Report: Poverty is widespread in Missouri

While Missouri's poverty rate has edged lower, it still remains notably higher than the national average, according to a 2018 report on poverty within the state.

U.S. Census Bureau data show the state's poverty rate declined from 14.8 percent in 2015 to 14 percent in 2016, according to Missourians to End Poverty - a coalition of people, businesses, faith-based organizations and government agencies working to end poverty.

The coalition released its 2018 Missouri Poverty Report last week.

The report uses the data to illustrate the factors that cause people to fall into poverty and to identify actions that lift them out of poverty. It is created to "provide a comprehensive snapshot of poverty in Missouri."

The coalition has identified five key factors that affect poverty: economic and family security, education, food and nutrition, health, and housing and energy. A struggle in any one of the areas affects other parts of people's lives, the coalition says.

"Together, these elements highlight poverty's interconnected nature and the need for multi-dimensional solutions," according to the report. "Factors keeping people out of poverty include a strong support system, social and welfare programs, organized community efforts, employment and tax reform."

At 14 percent, the Missouri rate is higher than the national poverty rate of 12.7 percent.

Missouri has 5.9 million residents. Missouri's poverty rate means about 826,300 of its people live below the federal poverty level.

The report takes detailed looks at each factor involved.

It notes the minimum wage in Missouri is $7.85 an hour. The report cites Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculations that show how much people would have to earn in Missouri to receive a "living wage," or one high enough to provide basic needs.

The calculation shows an adult living alone would have to make $10.76 an hour, an adult living with a single child would have to make $23.45 and with two children, $26.96. Two adults alone would have to make $18.36, two with a child would have to make $21.96 and with two children, $25.39.

Missouri ranks 19th-worst for food insecurity among the 50 states. The report states 14.2 percent of Missourians face food insecurity (meaning they sometimes run out of food or money to buy food).

The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri is trying to overcome hunger in its coverage area, Communications Coordinator Janese Heavin said.

One in five adults and one in six children are food insecure, she said.

Through food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and partner agencies, the Food Bank serves 32 counties and about 100,000 people every month.

The Food Bank provides Buddy Pack food for about 7,500 children every weekend. It provides meals and toiletries for at-risk veterans and meals for senior citizens.

Seniors are the fastest-growing population experiencing food insecurity, Heavin said. They may have retired without having enough savings, or they may have health problems that drain their funds.

"We've pushed more lately for better quality foods: proteins, whole grains, fresh produce," she said. "Foods that encourage healthy lifestyle."

Food-insecure families are at the highest risk for chronic diseases, diabetes, hypertension and weight gain, according to the report.

Health issues are exacerbated by lack of health care in the state.

About 9 percent of Missourians don't have health coverage, an improvement from 2009, when 14.6 percent of the state went without.

The poverty rate in Cole County is 10.9 percent. Cole is tied with Ralls County for the 13th-lowest rate in the state's 114 counties and the City of St. Louis. St. Charles County, at 5.2 percent, has the lowest poverty rate. Neighboring Osage County, at 8.6 percent, has the fourth-lowest rate. In Callaway and Moniteau counties, the rate is 11.6 percent. It is 16.6 percent in Boone County and 16.3 percent in Miller County.

The Bootheel and southeastern Missouri contain five of the counties with the highest poverty rates. The county with the highest poverty rate in the state is Pemiscot, in the extreme southeast Bootheel, with a rate of 30.9 percent.