's a lot of people that are unemployed right now. We may have a lower unemployment rate than the rest of the country but we're not lower in underemployment," said Barber.

That underemployment is one reason Dr. Eric Thompson, director of business research at UNL, thinks poverty rates are on the rise.

"You could have people that are involuntarily working part time or were able to find a full time job but in an occupation or industry that was much lower paying than they normally would be in," said Thompson.

The U.S. Census found 1 in 8 people in Lancaster County are living in poverty -- up from 1 in 10, ten years ago. Douglas County reported similar results. In 2000, 9.8 percent of its population was considered at poverty level. In 2010, that percentage grew to 12.9.

Thompson's not surprised by the uptick in poverty.

"During the last census, the economy was really in pretty good shape. So I really think it's the business cycle and that at the time of the survey we were certainly in the middle of a severe recession," he said.

Thompson said another factor could be the industries that lost jobs. He said in Lancaster and Douglas counties, construction and manufacturing took a big hit.

"There's a lot of good jobs in those industries that people have lost and they may have found trouble finding a new job to keep them out of poverty," said Thompson.

Meanwhile, in Hall County, the poverty rate slightly improved -- a product of how people earn their pay -- Thomas said.

"Agriculture has been pretty strong in the last three or four years and so their economies may have held up much better in the recent recession."

David Drozd, a census and data specialist at the University of Nebraska Omaha, said Lincoln and Omaha's growing college communities could also contribute to increased poverty levels. While communities with more highly educated residents tend to improve poverty rates, Drozd said it could also be a detractor because students are included in census information and he said often they're only working part time jobs with low incomes which would contribute to the poverty level.


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