November 20, 2013


Upper Valley families confront rural poverty (CHARLIE RAFKIN, 11/15/13, The Dartmouth)

Not far from Baker-Berry Library's towering spire, thousands are facing similar struggles. In West Fairlee, a Vermont town less than 20 miles from Hanover, 24.8 percent of the town's 652 inhabitants live below the federal poverty line, according to Census data. The towns of Claremont, Corinth and Newport all suffer poverty rates of 15 percent or higher. The Claremont region has a median income of just $39,670, and only 14 percent of adults have earned a college diploma, The Washington Post reported. 

There are, of course, many affluent towns and counties in the Upper Valley. Norwich's median household income, for example, is $101,250, almost double the national rate. In fact, New Hampshire's Gini coefficient, a standard economic measure of income inequality, is quite low relative to those of other states, indicating that the state has a more equitable distribution of income. (Vermont's is slightly higher, but still well below the national rate.) 

Statewide, New Hampshire has an 8 percent poverty rate, while Vermont's is 11.4 percent. Both figures fall below the national rate of 14.3 percent. 

New Hampshire also had the lowest poverty rate in the U.S. in 2011 and 2012. 

This low overall rate does not cleave evenly between races. Over the past 12 months, just 7.5 percent of white New Hampshire residents had incomes below the poverty line, but 23.5 percent of black residents, 15.8 percent of Native American residents and 17.4 percent of Hispanic residents fell below this level, according to the latest Census estimates. 

The disparity between Norwich's affluence and West Fairlee's poverty is a "microcosm" of statewide trends, said Erika Argersinger, public policy director of the Children's Alliance of New Hampshire. 

Relying on such encouraging statewide figures alone can obscure the dreadful poverty that some Upper Valley communities endure. 

"When you have those small pockets, it's easy for it to get sort of washed out when you look at the average across the state," Argersinger said. "You have pretty wealthy areas of the Upper Valley, and then you have more poor areas of the Upper Valley, so when you look at it overall, the Upper Valley, you know, looks pretty well off, but what we know is that there are these pockets of deeper poverty." 

The Upper Valley's most affluent communities are generally located near Hanover: since Dartmouth is the area's largest employer, communities close to Dartmouth are, on balance, wealthier. But as Dakota and Destiny's situations demonstrate -- the two are from Lebanon -- there is more need than statistics suggest. Even Hanover is not completely bracketed off from poverty. 

"It's here," Hanover town manager Julia Griffin said. "We see folks who need welfare assistance, who are trying really to hold onto homes." 

The town provided over $80,000 in grants to community agencies that served the town last year, as well as over $10,000 in direct welfare assistance to residents, Griffin said. She noted, however, that Hanover's high property costs deter many poor community members from moving to the town, and that Lebanon's welfare budget is much greater. 

The high poverty rate in some parts of the Upper Valley is tied to some community members' lack of marketable skills and the lack of transportation infrastructure the region. The onset of the recession in 2008 also contributed to the community's economic instability, said Sara Kobylenski, executive director of the Upper Valley Haven, a local shelter. 

"Our model of capitalism economically has worked better than any of the others, but it still has people that don't come to the table at an equal footing with others," she said. 
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Posted by at November 20, 2013 5:03 PM

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