H’burg “among the highest poverty rates” in Virginia

Brent Finnegan -- February 23rd, 2009

A story on TV3’s website reported, “Harrisonburg alone has an unemployment rate of over 25 percent. By year-end, more than 200,000 more people could be living in poverty.” I can only assume that the 200k number is for the state — there are only roughly 120,000 in the Harrisonburg metro area — but the 25 percent unemployment is way off.

According to Michael Cassidy, Executive Director for The Commonwealth Institute, Harrisonburg’s unemployment rate rose from 2.9 to 4.1 percent in 2008. However, the percentage of local residents living in poverty is 26.7 percent: among the highest in the state.

The report that The Commonwealth Institute released last week estimates that “an additional 122,000 to 218,000 people [in Virginia] will be living in poverty by year’s end.”

“Increases in unemployment lead to increases in poverty,” said Michael Cassidy, executive director of The Commonwealth Institute. “This new information provides us a look around the corner to see what lies ahead for Virginia as the economy worsens.”

26 Responses to “H’burg “among the highest poverty rates” in Virginia”

  1. Breslau says:

    I think the huge number of college students in Harrisonburg skews both of those rates.

  2. zen says:

    Name the Jackhole who thinks the following about this area:
    “I submit to you that the culture in Appalachia harms the children almost beyond repair… There’s really nothing we can do about it,”

    “But their parents are screwed up. That’s the thing… Kids get married at 16 and 17. Their parents are drunks. I’m generalizing now. (Gee, ya think?) There’s a lot of meth. There’s a lot of irresponsibility. There’s fear to go. Look, if I’m born in Appalachia, the first chance I get, I go to Miami. Because that’s where the jobs are. But they stay there. And the cycle of poverty for 200 years – boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And I don’t want to sound hopeless about it but I think it IS hopeless.”

    “I gotta tell you, people have to help themselves, you know? They have to wise up and they have to see that there’s a culture of poverty there, a culture of ignorance there. And you either leave or you try to improve it any way you can.”

  3. Breslau says:

    Does anyone in Harrisonburg consider themselves to be part of Appalachia?

  4. Andy Perrine says:

    It looks as if they may have revised the story since you posted, Brent. The story now reads …

    “Harrisonburg alone has a poverty rate of more than 25 percent. By the end of the year, more than 200,000 people could be living in poverty in the Commonwealth.”

  5. Emmy says:

    Well I’m now among the unemployed, but if our rate is that high then the office should have been a lot busier when I was in there today.

  6. Justin says:

    Of course they don’t post the edit to the story.

    I doubt JMU plays a big role in the poverty rate. That would mean most college towns would register high on the list. And there are smaller towns in H’burg that have colleges. Ours just has more trailer parks.

  7. Breslau says:

    Just because somebody lives in a trailer park does not mean they are unemployed. I’m looking among the “college towns” on Wikipedia, and many of them have poverty rates of over 20%. It’s not the cause alone, but it’s definitely skewing the measures.

  8. Breslau says:

    Ignore that first sentence. I forgot that you were talking about the poverty rate, not the unemployment rate.

  9. Renee says:

    “Harrisonburg alone has an unemployment rate of over 25 percent.”

    There’s no way this is true, unless by unemployment, they mean every adult not working, like stay-at-home moms and the elderly. It seems really misleading to me, especially considering that a few months ago, we heard:

    “Harrisonburg and Rockingham County’s combined jobless rate remained at 4.3 percent in August 2008”

    I know people are losing their jobs, but I don’t think 1 out of every 4 people in Harrisonburg are “unemployed” in the normally-used definition of the word, when less than 1 out of every 20 people were unemployed half a year ago.

  10. Renee says:

    Oh, I see they changed it to “poverty rate”. Interesting edit.

  11. Breslau says:

    It’s quite important, too.

  12. Andy Perrine says:

    Not sure how or why JMU was included in this thread. But here are some relevant statistics compliments of the Virginia Employment Commission and the Daily News Record on the university’s impact on local jobs.

    According to a March 19, 2007 story by Dan Wright on the employment outlook for Harrisonburg and Rockingham County …

    “The metro added 3,200 jobs in 2006, up 5.3 percent to 64,100, according to the Virginia Employment Commission’s revisions.

    Much of that growth was in the service sector, and mirrors growth at James Madison University, said VEC Chief Economist William Mezger.

    “College towns tend to have the lowest unemployment and the strongest economies,” Mezger said. “No matter what the state.”

  13. Yes, they changed the story. Here’s what it looked like when I posted this. When I saw “unemployment over 25 percent,” I called Michael Cassidy to figure it out.

    Emmy, I’m sorry to hear about your job.

  14. Andy Perrine says:

    Good catch, Brent.

