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Poverty rising in Oakland County

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People are getting poorer in Oakland County.

This is the major finding of a report released by Lighthouse of Oakland County today. After analyzing census data, Lighthouse President John Ziraldo says that between 2005 and 2012, the number of people living under the federal poverty line has grown about 77 percent. That's 118,000 people now living in poverty in a county whose overall population hasn't changed much in the same time frame, even if the socioeconomics of the people has.

On top of a rise in people living in poverty is a rise in the working poor – people whose income isn't enough to meet basic needs. Ziraldo says these folks often don't qualify for government programs, but they still need help paying bills and getting enough to eat.

"For all of Oakland County, there's probably between 15 and 20 percent of our overall population that really struggles, every month, to meet their basic needs," he says.

Oakland County is expensive, he says. It's the wealthiest county in Michigan, and the Michigan League for Public Policy says the amount of money a three-person family needs to cover the basics is $47,000.

Ziraldo says there is a lack of social services in Oakland County compared to places like Detroit, which still has the highest levels of poverty in the region. Many social services in Oakland County are hard to get to via public transportation, and they tend to be in the northern part of county, whereas the need is growing fastest in the southern part of the county.

The report says the population and the economic shifts comes from people leaving Detroit for better services and schools in the suburbs, as well as access to jobs. There is also some contribution from immigrants who move directly to the suburbs instead of the city, and tend to work at lower wage jobs for some period.

The economic shifts are related to the recent deep economic recession. Many people lost their jobs, and were eventually rehired, but at lower wages. Ziraldo says the report is a call to arms to lawmakers and non-profits to bring services where the need now appears to be.

-- Megha Satyanarayana, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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