Source: United Way. Illustration by Heather Bremer | The Herald Bulletin
Source: United Way. Illustration by Heather Bremer | The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON — Every month, more than 40 percent of the households in Madison County have to decide among buying food, paying rent or meeting health costs.

Participants from around Central Indiana were provided an opportunity on Thursday at the Anderson Impact Center to experience what it’s like to be an Indiana family living in poverty.

The event “Real Life, Real Choices” was sponsored by the Indiana Youth Institute. Participants were given a scenario for a family with a monthly budget. During the exercise, there were life changing events in two consecutive months. 

What the participants rapidly came to realize is that the budgeted amounts would not cover the expenses.

Margie Worrell with United Way of Central Indiana said the agency went to 85 different agencies looking for success stories.

“We were looking for families that used services to improve their lives,” she said. “It’s a day-to-day struggle for those living in poverty.”

Worrell said 16 percent of the households are at the federal poverty level or below and another 21 percent would be considered “working poor.”

She said the average in Central Indiana counties is at 39 percent; Madison County sits at 37 percent.

“This is very common across the state as more and more families are struggling to make ends meet,” Worrell said.

Nancy Vaughan, president of the United Way of Madison County, said those households at or below the federal poverty level increased to 16 percent in 2016, up from 14 percent in 2010.

“People, based on cost, are not making enough to make ends meet without some form of assistance,” she said.

Vaughan said the biggest concern in Madison County is that housing costs are pushing upward.

“Although there are reports of wages increasing nationally, they are not rising locally,” she said. “More people are employed but their income is not increasing.”

Vaughan said more than 30 percent of the households in Madison County are using 30 percent of their income for substandard housing. She said that results in higher utility costs.

“These households are making tough decisions every month,” Vaughan said. “We’re not building enough affordable housing.”

She said for a family of four, monthly income should be at least $4,546 and for a single adult that amount is $1,560.

“We’re concerned about the people in the safety net,” Vaughn said. “Through our Thrive program, we’re working with people to provide income support, financial planning and to improve employment skills.

“This can’t change overnight,” she added. “We’re seeing more people coming into our office seeking assistance. 

The federal poverty level for a family of four is considered $24,300 annually, she said.

“It takes a family of four a total of $56,844 just to meet the basic needs,” Worrell said.

She said the average cost for a household budget in Madison County has increased by 14 percent from 2007 to 2014.

“Wages are not keeping up,” Worrell said. “It takes a combined wage of $24.91 per hour just to meet the basic needs.”

Statistics show that 68 percent of the jobs in Madison County are paying an hourly wage of less than $20 per hour and 75 percent of those jobs are paying $15 or less per hour.

“Most people calling 211 (help line) are working and still struggling,” Worrell said. “There is a need for immediate help.”

Rob Spaulding, director of the Christian Center, said people are having to make difficult decisions to buy food or pay for health care.

He said senior citizens are eating meals at the Christian Center in order to pay for health care.

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