Saturday, May 12, 2012

College Town Poverty

Posted by Debby Yoder, ATHENS, GA -- When most people think of Athens they think of the University of Georgia, REM, the B-52s, and college football. A community bustling with the energy of young people preparing for their future and enjoying college life. But just a short half mile from campus pervasive poverty is evident. In fact, Athens has one of the  highest poverty rates in the country. In 2009, the incomes of 44.9% of its residents were below the federally-established poverty line (compared to a statewide figure of 16.5%). Critics argue that the student population inflates this rate. But even if you omit single individuals, 34% of Athens' families are below the poverty line and three of its elementary schools have 100% of students on the free-and-reduced lunch program.

One of the biggest problems the community faces is a the lack of quality, affordable housing. Student housing is readily available, but families with children struggle to find decent homes. A result is a patchword pattern of housing quality.  You walk down one block lined with well-kept affluent homes and beautiful fraternity houses (although I'm sure there are noise issues on the weekends). You walk down the next and see dilapidated homes and make shift trailers. The more destitute areas are mixed with industry, leaving a foul stench in the air. Still, the people who live in these neighborhoods have a generosity of spirit and humor that you would never find in the more affluent ones. I came across a  group of aging gentlemen sitting on a porch, laughing and spinning tales to outdo each other on a Friday afternoon. Their lively energy cast against the impoverished setting is an image that will likely never be recorded. "Photographers aren’t welcome, they said with a smiling wink." They started laughing and I joined in. I had the feeling I could have talked them into sitting for a photograph but I didn't want to intrude. Still, in the back of my mind I was thinking that this everyday situation I happened upon will probably only be seen by those like themselves-- or the few passersby like me...never in a newspaper nor on TV unless something bad happens..a murder, drug bust, or anything else to further impound on the general public's brain that people who live in poverty are not good. The gentleness and normality of these gentlemen's  friday afternoon story telling remains invisible to the larger world.

Debby Yoder is a Sociology major at Georgia State University. She loves meeting new people and discovering the world around her. Debby can be reached at

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