JEFFERSON CITY • As poverty rates increase in Missouri and St. Louis County, a statewide coalition is bringing the numbers to light and calling for action.
The Missourians to End Poverty coalition released a report Wednesday showing that poverty was up in the St. Louis area and statewide. In St. Louis County, 12.1 percent of the population was impoverished in 2012, up from 11.9 percent the previous year, according to the report. In the city of St. Louis, 29.3 percent of residents were impoverished, an increase from the 2011 figure of 27.2 percent.
Poverty in the state increased in 2012 to 16.2 percent — or nearly 948,000 people — from 15.8 percent in 2011.
The study defined poverty as living at or below the federal poverty level. For example, a family of four earning $23,550 or less is living at this level, according to the report.
The coalition is a group of more than 20 organizations in the state working on reducing poverty.
Pat Dougherty, Catholic Charities’ senior director of advocacy, said it was time to take the issue seriously.
“These aren’t numbers, these are our brothers and sisters,” Dougherty said.
The report also outlines what the coalition considers five key elements of poverty: food, health, education, energy, and housing and family and economic security.
Because impoverished people often lack access to these elements, everyone in the state suffers, said Jeanette Mott Oxford, executive director of the Missouri Association for Social Welfare.
For example, she said, when a person doesn’t have access to health care, he or she gets sick more often and stays sicker longer. That raises the health care costs for all Missourians, she said.
And many Missourians don’t have access to health care. In 2012, 13.6 percent — more than 801,000 people — were uninsured, the report stated.
Among other things, the coalition would like to find and enroll all children who are uninsured but eligible for Medicaid and sign them up, and increase access to affordable and nutritious food, according to the coalition’s policy platform.
Jessica Long, spokeswoman for the Missouri Association for Community Action, said she hoped to see a change in the way the state provides social services.
“If a family reaches a certain income limit, they’re cut off from the service instead of stepping them down slowly,” Long said. But if families were slowly removed, “We would have a better situation for low-income families across the board.”