S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, July 10, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.0710.poverty2.htm

COMMENTARY
Better education may help root out poverty
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

JULY 10, 2005 - - Turn down a dirt road on St. Helena Island in Beaufort County and it might not be long before you find someone living in poverty or near poverty.

If you find a ramshackle place with peeling paint or mobile home where a few junk cars litter the yard, you're probably there. Look closely and in a few cases, you may spy a port-o-john outside the residence.

What may be surprising is that next door may be a nice, well-kept ranch home or new mini-McMansion worth hundreds of thousands of dollars on land that has been in the same family's possession since the Civil War.

As millions of dollars of tomatoes ripened throughout the island over the past week, a drive through the Scott and Orange Grove communities served as a reminder that not everyone in South Carolina lives the comfortable life.


A gray port-o-let stands in front of a green one outside this house on St. Helena Island.

Across the state in just about any county, you easily can find similar dirt roads where people are considered impoverished. As highlighted in last week's column, about one in four South Carolinians struggle to make ends meet. Some 14 percent live at or below poverty levels ($1,612.50 for a family of four per month). Another 400,000 families are considered "working poor" because they earn less than 200 percent of the poverty level, even though they have jobs.

An elderly gentleman who lived in a tidy mobile home with a well-tended yard in the Orange Grove community said some people in the area have done pretty well over the years, while others seem to keep sliding down into tougher times. He said he thought area problems stemmed from low incomes paid by area jobs -- when they were even available.

His daughter, a strong-willed mother of one with a lot of get-up-and-go, added her parents stressed the importance of education. While she's only got a part-time job, she keeps looking for full-time work to help the family.

Bernie Wright, executive director of the Penn Center (www.penncenter.com) on St. Helena Island, said a number of factors appeared to have led to lifetimes of poverty for some in the area.

"It's a vicious cycle and education is at the base of it all," he said.

Other roots include a dearth of planning for the future and bad decisions to sell land at a relatively low cost - - land that would be flipped later by more experienced folks for many times the original sale.

"Some of our best minds are being lost," Wright said. "If they don't get a chance to excel and be challenged, South Carolina will be a weaker place.

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"If you give kids and people an opportunity from the get-go, they'll get a greater opportunity for success in the long run."

One of the ways the Penn Center is trying to help is by providing educational programs that help people in the area understand what they have in the acreage passed down over the generations.

Wright said at one point, blacks owned 90 percent of St. Helena Island, which made it the largest black-owned area in the country.

"They haven't been able to retain and build on that tremendous wealth."

Fortunately, the Penn Center also is helping some people to hold on to land when they face foreclosure because they can't pay back taxes. The Center's Land Use and Environmental Education Program helps seven or eight families a year to keep their landed heritage by providing grants to cover part of the delinquent tax bill.

That's good because for these folks on the island, the land is about all they have.

NOTE: This is part two of a three-part series on South Carolina poverty. Next week: Policy options.


RECENT COMMENTARY


McLEMORE'S WORLD
7/10: Basking in global warming

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


LEARN MORE DAILY

The best way to get South Carolina news is to augment your morning paper and TV show with SC Clips, a daily executive news summary compiled from more than 30 state newspaper and TV sources. It's delivered every business day and is packed with news of statewide impact, politics, business and more. Subscriptions are affordable at $30 per month -- and less for business subscribers. More: SC Clips.


FEEDBACK

7/3: How can we let poverty happen?

To the editor:

I so look forward to your weekly commentaries. This one (Commentary, 7/3) is so very thought provoking. How can we allow this happen in the wealthiest country in the world?

Looking forward to the next two installments. Keep up the wonderful and informative work!

-- Nancy Kolman, Pawley's Island, S.C.

KEEPING TRACK
Ahead on structural deficits

This section tracks past forecasts by Statehouse Report with other media reports:

In Statehouse Report:

5/29/05: State has a long way to go on solid budgeting: "A new report says South Carolina is among 11 of the states in the nation that face the highest risk of not having enough money down the road to pay for its current level of programs and services. Because of the way the state's tax system is set up, its shrinking tax bases will grow at a smaller rate than the costs to maintain government programs at current levels."

In The State:

6/28/05: Scoppe: Report warns of dangers without smart reform to taxes. "The report suggests several ways to modernize a tax system to keep up with economic and population changes, among them extending the sales tax to cover more services, reducing or eliminating age-based tax breaks, strengthening the administration of property taxes and reducing property tax exemptions. Along with that, other taxes can be reduced or eliminated."


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

State's credit. Now that the state has settled down with all of the shenanigans from the spring over Santee Cooper, the nation's credit rating agencies say the state's credit is still strong. That's great news for taxpayers.

Harrell. We kind of agree with House Speaker Bobby Harrell about tuition at state colleges. If colleges don't stop jacking tuition up every year, the General Assembly might want to consider a cap so they'll live more within their means.

Thumbs down

School buses. It's a shame that that South Carolina has to buy cast-off buses from another state instead of being able to fund new ones. Lawmakers ought to put bus funding on automatic and remove the politics from it so we have better infrastructure.

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