Our Opinion: Soaring needs traced to working poor

News Tribune editorial

Is there a disconnect between the local economy and local needs?

A story in Thursday’s News Tribune reported increased demand for services at the Samaritan Center. Days before, a similar rise in applications for assistance was part of a report about the kickoff of the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign.

Between those reports, the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce revealed job creation in Central Missouri has grown slightly, 0.3 percent, in the past decade.

Although that modest gain contrasts with the prolonged, national economic downtown, our area is not immune from its negative consequences.

The public sector in Mid-Missouri has shed 1,250 jobs in the past decade, the chamber reported. And, although Cole County’s 6.0 percent jobless rate is below the national average hovering at 9 percent, area unemployment remains a factor.

The statistics suggest the significant need for services is being generated by the working poor — people who are employed, but do not earn enough to make ends meet.

That theory is affirmed by Marylyn DeFeo, volunteer executive director of the Samaritan Center. She estimated 60-70 percent of the center’s clients are employed, with some working two jobs. The remainder primarily are elderly or disabled.

“I have just not ever seen anything like this,” she said, referring to the volume of clients.

The Samaritan Center now serves about 120 families each day, with clients arriving as early as 5 a.m. to wait in line for services, including food, clothing and housing assistance.

DeFeo anticipates requests for utility assistance soon will soar as winter weather approaches. “Most of these are not $200 bills,” she said. “They are high. Some are more than $1,000.”

Those numbers offer a vivid example of the problem.

Affordable housing for the working poor often lacks energy efficiency, resulting in unaffordable utility bills. The Samaritan Center resources are insufficient to meet those needs; DeFeo said only $15,000 remains in the 2011 budget for energy assistance.

The Samaritan Center welcomes contributions, which may be brought to the center, 1310 E. McCarty St., from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The telephone number is 634-7776.

The bottom line indicates although Central Missouri’s economy is brighter than the national picture, ominous clouds of need among the working poor dot the landscape.

We encourage people to help disperse those clouds this holiday season.

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