A recently released report shows despite the economic boon, more children than ever are living in poverty.
But is the poverty level among children increasing in Columbia County?
It depends on who you ask.
Georgia's economy boomed in the 1990s, but the percentage of children living in poverty remained almost the same, according to a new report.
The analysis by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that Georgia ranked 33rd in the nation in the percentage of children living in poor households, 19 percent in 2000 compared to 20 percent in 1990.
But while the percentage dropped a bit, the total number of children in poverty grew by 18 percent from 1990 to 2000, to 393,000, said the report called "Children at Risk: State Trends 1990-2000."
In Columbia County 19.6 percent - 3,674 - of school children are eligible to receive free and reduced priced lunches, as compared to 43.2 percent in the state. The number decreased slightly from the 1998-99 school year when it was 19.7 percent. In the 1995-96 school year, the percentage was 18.4 percent or 3,221.
"That's going to be the best indicator," said Assistant Superintendent Bill Morris. "Some people may qualify for it and not even apply for it. But statistically, that is the only way to know. If you look at the new homes being built, the affluence of our area is increasing. But if you have one child in poverty it's too many."
Columbia County seems to be a tale of two cities. While high-dollar homes are being built in neighborhoods such as Barrington, Jones Creek and West Lake, pockets of poverty remain in other areas.
Marvin Young, director of Columbia County Cares, said the number of people 17 and younger served by the food panty last year (October 2000 to September 2001) was 3,920, roughly 300 a month. Columbia County Cares is a ministry sponsored by 27 churches which provide money and volunteers to maintain the food pantry. When the food panty opened in 1997, it served 1,673 and the numbers have grown substantially each year, Young said.
"The number of children in poverty is likely much greater than these figures indicate," Young said. "We are not the only food pantry in town and by our estimates we may only be reaching about 20 to 22 percent of the people who are eligible."
Bill Campbell, director of United We Care, a Grovetown area food pantry, doesn't keep specific numbers, but he sees it every day. United We Care is sponsored by four area churches and provides clothing and food to the area's needy.
"Yes, the number of children in poverty is definitely increasing," Campbell said. "All these people are out of work and it's putting these people in a world of hurt. They need some help."
Linda Joesbury, director of the Columbia County Department of Family and Children Services, said it fluctuates month to month.
"In January we had a very, very busy month with people coming in and applying for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and Food Stamps," she said. "But in February it dropped off. Right now I don't perceive that things are worse in Columbia County. We seem to be doing O.K."
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