Like a lot of people in hardscrabble East Texas, Kassie Camp of Anderson County, a single mother of two, has always struggled to get by.
The struggle continues today, despite historically low unemployment rates in the county, state, and nation. Living-wage jobs remain scarce, Camp, 39, said.
“The available jobs don't typically pay enough for you to make it,” Camp told the Herald-Press. “You can't feed three people and pay your utilities and medical costs on minimum wage ($7.25 an hour).”
Camp's story is a familiar one throughout Texas, which leads the nation in child poverty, with 1.5 million kids below the poverty line.
Despite a cost-of-living that runs three percent lower than the national average, Texas' 14 percent poverty rate exceeds the national average of just above 12 percent. In Anderson County, nearly 16 percent of families and children live in poverty.
Most students in the Palestine Independent School District receive free or reduced-priced lunches, PISD officials said.
In 2018, the Census Bureau poverty threshold for a family of three, with one child under 18, was $20,212 a year.
Experts have debated the reasons for Texas' high poverty rate, including a large number of uninsured.
California, with 33 percent more residents than Texas, has roughly the same number of children living in poverty. At 20 million people, New York has nearly one-third fewer residents than Texas, but the number of children in poverty is almost half.
Anderson County Judge Robert Johnston told the Herald-Press county officials are trying to attract higher-paying businesses into the area, but it's not easy.
“It's one of my responsibilities and duties to bring in companies that will help grow Anderson County,” he said. “But we have a difficult time competing with neighboring counties that have higher populations and more educational opportunities.”
Educational opportunities, Camp said, were more of a problem for her than for her children. Today, many local school districts offer college credits and trade courses.
“My son is in high school,” she said. “Just the other day he said, 'That's it. I'm getting an education. I'm tired of this paycheck-to-paycheck thing.'”
A beautician by trade, Camp said the day-to-day struggle of getting by increases during the holidays.
“You want to do for your kids,” she said. “It's really hard when you just don't know if you'll have enough.
“Local food banks help out a lot. It would just be nice to have more of an opportunity to make it on your own.”
Camp wants to get off federal assistance programs. “We receive Medicaid and food stamps,” she said. “That's how the federal government tries to fix things. If we could handle this locally, I could finally get the federal government out of my life.”