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Poverty an issue in Iowa, local experts say

BY JOSEPH BELK | FEBRUARY 11, 2010 7:30 AM

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Local experts weighed in on both state and national poverty Wednesday night as a part of a series of UI forums on domestic policy.

The discussion was part of the UI course Policy Matters: Scholarly and Practical Perspectives on Contemporary Problems. This is the first semester the course has been offered, said history Professor Colin Gordon, the teacher of the course.

The course has scheduled forums on energy, immigration, and economic development.

Lily French, a research associate with the Iowa Policy Project, presented poverty problems unique to the state and described how the recession affected Iowa.

“Iowa was slow to be affected by the recession, but when it hit us, it hit us hard,” she said.

The state lost 20,000 manufacturing jobs last year, and it has had difficulty recovering, she said.

“The jobs we’re adding back in Iowa are not as good as the one’s we’re replacing,” French said.
Educated workers are also losing wages in Iowa, and the state could consider investing more in postsecondary education, she said.

UI sociology Professor Kevin Leicht, the director of the Institute of Inequality Studies, presented a history of poverty in the United States.

“Poverty in the United States is not measured very well,” he said.

The poverty rates of Iowa college towns such as Ames and Iowa City are skewed higher in part because of the large student population and the way data are collected, he said. However, Leicht cited other factors for the discrepancy.

“During a recession, some people migrate to places such as these because unemployment rates are low,” he said.

Leicht also described “concentrated poverty,” “segregated” communities of low-income housing.

The alternative, “scattered-housing,” is not a popular option, he said. Providing low-income housing in wealthier areas is often met by resistance from neighbors and real-estate companies concerned about the effect on property values, he said.

“Americans really value being able to pick their neighborhoods,” he said.

The forum also discussed problems with childcare services.

Brian Loring, the executive director of Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, said parents lose their childcare assistance because they no longer meet employment benchmarks after being laid off or having their hours cut.

The next forum is scheduled for Feb. 17 and will feature local agricultural experts.


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