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Bruce Elfant

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Constable's Notebook - March 2006

In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in America. More than 40 years later the Travis County Commissioners Court in recognizing that this war is not over declared January as Poverty Awareness Month.

According to the federal poverty guidelines, a family of four that earns $19,350 or less is considered to be living at or below the poverty level. The Basic Needs Coalition (Community Action Network committee) reports that more than 100,000 (12.6%) of Travis County residents were living below the federal poverty level in 2004 . Single parent households headed by a female and people with disabilities are nearly twice as likely to be living at or below poverty. While the Austin school district is currently considered to be a property rich school district, 58% of AISD students are considered economically disadvantaged and are eligible for free or reduced lunches. The school drop out rate remains high and nearly 50,000 Central Texas adults have not even completed the 9th grade. Texas ranks number one nationwide as a state with twenty-five percent of its population including 5.6 million children lacking health insurance.

President Johnson’s war on poverty contributed to the reduction of the poverty rate from about 25% to about 10% by 1973. Unfortunately increases in the costs of housing, health care, food, transportation, etc., which has significantly outpaced wage increases, along with cuts in many federal and state programs, has contributed to an increasing poverty rate here and around the nation.

Coping with poverty costs us all money and speaks volumes about how smart and compassionate we are as a community. For example, our jails are not filled with high school graduates and our hospital emergency rooms are not filled with people who have health insurance. Less than 25% of the people in jail graduated high school or obtained their GED. And more than two thirds of those going to tax supported emergency rooms for treatment do not have health insurance. The fact is that there is a direct correlation with drop out rates and the costs of crime prevention, incarceration and health care. On average, those who have at least a high school education will earn significantly more money and are more likely to have health insurance than those lacking an education.

The more we are willing to intelligently invest our money and time in programs designed to keep kids in school the less we will have to invest in crime prevention, incarceration and uninsured health care costs.

For more information see the Basic Needs Coalition website



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