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MONDAY, JANUARY 23, 2006
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EDITORIAL

State’s 16% poverty rate is moral and economic issue

The Alabama Poverty Project last week gave lawmakers some facts to work with as they consider lowering the burdens on low-income people, including their tax burden.

That group — a coalition of educators, advocates for the poor and other citizens — released a report that shows one out of six Alabamians lived in poverty in 2000. Worse, one in five Alabama children were impoverished.

Alabama's 16.1 percent poverty rate was almost half again the nation's rate, which was 11.3 percent according to census data.

Both Morgan and Limestone counties had poverty rates of 12.3 percent, closer to the national rate than the state rate. Lawrence County's rate was 15.3 percent, slightly better than the state's. Statewide, poverty rates ranged from 39.9 percent in the Black Belt county of Wilcox, to 6.3 percent in Shelby, a bedroom county for Birmingham.

Poverty is both a moral and an economic issue, the Poverty Project said in its report:

"Whether viewed from the perspective of Judeo-Christian ethics, biblical imperatives (note the admonition contained especially in Matthew 25:31-46), or pragmatic concern for the skill of the state's labor force and the viability of its economy, poverty in Alabama must be understood, the sources of that poverty addressed, and progress made to curtail, reduce, and finally eliminate poverty."

It's a job for both government and the private sector.

Government's first responsibility is to quit doing harm. Gov. Bob Riley and Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, have proposals before the Legislature to change the income tax system so that it doesn't hurt the poorest citizens.

And the state needs to do more to provide security and a route out of poverty (such as education, job training, job finding, child care and transportation) for those who can't help themselves, especially children and senior citizens.

The private sector can contribute a lot, but what it can't do is guarantee a consistent level of support the way government can. Former President Carter may have been thinking this when he observed that "government officeholders and not church members were more likely to assume responsibility and be able to fulfill the benevolent missions." Mr. Carter, who is well-known for doing good through churches, charities and foundations, wrote this in his recent bestseller "Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis."

Auburn University Montgomery's Center for Demographic Research provided the research and analysis for the latest report, which is available to anyone at www.alabamapoverty.org.

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