Can City Services Keep Up With Increased Poverty Levels?

Photo: Reut R. Cohen
Photo: Reut R. Cohen

A record 46.2 million Americans--1 out of every 6 people--are living in poverty, according to U.S. Census Bureau findings on income, poverty and health insurance released this month.

"The only word for it is grim," said Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Local and state organizations are concerned about the staggering numbers, but it's unclear if they will be able to keep up with an aging population and increased poverty.

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The Department of Aging is particularly focused on "low income, socially isolated" senior citizens who require more assistance, according to Laura Trejo, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Aging.

Photo: Reut R. Cohen
Photo: Reut R. Cohen

"We are keeping a watchful eye so people are not falling through the cracks," said Trejo in an interview. The organization provides support to senior citizens and disabled individuals, including transportation, especially for disabled citizens, and a daily nutritious meal for senior citizens who are in need.

Many city services are already stretched to the limit. As more people find themselves out of work and facing poverty, the city could see an increase in residents who seek public services of which plenty have been cut due to budget woes.

Los Angeles' Department of Recreation and Parks which provides senior citizens with centers has lost two sites, said Carolyn James, principal recreation supervisor, in an interview. In Los Angeles and throughout the state, budget cuts have threatened public programs.

The Department of Aging has fared better, but they, too, "have been impacted in loss of city resources," according to Trejo. The organization's budget is made up of federal and state grant funding from the Older Americans Act, the Older Californians Act, and the Medi-Cal program.

For the first time since WWII, nearly 1 in 5 young adults are at risk for living in poverty. This number is the highest jobless rate for young adults since WWII.

It could also have larger implications as people move back in with their parents or grandparents suddenly find themselves contributing to their children and grandchildren's households.

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Reut R. Cohen is a graduate student at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, which has partnered with KCET-TV to produce this blog about policy in Los Angeles.


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