Data from the East Texas Human Needs Network's recent survey reveals a Smith County population in poverty with a litany of issues to address.

"This is just raw data," said Christina Fulsom, network weaver for the organization. "We still need to go in and do analysis, add context and make priorities."

Still, some of the findings surprised members of the organization.

The Comprehensive Community Needs Assessment survey was conducted during June and July. More than 1,000 people were interviewed at 14 social services agencies.

The majority of the people surveyed, 65 percent, were white. About 33 percent were single and 28 percent were married.

About 75 percent lived in a household with fewer than three people.

The majority of interviewees lived below the federal poverty line; 75 percent of those in a single household and 100 percent of those with families of 10 or more.

"You can live above the poverty line and still not be able to make ends meet," Mrs. Fulsom said.

Only 42 percent of those interviewed gained an income from wages. About 52 percent were living on food stamps.

About 65 percent of the interviewees considered themselves able to work, and 69 percent were actively looking.

When asked what they needed, 44 percent said "help achieving a living wage," 43 percent said "health insurance." Thirty-three percent said they needed to fix bad credit. Twenty percent said they needed to learn how to budget.

Two of the items that interviewees spent the highest percentages on were cell phones and cable bills, two factors that organizers said were more nuanced than first glance would indicate.

"When you study the culture of poverty, entertainment is very, very important to them," Mrs. Fulsom said. "They need it to escape the stress of trying to survive. We all do that."

Some were surprised that so much of the percentage went to a cellphone bill, but that factor also was nuanced. People who live in poverty often move from place to place, so it doesn't make sense for them to have a landline, Mrs. Fulsom said.

Ryan Button, a professor of sociology at Tyler Junior College said employers often expect low-income employees to have a cellphone and be reachable 24/7.

"Because labor jobs are scarce, they can ask things of them that they would never ask someone else," he said.

About 33 percent don't have a high school diploma or GED. Only 9 percent had a bachelor's degree.

About 7 percent of children in the survey had changed schools about 1.5 times during the school year, a number that was actually lower than organizers suspect is representative of the population in poverty.

"Some children will change schools two or three times a year, making it very difficult for them to stay on grade level," said Marty Barbieri, director of guidance and counseling for Tyler ISD.

More than 30 percent had children younger than 18. About 26 percent reported leaving their child at home alone while they were away.

"I am glad they were willing to be that honest," Mrs. Fulsom said. "I wonder how many weren't honest."

More than 30 percent reported struggling with depression; 7.3 percent reported having thoughts of suicide in the past 6 months. In 2009, the United States' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that 3.7 percent of the general population had suicidal thoughts in the last year.

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