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Cape poverty on the rise

By Staff | Nov 5, 2011

The Brookings Institute is reporting that concentrated poverty is on the rise in Cape Coral, one of 100 metro areas studied by the Washington D.C. based think-tank.

Cape Coral ranked 73rd of all areas studied by Brookings, adding to the nearly 46.2 million Americans living below the poverty line, an historic high.

For a family of four, $22,314 in annual income is considered the federal poverty line, according to Brookings. And at least 20 to 30 percent of all Cape residents are living below that threshold.

Much of Cape Coral’s poverty is still being driven by the housing downturn, according to Elizabeth Kneebone, senior research analyst at Brookings.

As the city still struggles to find ways to diversify its economic base, poverty will likely continue to rise as the after effects of the recession are still filtering its way to the surface.

“We haven’t seen the last or worst of the growth,” Kneebone said.

The perception of the nation’s poor is also changing, Kneebone said, with poverty growing faster in the suburbs than in any other parts of communities.

Their study found that much of the increase in poverty is attributed to white, United States born males with higher levels of education who are not currently part of the workforce and not receiving public assistance.

Kneebone said the report’s findings make it clear that local, state and national policies must be reconsidered from a regional perspective, and that Cape Coral is not an island unto itself.

Making connections across jurisdictional lines and fostering communication among governmental agencies will go a long ways to understanding the true needs of economic development and services needed to sustain a population while fostering its growth.

“It is important to track and understand these trends to find how they’re playing out,” Kneebone said. “These numbers show its a regional issue.”

Locally, the Harry Chapin Food Bank distributed 12 million pounds of food last year and will likely hit that figure again this but is having trouble keeping its shelves stocked, according Joyce Jacobs, associate director for Harry Chapin.

Jacobs agreed that the face of poverty and hunger has shifted dramatically over the last five years.

“We’re talking about families that were, until several years ago, were middle class, working families,” Jacobs said. “It only takes one job loss to have your income cut in half.”

The last three years have been some of the most intense in the non-profit’s history, Jacobs said, and the struggle to constantly find food that is healthy and rich in vitamins and protein is a challenge.

Jacobs thinks the problem won’t end any time soon.

“Not only is the Cape blighted from the foreclosures but unemployment, too,” Jacobs said. “The need for food these past two years has been on the rise and it doesn’t seem to be leveling.”