Forget the 'One Percent,' What About the '2.7 Percent'?

Potomac's "One Percent" may be getting most of the publicity lately, but there's another group being overlooked.

Google "poverty in Potomac" and you may come up with a surprising find.

According to recent Census data, 2.7 percent of the Potomac population was listed as “in poverty” between 2005 and 2009. With a population count of 44,965 in Potomac in 2010, that 2.7 percent means that 1,214 men, women and children are living in or below the poverty line in Potomac, MD.

Poverty is not unknown in Montgomery County or in . But Potomac is not usually the first place that comes to mind when community service activists talk about alleviating poverty in the area.

Potomac is famous for its America.

Patch spoke with Mark Bergel of A Wider Circle -- an organization that supports families in homeless or domestic abuse shelters -- for information about what poverty looks like today, the misconceptions regarding those who live in poverty and how residents can help:

Patch: What is the poverty line around Montgomery County? How many in Montgomery County live at or below poverty line?

The poverty line is dependent on the family size. For a family of four it is around $23,000 and that number goes up or down by $4,000 or $5,000 per person per family, according to Bergel.

“In Montgomery County the approximate number of people living in poverty is 65,000,” he said. “That’s just the number of people below the poverty line. The number of people who are not self-sufficient people receiving no assistance is around 200,000.”

Patch: What are some of the big misconceptions regarding poverty in the Montgomery County area?

In Montgomery County folks may not think there are as many people in need as there truly are, Bergel said.

“People may not realize how low the poverty line really is, so if you live in what is defined as poverty, you’re actually in deep poverty because that threshold is so low. You need about three times the poverty line to be truly self sufficient,” he said.

“[Another] misconception is that people somehow don’t work hard enough, or they just choose to live in a needful situation or to live in poverty. The reality is that there are many people who are working who are not able to be self sufficient," he said.

Patch: Is poverty something you can always visibly see?

“As far as presence and appearance, there’s not one look, certainly not anymore,” Bergel said, cautioning people to think before making assumptions based on someone's outward appearance. "Relative poverty," living every day looking at others much more advantaged than yourself, is more debilitating than one might expect. That individual picking up a meal from a food pantry while talking on a cell phone maybe worse off than first meets the eye.

“I think a cell phone these days, it's not really a luxury, it's almost a necessity especially if you’re interviewing for jobs or if you have kids,” Bergel said. “People used to say the same thing about indoor plumbing.

Patch: Why do these misconceptions exist?

“I think we all have misconceptions about other people,” Bergel said. “It’s easier to do that than to try to understand somebody. I certainly don’t think that poverty is something that people should feel guilty about. You should feel energized. This is an opportunity to come together.”

Patch: There are many different ways for Montgomery County residents to volunteer and give back to their communities. What do you see as being the most effective way residents can work to end poverty?

“I think they can find a way to connect with those in need and do it for the longer term," Bergel said. “The thing I love about the holidays is that it’s a time that we start to focus on others in need.

“When you give of yourself, that’s where the magic is.”

Bergel suggests doing something that will allow you to meet a family and to work on helping, rather than judging them.

“Take that spirit of commitment and you’ll find that the opportunity is a lot richer,” he said, adding another suggestion: “Over the holidays, teenagers and parents are quite overlooked.”


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