A panel discussion on poverty was an unfortunate eye-opener for many last week.
During the event, which was presented by the Social Action Ministry on Economic Justice from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Northern Chautauqua, it was revealed that 13 percent of the families living in Chautauqua County are living in poverty. What's worse, according to the Chautauqua Opportunities Inc. executive director, is that it is not getting better.
"Now we're looking at people who have never ever considered themselves poor," said Roberta Keller. "They were the middle class until they got laid off and they lived the American dream."
Chautauqua County is in the top 10 in the nation for high tax burdens. When jobs are scarce and manufacturers exit our region, taxes - levied by the towns, villages, cities, schools and county - continue to increase, which ultimately leads to a rise in the poverty rates.
While those who took part in the panel are working to help those in poverty, where area residents need the greatest help to combat the problem is from municipalities and schools. Each time those entities increase taxes, poverty rates are bound to increase.
That's why a push for government and school consolidation is so vital to making this area vibrant again. Our current system of government and school districts is anything but efficient.
This inefficiency - tied to high taxes - is the unspoken problem creating higher poverty levels here.