More Bexar County residents living in poverty…toll roads will only make it worse

Link to article here.

The data out today further demonstrates what we already know, Bexar County can’t afford toll roads. Forbes Magazine listed San Antonio in the Top 10 cities hardest hit by high gas prices. The toll viability studies show toll roads aren’t viable at $3 a gallon for gas. It’s inexplicable why politicians continue down the road of unsustainable transportation policies. Tolling our roads will make too many residents second class citizens priced off our FREEways, though they still pay gas tax for highways. Read more about it here and here.

Poverty pinches South Texas

By Nancy Martinez

While the nation’s poverty rate declined for the first time in 10 years, new census figures released Tuesday reinforced what many here have known for years: Residents in Texas, especially South Texas, are among the country’s poorest.About 3.7 million Texans were living in poverty last year. Brownsville, College Station and Edinburg were among the top U.S. cities of 65,000 or more with the highest rate of poverty, between 35 percent and 40 percent, according to estimates in the report, part of the 2006 Census Bureau’s American Community annual survey.

The figures are important for Texas, which ranked ninth in the highest rate of poverty and first for the highest percentage of people in the nation without health insurance, since they are used to decide eligibility for things like federal housing, health, nutrition and child care benefits.

In fiscal 2007, nearly $419 million in federal money was doled out to states for such social services, among other things, according to Federal Funds Information for States, an arm of the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Despite five years of economic growth, Texas’ poverty rate has stagnated,” said Frances Deviney, Senior Research Associate at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, based in Austin. “It’s encouraging that conditions haven’t gotten worse, but 3.7 million in the state are poor, and it’s no different than two and five years ago.”

Meanwhile, more Bexar County residents were living in poverty last year — 16.7 percent compared to 13.9 percent in 2005, according to the survey.

This is the first year the American Community Survey included other groups, such as prisons, military bases, college dormitories and assisted-living homes, in its calculations.

Because of the change, it’s difficult to determine the reasons behind the local increase in poverty, Deviney said.

“We’re not comparing apples to apples,” she said.

The Bexar rate compares to the national poverty rate, which dropped to 12.3 percent last year, or 36.5 million Americans, down from 12.6 percent in 2005, according to the survey.

That means about 251,864 people in Bexar County were living below the poverty level last year, according to estimates in the report.

The poverty threshold depends on the number of children in a household. For a family of three with two children, it’s an annual income of $16,242, and for a family of four with two children, it’s $20,444.

“There seems to be a growing disparity,” said Shannon Nisbet, Director of Development at the Family Service Association, which provides a host of services to the needy. “Those who have money are getting more of it. Those who don’t are getting poorer. There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle class.”

Last year, 81 percent of the 48,000 local people the association served had incomes of less than $15,000. One of those people was Janie Cardenas.

Cardenas, 34, and her four children, ages 15, 12, 6 and 1, slept in the same bedroom Monday night on the Northwest Side.

Living on a tight budget means the bedroom was without air conditioning, which broke earlier in the day.

Cardenas works full time as an attendance secretary at Clark High School and makes $1,300 per month. She gets $248 per month in food stamps and sometimes gets assistance to pay her utility bill. She could be getting disability benefits — a result of a fall when she was 2 years old that temporarily paralyzed her — but chooses to work.

“My life is a roller coaster,” she said. “I try to manage and do the best I can.”

Still, Cardenas is grateful that at least her family is insured — a safety net that many cannot claim.

The number of people without health insurance in the U.S. also increased, to 47 million.

A three-year average for years 2004 to 2006 found Texas had the most uninsured in the country, 24.1 percent of residents. The national rate of uninsured is 15.3 percent.

Nationally, Hispanic children were about three times as likely to be without health insurance, compared with Anglo children in 2006, according to the Census Bureau.

The real median household income in Texas rose between 2005 and 2006 to $44,900.

But Texas also had the two lowest median household incomes among counties with 250,000-plus population in the country: Cameron and Hidalgo counties.

Karl Eschbach, interim director of the Texas Institute for Demographic and Socioeconomic Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio, noted long-term trends found across the country.

“Incomes have tended to rise at the top of the distribution and declining stay at the bottom. Knowledge and skills are being rewarded, and if you don’t have knowledge and skills, there are lots of pressures,” he said.

The Associated Press, News Researcher Julie Domel, Director of News Research Michael Knoop and Database Editor Kelly Guckian contributed to this report.