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Playing with numbers

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So just how bad is the poverty rate in Lawrence? Is it really 20 percent of the population, as the latest U.S. Census Bureau data indicates and [as was reported earlier this week][1]?How about heads, "yes," tails, "no."Some callers and those who placed comments online about the story noted that since Lawrence is a temporary home to Kansas University students, their numbers are probably skewing the poverty rate. Indeed, the report, called the 2007 American Community Survey, showed that the age category with the largest number of people below the poverty rate were between ages 18 and 24.Even if they have a job a vast majority of college students aren't making enough to live on. They are getting help from their parents.When the census data was released Tuesday it became next to impossible to call the Census Bureau and get someone because the phone lines were so busy. I got through the first time just to get some help navigating the massive amount of information on the bureau's Web site. Later attempts to call again with questions were met with recordings saying the call couldn't be connected and to try again later.On Thursday when I called I was told by a bureau spokesman that the poverty figures wouldn't be accurate in a large college town. Students living in dormitories are not counted, but those living off campus are. The same issue is faced in towns that have military bases, he said.Another factor is that the population for Lawrence was based on a July 2007 figure, the spokesman said. Lawrence was listed at 79,284. Again, dorm residents were not counted.But a reference in the notes on the poverty report says the population figures are based on the 2000 census and have not been updated. Last summer the Census Bureau updated Lawrence's population to 89,852. It has been near 90,000 the past few years.Add to the mix what local social service agency representatives are saying about seeing a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking public assistance. Two of them said they were not surprised by the 20 percent poverty rate and one said she thinks it is higher.One reader who called me said the social service workers have jaded opinions because they see poor people all the time. Well, maybe. Maybe the rest of us are jaded the other way because we don't see them. [1]: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2008/aug...'

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