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Lubbock Area United Way Report Highlights Challenges In Community

Lubbock Area United Way
Provided by the Lubbock Area United Way
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The annual Community Status Report shows challenges with child wellbeing, income equality

The Lubbock Area United Way recently released its annual Community Status Report. It gives data and context about the challenges our neighbors face. Find the full report here. 

To break down what’s in the document, Devin McCain, vice president of community impact for the Lubbock Area United Way, recently joined Senior Reporter Sarah Self-Walbrick in the studio.

Sarah Self-Walbrick: Let’s start with what’s covered in the community status report. How are those priority areas chosen? 

Devin McCain: Our community status report is exactly what it sounds like. It's not just about the United Way, it's about our community as a whole. So, for years, we've been focusing on the big topics, you know, population economics, health, safety, education, and we always have a theme, and that kind of changes every year, just depending on the needs of the community. But our priority areas, specifically, which is how the report starts, are chosen by our board of directors through data and conversations and working with other community groups and figuring out where the biggest need in our community is, and what makes sense for us to try to address.

One area of this report that always intrigues me is the section about ALICE. That’s an acronym that stands for asset-limited, income constrained, employed. What does that mean? 

Everyone knows we have our poverty level, according to the federal government and guidelines. People who make below that line are in what's called poverty. Our ALICE population are the ones who are above that. They are working, they're employed, most of them full time, or even multiple jobs. However, they still don't make enough to make ends meet here in our community. And we're talking basic household essentials here, like housing and food and transportation. Health care, a basic smartphone plan. So again, you're working, you're above that federal poverty line. So oftentimes, you don't qualify for benefits or other things. But you still can't survive, you can't afford to buy the school t-shirt or to save for emergencies. Tthat population has been growing for years.

The eye opening part of that is when you combine our poverty level numbers with our ALICE numbers, it's 48% of all of our households in Lubbock County, who do not make enough to make ends meet. And this is all pre-COVID and pre-pandemic.

There are several data points that affect children in our region. What does this report tell us about child wellbeing?

Child wellbeing is very complicated. There's so much that goes into it. You'll see in the report that Texas is ranked 47th overall in child wellbeing compared to our other states. That looks at a bunch of different factors like access to medical care and medical insurance, food security, and poverty, that ALICE kind of threshold. So if kids don't have access to the health care, and that medical insurance that they need, that can be detrimental. They don't have food, obviously, that's detrimental.

Poverty itself doesn't cause bad things to happen, per se. But it does create environments and higher risk factors for so many other things to happen. Like child abuse and neglect, sex trafficking and domestic violence, poor mental health. The list just goes on and on and on. So when you look at all of those things together, Texas, like I said, is ranked at almost the very bottom across our nation of what it means to take care of our kids and have what they need to thrive.

This report identifies plenty of other challenges in our community. What are some solutions?

I think it's just getting educated in general. Looking at the report, looking at the reality of what we're facing. I mean, we always say that Lubbock is a great place to live and raise a family and play. And I mean, that's true. But on one hand, you look at things like this. For a lot of people, it's not a great place to do those things because we don't have opportunity or support or there's just so many barriers for people. I think educating ourselves on what the issues are and how complex they are and then asking ourselves “What can I do to help.”

Most of these problems have organizations and nonprofits who are trying to address these things and trying to help. They depend on people, they depend on the community, to come in and volunteer, or donate or do whatever that may be. Someone has to help whether it's the government or it's us.

How did the pandemic affect this report and the data that’s included in it? 

Like everything else, the pandemic threw a pretty big wrench in our report. So most of the data in here we get years after the fact. So ALICE data, the most current is 2018. Health data we get every five years. Education data, some we can get that year, some it's the next school year. So everything has a different release timeframe.

But nobody had time last year for anything other than COVID. Right? I mean, trying to find health data that wasn't COVID related...it doesn't exist. People were just so overrun.

So we found what we could in a lot of places and kind of pieced it together. Unfortunately, I think it's gonna be years before we can truly wrap our brains around how this impacted data.

Devin, you were the primary person putting this report together. Through that process, what did you personally learn about our community? 

You learn a lot. Unfortunately, most of it's not good. All I do, basically, for the summers is just sit and read data sets for all these different issues. And unfortunately, Lubbock is on the bad side of a lot of stuff. I mean, there were very few positives, unfortunately, that I could find within that area.

But what I also find when I release the report, or we talk to community members, is if anybody stands a chance at getting a grip on some of these issues, and making a difference, it is Lubbock. Because we are so caring and giving. We will fight to do what we can, especially for our kids. So sometimes it's just kind of reconciling those things.

This interview has been edited for time and clarity. 

Have a news tip? Email Sarah Self-Walbrick at saselfwa@ttu.edu. Follow her reporting on Twitter @SarahFromTTUPM.

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