Where wealth, want live side by side
Beaufort County, S.C.
On a quiet pond miles from the resorts of Hilton Head island, which is the best-known part of this coastal county, Annie Mae Cooper gets a bite. She pulls the end of her long bamboo pole skyward, lifting a crab out of the pond. Then she takes out the hook, plops the crab into her plastic bucket on top of a few small fish, and walks along the muddy bank toward some visitors. Broom straw and sea oats nearby bend gently in the wind.Skip to next paragraph
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Though of retirement age, she doesn't fish just for the sport. With a monthly income of only about $345 (Supplemental Security Income [SSI] plus $22 in food stamps), her home-grown vegetables and any fish she catches help stretch her food supply. In her spare time, Mrs. Cooper does church work or helps a neighbor with chores like washing clothes.
This widowed mother of nine children, now all grown, is upbeat about life.
``If you trust in God, God will provide,'' she says, resuming her fishing. ``I got my head up out of the water. I'm not starving. I'm not destitute.''
Then she adds: ``But life could have been better.''
For many residents of Beaufort County, life has not been easy. But it is better today than in the late 1960s when verified cases of severe malnutrition here shocked the nation. Soon after that, the federal food-stamp program was greatly expanded. It has alleviated much of the hunger in America, according to follow-up reports. But a recent Harvard University study contends that many poor families across the nation run out of the stamps before the end of the month. As many as 20 million people may go hungry part of the month, the report contends.
Now, as Congress and the President wrestle over what cuts to make in domestic programs, some of them directly affecting the poor, the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line (15.2) is higher it has been in any year since 1966. (Poverty is defined as income of less than $10,178 for a family of four in 1983, latest year for which data are available.)
In a recent report, the United States Census Bureau stated that poverty data for the '60s and the '80s can't be compared because the poor today have available more aid, such as food stamps and medicaid.
But aid such as food stamps does not, by itself, pull a person out of the grip of poverty. Neither do other forms of federal assistance, such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
What progress is being made in breaking the cycle of poverty -- not just maintaining a person with various kinds of welfare, but actually moving them out of poverty? As a starting point at looking at this question in four Southern states, Beaufort County has some special characteristics. But the main issues of poverty here are little different from trhose in many other parts of the US.
``We still have barely scratched the surface'' in tackling poverty, says Frederick J. Drake, a retired Marine Corps sergeant who runs the environmental health programs for Comprehensive Health Services Inc. of Beaufort and Jasper Counties. The clinic was opened in response to the expos'e of malnutrition and related issues in the late 1960s.
``There has been an improvement. But there's still a lot of blight,'' he says. Some people are still struggling ``just to survive,'' he adds. Many homes are far from adequate, he says, still lacking such features as indoor plumbing or good land drainage.
As for malnutrition: ``There's still some of that out there,'' Mr. Drake says.
Community leaders interviewed here agree with Drake that progress has been made. But they differ over how much. A boom in resorts and retirement homes in the area has provided a job boom in construction, hotels, and domestic work. But many of the jobs are seasonal, and often involve the added expense of transportation and child care.