Number of low-income families rises sharply

Herald Staff Writer

The last decade took a toll on Americans’ finances. Dubois County residents were not immune to that hardship.

According to updated estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week, 6.2 percent of Dubois County families live below the poverty line.

That may not seem like a lot, but in comparison to 2000’s total — 2.9 percent — the increase is significant.

“We have certainly seen an increase in client numbers and first-time clients with this economic downturn,” said Joyce Fleck, interim executive director and finance director for Tri-Cap. “There are many folks in need right now.”

Tri-Cap is a nonprofit agency that assists low-income families in Dubois, Pike and Warrick counties.

Fleck said that some agencies similar to Tri-Cap that serve other geographic areas already have used up their energy assistance funding because of the increased need. “Ours is going much faster than before,” she said.

The U.S. Census Bureau, through its American Community Survey project, last week released information compiled over the last five years about the economic, social and demographic characteristics of residents, coming up with estimated 2009 numbers and percentages in those categories. The data is based on an annual sample survey mailed to about 3 million addresses between Jan. 1, 2005, and Dec. 31, 2009.

These estimates are not related to or a part of the official 2010 Census counts.

Along with looking at the percentage of families living below the poverty line, the bureau also gave annual income levels for families. In Dubois County, 2.7 percent of families bring in less than $10,000 per year; 10 years ago, it was 1.5 percent. The percent that earn between $10,000 and $14,999 is 3.2 for 2009 and 2.8 for 2000.

If a one-person household earns less than $10,830 per year, that person is below the U.S. poverty line. For a family of four, the mark is $22,050.

Bainbridge Township Trustee Ken Buck has also noticed the increase in people and families needing financial help. Last year, he distributed about $32,000 in financial assistance from the township’s poor relief fund. This year it’s been about $50,000. The fund is a part of the township’s budget, which comes from property tax revenue.

“Four years ago, it was around $18,000 to $20,000,” he said.

According to the updated census estimates, the percent of families earning between $15,000 and $24,999 decreased, from 2000’s 8 percent to 2009’s 6.3 percent. A bigger decrease is seen in those earning between $25,000 and $34,999, from 2000’s 14.2 percent to 2009’s 7.1 percent.

But the percent of people on the other end of the earnings spectrum increased. Families with household incomes of between $150,000 and $199,999 went from 2000’s 1.3 percent to 2009’s 3.4 percent. The number earning $200,000 or more also increased, from 2000’s 2 percent to 2009’s 3 percent.

The percent of Dubois County residents listed as unemployed also increased, from 2000’s 1.8 percent to 2009’s 2.8 percent.

Local agencies that help those in need have noticed an accompanying increase in demand.

“The people who come in here are having a tough time making it,” said Rich Welp, manager of the Shared Abundance food pantry in Huntingburg. “They’re those who have lost their jobs, older people who live on Social Security, people who are sick and have health issues. We don’t give them money for their medications. But if they are spending their money for medications, they don’t have as much money for food.”

In 2009, Shared Abundance served about 40 percent more people than in 2008. Welp said the numbers have stayed constant this year. On the average, the agency serves 300 clients per month.

Community Food Bank in Jasper has seen dramatic increases as well. “Ten years ago, if we saw 30 people in a two-hour stretch, that was a lot,” manager Amanda Drew said. “This past Saturday, we saw 99 people, and that’s about the norm. Our record is 114.”

The food bank saw a 33 percent increase from 2008 to 2009 for the number of people served; this year the number has been slightly more than 2009.

For example, the food bank served 974 families in October. This is more than the 865 served in October 2009 and the 714 served in October 2008.

And while the agency is receiving lots of food donations this holiday season, workers know that those will dwindle after January. “We have to go buy the food,” Drew said. “It gets hard to maintain the numbers. At what point will (we) have to cut back on how much (we) give?”

The first numbers from the 2010 Census will be released Tuesday. At that time, the federal agency will release population totals for the nation and each state as well as congressional apportionment totals for each state. The law requires the U.S. Census Bureau to report these results to the president by Dec. 31.

As the year goes on, more numbers and statistics will be released, updating some of the estimates and further informing the public of America’s makeup.

“If you’re wealthy or halfway wealthy, you may not see (the number of people in need). I see it every day in my life,” Buck said. “It’s kind of sad. It’s rewarding to be able to help, but it’s sad that so many need help.”

American Community Survey data:

Contact Candy Neal at

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