Introduction to covering poverty

Why you should cover poverty in your county:

  1. Poverty, or low socioeconomic status, is a shorthand label for individuals and families who are underemployed or unemployed, work a poorly paid job, live in substandard housing, experience poor health indicators such as high infant mortality, and/or suffer from a disability.
  2. The poor experience death rates twice the ratio found for people living on incomes above the poverty level.
  3. Low income puts an individual at higher risk for developing chronic diseases prevalent in this country. Heart disease is 25 percent higher in low-income populations than the general population. The survival rate is also lower among the poor.
  4. Cancer incidents increase as income decreases. Lung, esophageal, oral, stomach, cervical and prostate cancer occur more frequently among the poor. Breast and colon cancers also are diagnosed disproportionately among the poor. As with heart disease, survival chances among the poor are lower.
  5. Traumatic injury and violent crime strike victims in poverty disproportionately as well.


How to measure the opportunity to cover poverty in your county:

Consider the following facts:

  1. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, 33 counties in Georgia had a higher mortality rate than the state average of 756.3.
  2. The 2000 U.S. Census Bureau showed that children ages five and older in 31 counties experienced a higher occurrence of disabilities than the state average of 19.7. At the same time, 64 counties had a higher infant mortality rate than the state average of 873.6.
  3. Between 1996 and 2006, the Georgia Department of Public Health statistics show 33 counties had higher cancer-related deaths than Georgia’s average of 162.3.
  4. During the same decade, residents living in 33 counties experienced higher death rates from major cardiovascular disease than Georgia’s average of 276.7.


A step-by-step approach to finding and reporting important and engaging stories

Think about the statistics mentioned above. Which topic (or topics) offers the most opportunity to cover poverty in your county? Pick one for this step-by-step approach to finding and reporting important, engaging stories.

As with any story, you’ll need to:

  • Consult secondary sources
  • Locate key documents
  • Mine key sources of data
  • Interview sources
  • Observe the story in play

Let’s take, as an example, the topic of poverty and health: What steps might you take to find and report a story about poverty and infant mortality in your county? The death of a child less than one year of age is a prime indicator of community health and quality of life. Counties high in poverty also have high infant mortality rates. Lack of education, insurance, jobs, transportation and generally low income all contribute to this fact.

Step one:
Consult the Georgia County Guide fact book at your local library. Or, log onto www.gafacts.net. The Georgia County Guide fact book can be ordered from the Web site for $15 or from the Georgia Department of Vital Statistics. Data on the site shows infant death for every county in the state. Look at numbers from surrounding counties as well.

Step two:
Find the county you plan to cover. Compare its average to the state average. Pay close attention to white, Hispanic and African American numbers. Minority figures are always higher. Also note the mother’s age in the statistics.

Step three:
Interview key players such as local public health department nurses, doctors and hospital emergency room officials.

Essential resources

Here are essential resources that should help you cover poverty in your county.

  • Key sources of data

The Georgia County Guide provides more than 165,000 facts that cover each of Georgia’s 159 counties. The easy-to-use format profiles the state’s past and present social, economic, and demographic environments. Published by the University of Georgia for 20 years, the guide covers topics such as agriculture, courts, crime, education, health, housing, labor, population and public welfare. www.gafacts.net