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Study finds link between lack of education, poverty in Travis County

Thursday, March 17, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Findings from a federal study show that poverty continues to rise in Travis County. The same effort illustrates that education levels in the region are directly tied to employment success.

 

That news comes as county officials stare down potentially devastating cuts to health and human service programs at the state level. In keeping with recent statements from some of the Travis commissioners, Travis’ executive in charge of Health and Human Services, Sherri Fleming, noted that those losses would “significantly” impact the county’s efforts to affect the numbers reflected in the study.

 

“Folks in our community still require supplemental services that will allow them to seek higher education, to seek a higher skill set, so that they can participate in a lot of the career building jobs that we have in our community,” Fleming said. “So we can’t discount the fact that services by both the state and the local government help people to move from that poverty indicator into a state of self-sufficiency.”

 

The data was formally unveiled as part of a presentation by Fleming and a handful of her colleagues to the Travis County Commissioners Court. Fleming summarized the study’s findings for In Fact Daily.

 

“I think what this says is that, despite having a very robust and educated community, (Travis County) has a significant portion of our community that still requires our attention,” she said.

 

The figures come from a Census Bureau effort called the American Community Survey. According to its Web site, that study “is an ongoing survey that provides data every year — giving communities the current information they need to plan investments and services. Information from the survey generates data that help determine how more than $400 billion in federal and state funds are distributed each year.”

 

Travis County officials work with the data in a similar fashion. “The American Community Survey is (what) we have used in the past five years or so to look at a little more detail about our community,” said Fleming. “I would suggest that some of this detail guides a lot of our recommendations around policy and programs.”

 

Anna Lisa Fahrenthold of the research and planning division of the county’s Health and Human Services Department started with statistics that reflect an anecdotal truth about the region. “In 2009, the total population for Travis County was just over 1 million,” she said. “As you can see, the county has grown at a faster rate than the state or the (United States).”

 

Fahrenthold moved on to look at education. She noted that 43 percent of county residents had completed the work for at least a bachelor’s degree. That figure is nearly double the rate of the rest of Texas and the United States.

 

But fellow county researcher Elizabeth Vela later completed the picture. She showed a slide illustrating “the relationship between education levels and unemployment rates“ of working Travis County residents between the ages of 25 and 64. “We know that workforce trends generally predict that unemployment decreases as education levels increase,” she said. “As this slide shows, those with the highest educational attainment levels in the county also have the lowest unemployment … You can also see that those with the lowest educational level have the highest unemployment.”

 

“There is a similar and direct between educational attainment and earnings,” Vela added.

 

She also noted “an estimated 164,000 individuals … live in households with incomes below the poverty threshold” and that “the county’s poverty rates among individuals … and children … remain significantly higher than (they were) in 1999.”

 

After the hearing, Fleming reinforced the idea that “(county) services are still needed.”

 

“It is really important to drive that message home,” she said. “(We need to) ensure that all of our families have an opportunity to participate in the quality of life that we have here, and we clearly see that a third of our population is still working toward that.”

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