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Tackling the local poverty problem

Crook County families are shown to be hardest hit in the "Report on Poverty 2004," which was 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, the 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. For a family of four, the poverty definition is $18,600 per year.
   The report contains some bad and good news for Crook County. In between 1979 and 1999, the number of Crook County families with children living in poverty increased by 68.3 percent. When people think of others who live in poverty, they may assume that it's the elderly. But it's mainly children in Crook County.
   In 1999, approximately 2,128 Crook County residents, or 11.3 percent of the county's total population, lived in poverty.
   The good news is that the percentage of county residents living in poverty is still below state (11.6 percent) and federal (12.4 percent) levels.
   So what can be done to improve the number of people living above the poverty rate in Crook County?
   There are several key strategies that can, and should, be put in place to improve living conditions. If people avail themselves of more higher education opportunities, that will help by providing them means to find good jobs. City and Crook County officials have been working closely with representatives of Central Oregon Community College to get more classes here in Prineville. That's a step in the right direction. We are hopeful that new leadership at the COCC level will mean Prineville's chances for more COCC classes are higher. Likewise, improving our local schools will help better educate our youth and ensure that more seniors graduate with a diploma. More COCC online classes would also help Prineville's residents.
   Education is a part of the larger answer, and to its credit, the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council provides low-cost and free classes for residents.
   The other part of the answer is increasing the economic base in Crook County. We hope the state will find a worthy piece of "shovel ready" industrial ground so that an environmentally-friendly, high wage-paying company can move part of its facilities to Prineville. Prineville once contained a thriving timber economy. Those days are primarily gone, but improving the jobs base in Crook County would go a long way toward improving the number of people living above the poverty rate.
   Shelby Case
   for the editorial board