New study: More than half of SW VA residents cannot afford basic necessities


ABINGDON, Va. - More than half the population in Southwest Virginia cannot afford basic necessities, including the working class. That is according to a new study by the United Way, which looks at limited access and income constraints of the employed.

"Our poverty level is almost double the state average in some communities," United Way of Southwest Virginia CEO Travis Staton said.

In Southwest Virginia, Staton said the poverty level ranges from 15-20 percent of the community, but there is a growing group of people who are employed, but cannot afford basic necessities. In the region, those people make up 25-35 percent of the population.

Staton said, "I think it really sheds light on this population that is a paycheck away from a family emergency or something that could really put them into a poverty level."

The new data is revealed in an ALICE survey, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Combining the poverty rate and ALICE data of those working who cannot afford the necessities like housing, food, transportation, child care, and health care show a grim picture. Every county in southwest Virginia is above 40 percent with the highest in Buchanan County at 56 percent and Lee County at 59 percent.

Marathon Ministry provides financial and prescription assistance for those in need. President Allan Pope says a growing number of people they assist are employed.

"We see that a lot where a family, you will have someone working, but they make too much to get any assistance, but not enough to make ends meet," Pope said.

Staton said a major step for improving the quality of life in the region is providing higher wage jobs, which he said must come at the help of the community and public and private partners.

"These types of changes are long-term. These are generational changes that would need to be made," Staton said.

Not all of the data was negative for Southwest Virginia from the survey. The research shows the region averages lower housing and child care costs than other parts of the state.

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