If you’re in a room with ten other Somerville residents, two of them are likely to be poor.
Over 13,000 Somerville residents lived below the poverty level last year, according to figures the U.S. Census Bureau released on September 22. One out of ten families in this city struggled to survive on an income below the poverty level ($22,050 for a family of four). Somerville is part of a nationwide trend. Across the U.S., the 2010 poverty rate was the highest rate since 1993.
To local anti-poverty advocates at the Community Action Agency of Somerville (CAAS), the numbers come as no surprise. As the unemployment rate grew rapidly from 2008 to 2010 and people were out of work for long stretches at a time, CAAS saw a dramatic increase in the number of people requesting assistance with finances, food, housing, and energy costs.
“Due to job losses and businesses reluctant to hire people because of the weak economy, we are seeing a significant increase in the number of people who are slipping into poverty and need our services,” said Kimberly Smith-Cofield, Executive Director of CAAS. “Add to this the housing crisis and fragile economy—where employers are reluctant to hire, people can’t find jobs, and have all but depleted their savings—and you have a recipe for disaster.”
With local and state government laying off staff and slashing budgets for social services programs, the growing poverty and unemployment rates are of particular concern to Community Action Agencies like CAAS, whose slogan is “Working to end poverty where we live.” Smith-Cofield said that CAAS functions as the emergency room for Somerville families’ non-medical needs. Many formerly middle-class families are now low-income families, and they use CAAS’ services along with the working poor and vulnerable populations who are unable to work.
“People come to us looking to use our programs to meet the multiple challenges they are facing in this tough economy—job loss, lack of health insurance, no money to pay rent or buy food,” said Smith-Cofield. “Child care is also a huge issue for working people, or people looking for work. The demands for Head Start services have shot up, but the funding has not. Childcare vouchers have actually decreased.”
These issues underscore the need for the Obama Administration and Congress to work together in order to pass the President’s American Jobs Act, which he outlined September 8. “On the local, state, and national levels, it’s critical that we invest in proven programs that will train people and help them get jobs that pay a living wage,” Smith-Cofield stated.
The mission of the Community Action Agency of Somerville (CAAS) is to reduce poverty among local families and individuals while working to counteract, and whenever possible eliminate, the societal conditions that cause and perpetuate poverty. For more information, see www.caasomerville.org.