  15. Even after turning that from an unemployment rate into a poverty rate, there is no way this story is correct, not even close. The city has an unemployment rate that is among the lowest in the state, just over 4 % compared to well over 5% statewide. Most of the college students are not poverty stricken, so it is not them. One might say, ah ha! it is all those immigrants! but, the foreign born population of Harrisonburg is 9% of the city, and some of those groups actually do prettty well economically and are far from poverty stricken. And even if they were all poverty stricken, that would still fall way short of this supposed 26.7% of the city’s population that is officially poor. Furthermore the statewide poverty rate is only 9.2%.

    So, we have a city that has a well below average unemployment rate for the state and a lot of pretty well paying jobs, and while it has a higher percent of immigrants, many of those are well off and their numbers are still way below this supposed number of poverty stricken. And also, most of the trailer parks are in the county, not the city. Even if all the unemployed were poverty stricken and all the immigrants were employed but poverty stricken, that would add still up to only about 13% of the city’s population. Who are that other 13%?

    Bottom line: I do not know where Channel 3 got this number from, but it is standing pile of seriously ignorant and stupid manure.

  16. David Miller says:

    Perhaps they will reveal their sources for their published figures.

  17. I’m not sure. When I spoke to Cassidy yesterday he said Harrisonburg, but didn’t say whether he meant the city (45k people) or the greater Harrisonburg area (120k people)

  18. Renee says:

    Also, people can work and still be below the poverty line:

    “In 2007…the threshold for a family group of four, including two children, was US$21,027”


    So, 2 parents working full time at the current minimum wage would just be above that line.

    I still would like to see the stats the story is based on.

  19. linz says:

    Just to toss some more numbers in the mis, this map on CNN has our statewide unemployment rate listed at 5.4% for Dec 2008.

  20. I do not think it matters that much whether we are looking at area or city. Yes, there are more trailer parks in the county, but its unemployment rate is lower than the city’s.

    Reneee. To get lots of poverty with people working you have to have lots of min wage jobs. But who is the largest employer in both the city and the larger area? JMU. They do not pay min wage jobs. There is simply no way you are going to have an area like Harrisonburg (or with the county included) having a below state average unemployment rate, but a poverty rate that is off the scale high and far above the statewide rate.

    Let me note that we have not seen in the US overall a rate as high as claimed in this silly story since the early 1960s. The highest the US poverty rate has ever been since then has not exceeded 15%. And Harrisonburg is supposed to be at 26.7%???

    I have a suggestion what may be going on here. Poverty rates for children in the US under age 5 are at around 25%. Perhaps that is what the number is.

  21. “Poverty rates for children in the US under age 5 are at around 25%. Perhaps that is what the number is.”

    The Commonwealth Institute report refers heavily to children.

    As unemployment worsens, we predict a significant increase in the number of Virginians living in poverty. Since the child poverty rate is higher than the overall rate, the impact of this increase will fall disproportionately on Virginia’s children. Rising unemployment could push an additional 122,000 to 218,000 Virginians into poverty this year, with children accounting for between 44,000 and 73,000 of this increase.

    I see now that I should have included that in my post. Apologies for any confusion.

  22. Brent,

    Indeed, poverty rates will rise as unemployment does, and will hit children under 5 even harder. Now to figure out how badly Channel 3 botched up their story on all this.

  23. Karl says:

    Brent said:

    “I’m not sure. When I spoke to Cassidy yesterday he said Harrisonburg, but didn’t say whether he meant the city (45k people) or the greater Harrisonburg area (120k people)”

    Usually in these types of numbers, folks are talking about the Harrisonburg Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes the county.

    The study TV3 was talking about came from not only the Commonwealth Institute, but also Voices for Virginia’s Children. The AP sent over a story earlier this week, but we got something last week from the Virginia News Connection. Here’s what they suggested we read:

    A study linking current unemployment with future poverty finds a dramatic increase in poverty rates as the recession deepens in Virginia. It also suggests one way to combat long-term poverty is better support for the recently unemployed.

    As unemployment worsens in Virginia, there will be a significant increase in the number of children living in poverty – according to a study conducted by The Commonwealth Institute and Voices for Virginia’s Children. For the first time, the study connected current unemployment rates to future poverty. It found that if unemployment nationwide is 8 percent, as many as 169-thousand additional Virginians will slip into poverty – including 55-thousand children. Michael Cassidy is the executive director of The Commonwealth Institute. He says that Virginia can do quite a bit to support the unemployed and keep families out of poverty.

    “We could take action to expand the level of benefits that are offered and provide a greater number of workers to be covered by the system, so that people who lose their jobs will actually have a safety net there to help them.”

    Cassidy adds that in 2007 only 27 percent of unemployed Virginians even collected unemployment benefits. He says lawmakers should extend unemployment benefits to people seeking part-time employment. The poverty threshold for a family of four in Virginia is a yearly income of just over $21-thousand dollars.

    Hope this helps clarify and not further confuse the story.

  24. Hmmm. Sounds like the “only 27% of unemployed Virginians even collected unemployment benefits” may be where this number came from, although it would appear that it got either misreported or misheard or misunderstood, or…

  25. pete perrine says:

    “you no want duck sauce? I sowy”

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