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CITY TALK: Poverty data shows need for bold action

Eric Curl’s article on Sunday about the persistence of high poverty rates in Savannah caught my attention, and I hope it caught your attention, too.

As Eric noted, Savannah had a 26.5 percent poverty rate in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. It’s been over a year since the last time City Talk looked closely at the numbers, so this seems like a good time to consider some of the data beyond the headline rate.

The 26.5 percent poverty rate in the city of Savannah is for individuals, and the rate varies dramatically by age.

For example, the poverty rate among Savannahians 65 and over is only 11.3 percent.

Yes, that still means that 1 in 10 seniors is living in poverty, but that’s dramatically lower than other age groups.

The rate is 24.3 percent for Savannahians between the ages of 18 and 64, although that number would be slightly lower if we removed some college students who technically fall below the poverty line.

For Savannahians under 18, the poverty rate is a staggering 41 percent, according to the American Community Survey estimates.

In 2015, 21.7 percent of Savannah households had less than $15,000 in income.

Despite these high numbers, only 17 percent of households received food stamp or SNAP benefits in the past year, and only 1.4 percent of households received cash public assistance.

I should also note that Savannah has a very high rate of uninsured residents.

Approximately 9 percent of Americans lack health insurance, but the rate is 20.6 percent in Savannah. Those estimates include children, the vast majority of whom have insurance of some kind.

Of the 57,500 employed persons in Savannah, 26.6 percent do not have health insurance.

The number of uninsured would certainly be lower if Georgia had accepted the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. A few months ago, it looked possible that Georgia’s Republican leaders might pursue some version of Medicaid expansion, but Donald Trump’s election has likely delayed any such discussions.

I admire the work of the various nonprofits and agencies discussed in Eric’s Sunday coverage, but it seems that we need much bolder initiatives if we want to make a dent in the current poverty rate.

Poverty became an important issue in the 2015 citywide elections, but city manager Rob Hernandez has only been on the job since October 2016. It will be interesting to see if city leaders launch additional proposals in the coming months.

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, GA 31401.

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