Poverty rates in Ottawa County have been increasing despite a fairly stable employment rate, perhaps because of changes in the types of jobs available. The county has lost manufacturing jobs, but gained jobs in the service sector where wages tend to be lower. In the county’s southwest quadrant, where Holland is nearly 12 percent of the adults surveyed were employed but feel their current job is not adequate, and another 7 percent were unemployed and job hunting.
Low savings levels also reveal dangerous vulnerabilities. In the southwest quadrant, 49 percent of households have less than three months of living expenses in savings, and 17 percent have less than one month of savings. For such households, even a modest unforeseen expense or a brief loss of income can quickly turn into a crisis.
Inability to pay for utilities, housing or health care at least once during the year occurred at rates of 6.5 percent, 7 percent and 8.1 percent, respectively, during 2007. More alarmingly, approximately 25 percent of county households had insufficient money for food at some point during the year.
The data also demonstrate the central role of education in attaining financial security. Low education levels correspond to low income levels and high rates of unmet needs.
Inadequate food, housing, or health care leads to poor health and difficulties at work or school, making self sufficiency increasingly elusive. We must find ways to halt the downward spiral of poverty. The community assessment is available on United Way’s Web site (www.gouwvc.org). Also, Bread for the World will hold a forum on the Basic Needs section at Herrick District Library on March 30 at 7 p.m.
By Dave Zwart and Mary Johnson
Holland Area Chapter of Bread for the World