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County families hardest hit in poverty report

County judge: Significant improvements have occured since 1999
In 1999, approximately 2,128 Crook County residents, or 11.3 percent of the county's total population, lived in poverty. "Obviously, this paints a rather disturbing portrait. The good news is there has been significant improvement, even since this report was issued," said Scott Cooper, Crook County judge.
   The percentages of county residents living in poverty, are still below state (11.6 percent) and federal (12.4 percent) levels.
   Cooper speculated that Crook County remained under state and national poverty percentages because of the "relatively low cost of living."
   The figures are based on the "Report on Poverty 2004" released by the Oregon Housing and Community Service.
   The results from the report are comprised from data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, Oregon Department of Revenue, Oregon Department of Human Services, and the Oregon Employment Department.
   For one person under the age of 65 the federal definition of poverty currently is $9,573 annually.
   The definition varies as the number of people in families do, but for a family of four the poverty definition is $18,600 annually.
   The median household income of Crook County residents during 2000 was about $35,186 annually. In 1990, the median household income was $24,275.
   In between 1979 and 1999, the number of Crook County families with children living in poverty increased by 68.3 percent.
   "When you think of people living in poverty, most think of the elderly... But it's mainly children," Cooper explained.
   People 65 years and older in the county experienced the lowest poverty rate at 8.1 percent. Children under five years old experienced the highest poverty rate at 18.4 percent.
   "Families with children end up getting the worst of a bad economy. There's no question about that," Cooper said.
   "They require more to live. They eat more, they need more clothes, they have to pay school fees... One person can figure out how to make it, but it's a lot harder with a family of four or six," he continued.
   It's even harder on a single mom.
   Approximately 36.6 percent of families led by single mothers lived in poverty during 1999. Single mothers with children under five years old had a higher rate at 59.4 percent living below the poverty level.
   "This is a national trend... That's why you see more things like St. Vincent dePaul and the affordable housing program are more important than they have ever been," he said.
   Cooper pointed out services in Crook County that aid people and families living below the poverty level.
   "I'm really delighted, in this county, we've seen a revitalization of St. Vincent dePaul. We've joined a regional housing authority," Cooper said.
   According to the judge, Crook County was the last county in the state to get a regional housing authority, which he changed when he took office in 2001.
   Cooper mentioned that the county has developed a child care initiative to aid parents in need of child care.
   "We've done quite a bit of work in this area, in a time when the demand has been higher than ever," said Cooper.
   "Other communities are in much worse shape than we are in because they don't have those types of services," he pointed out.
   Cooper said there are two ways people can rise out of poverty: Education and job training.
   "There is also no question that the resource base that gives people the skills to pull themselves out is somewhat limited," said Cooper.
   The judge pointed out the closure of the Prineville annex of COCC (Central Oregon Community College) contributes to the limited opportunities.
   "It was hard when COCC decided to close down their Prineville center. Previously, it had been possible to at least get an associate's degree while staying in Prineville... It was a blow from which we have not yet recovered," Cooper said.