Lawrence's poverty rate is above the state average, even when the impact of Kansas University students is largely factored out, according to a Census Bureau report released Tuesday.
Lawrence's poverty rate in 2006 was 12.5 percent for families, and 15.9 percent for families with children, according to the Census Bureau. The corresponding statewide averages were 8.6 percent and 13.8 percent.
"It doesn't surprise me," said Paul Hunt, director of human service programs for the Ballard Community Center. "We're seeing large numbers of people who are needing help for a number of different things."
Hunt said he doesn't rely on a census report, however, to assess the need. Instead, he keeps an eye on the agency's food pantry. Hunt said the pantry is stocked to provide food for 55 people. Recently it has been taking less than a week to deplete the pantry of all its supplies. Hunt also said calls for rental assistance have been brisk. He received seven on Monday and five on Tuesday.
According to the report, Lawrence's poverty rate falls in the middle of the six largest cities in Kansas. The report provided data for only communities of 65,000 people or greater.
Kansas City, Kan., had the highest poverty rates at 15.1 percent for all families and 23.5 percent for families with children. Topeka checked in at 13.1 percent and 22.1 percent, while Wichita was at 12.6 percent and 18.9 percent.
Then there are the two Johnson County communities. They are in sharp contrast with other large Kansas cities.
Olathe had an overall family poverty rate of 2.9 percent and 4.5 percent for families with children. Overland Park was nearly the same at 3 percent and 4.2 percent.
Lawrence's poverty picture looks much bleaker if you look at the overall poverty rate for all individuals in the community, which includes student households that may be earning little. When everyone is factored into the equation, Lawrence had a poverty rate of 24.1 percent. That was the highest poverty rate of all the communities surveyed in the state.
Hunt said although Lawrence's poverty rates are discouraging, the positive aspect is that the community recognizes it has residents in need.
"We have a lot of poverty, but we do have a lot of resources to help people out of poverty," Hunt said. "The upside of all this is that Lawrence is a community that cares about its neighbors."
The census report is considered to be the most accurate measure of poverty rates for communities, but it does have limitations. Because the Census has adopted a new reporting procedure, it says the 2006 results should not be compared with past results to determine whether poverty rates have gone up or down.