Texoma is in strong economic shape, on paper. Grayson, Fannin and Cooke counties all beat the statewide average for poverty rates. But, according to Texoma Council of Governments Director Susan Thomas, a strong economy can still leave quite a few people behind.
“We are blessed with broad-based prosperity in this region,” Thomas said. “But the reality is that there are also pockets of poverty. That prosperity, taken across the region as the whole, may be misleading. We want to find ways to identify those pockets of poverty, understand them, and then find ways to address them.”
For TCOG, that way is a new major demographics study with the goal of locating just where Texoma’s poorest citizens live and predicting how those populations might change in the future.
Randy McBroom, TCOG’s planning and development director, said that a strong economy actually makes it more difficult to fund programs that help the needy.
“Quite a few of the grants that are out there have thresholds of official poverty rates,” McBroom said. “And if you look at the poverty rates in our three counties, they don’t hit those thresholds.”
“But if we were to be able to show these pockets of poverty exist, and that the overall poverty rate is not reflective of the actual poverty within our region, we think we could be a little more competitive in some of those grants,” McBroom said.
The first step, McBroom said, is for him and his team to look through census data and see if these “pockets of poverty” exist in our region as TCOG believes they do. If preliminary data show that these trends are real, then the major work begins.
“If this is in fact the case, what we are going to do is try to get a grant so we can do a study of this,” said McBroom. “We would create a map of the Texoma region that would be pretty precise on where this poverty is.”
This study would combine and analyze numbers from various sources, including census files, school district records and direct field observation. It would help TCOG and other local agencies find underserved communities, even going beyond traditional definitions of poverty to more complex measurements.
“We’re looking at poverty in a little bit of a different way,” McBroom said. “Instead of income based poverty, which has been the official way of measuring poverty for years, we and others are looking at what’s known as asset poverty.”
We want to find ways to identify those pockets of poverty, understand them, and then find ways to address them.
Asset poverty is a broadening of poverty’s definition to include people who earn enough money to be considered above the poverty line, but do not have assets to fall back on in case of misfortune. These people are “working poor,” who could easily be one accident or calamity away from being on the street.
“They live from paycheck to paycheck,” McBroom said. “Anything can literally wipe them out financially and leave them in abject poverty.”
McBroom said that this definition of poverty paints a clearer picture of the economic realities of a region, and many organizations are beginning to favor it over the traditional, income-based cutoffs.
Once the information is collected and analyzed and the map is created, McBroom and his team will begin using the data to make predictions of future demographic trends, anticipating needs and preparing for contingencies.
That moment, however, remains far in the future. “We are just in the very beginning process,” McBroom said. “The whiteboard in my office is filled with ‘what ifs,’ trying to figure out where to go next and what we are gonna do.”
“Obviously it is a long-term project,” said Thomas. “It’s not something that’s going to be done in a couple of months. It’s going to take a tremendous amount of research and resources. We will be looking for grant money to support that research and may even pull in some academic partners to help with that.”
“But I think that it’s a perfect role for TCOG as a planning organization to look at some things that, when you look at growth and development, get overlooked,” Thomas said.