Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


September 25, 2012

Poverty rate — More bad news for Bluefield

The 2011 American Communities Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau is reporting a 19 percent poverty rate for the greater Bluefield area, which is the second highest in the Mountain State. This alarming statistic is reason for concern.

However, the latest Census figures shouldn’t come as a surprise. A string of troubling job losses in the Bluefield area over the past two years have added to the pain faced by families across the region.

Many area human service agencies, including the Salvation Army and the Bluefield Union Mission, are seeing increased demand for help. Capt. Jerry Lester of the Bluefield Salvation Army says many who come to the agency are seeking help covering their expenses, including medical bills. Many of those individuals who are seeking help from the Salvation Army are employed, but are still having a tough time making ends meet in the current economic climate.

And the problem is equally troubling for young adults and teenagers who have recently graduated from high school. Some of these young people are now having to leave the state to find gainful employment.

Helping the growing number of citizens in need has placed a financial strain on the Salvation Army, which needs an estimated $35,000 to $40,000 in additional revenue to help carry the agency through the long Christmas season, according to Lester.

Craig Hammond, executive director of the Bluefield Union Mission, also has seen an increasing number of families seeking assistance.

In fact, Hammond says the mission is reporting an increase in calls for help in just about every category of service provided by the agency. That includes daily meals, family food bags, medical assistance, rental assistance, utility assistance, emergency shelter and diaper and infant formula.

The mission also is reporting a 20 percent increase in the number of daily meals served at its Bluefield Avenue location.

The alarming poverty rate found in the new Census figures should be viewed as a call to action to officials across the region. This includes not only the Bluefield Board of Directors, but also the Mercer County Commission, the county’s Development Authority board and the county’s elected representatives in Charleston.

The best way to lower the region’s povery rate is to get those who are unemployed back to work.

That’s why efforts to attract and retain new jobs must be doubled. No stone should be left unturned in the search for jobs.

And local officials must be aggressive in their efforts to recruit and attract new companies and industries to the region.

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