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Community needs assessment highlights poverty issues


December 10, 2020

The population of Crook County is growing and the community is doing better than state averages when it comes to unemployment, food insecurity and household income, according to an assessment that was presented to the Crook County Medical Services District Board of Trustees last week.

However, according to Jody Shields of Align, which conducted the Community Needs Assessment in this area, low-income households are still experiencing issues with finding employment at a livable wage, affording healthcare and housing.

The assessment is used to calculate the amount this county will be allocated from the Community Services Block Grant, which Shields said is received by each state according to a statutory formula and in turn handed out to local communities to support services that empower them to overcome the effects of poverty and support self-sufficiency. Goshen HELP is the organization through which this is now administered, she said.

The assessment takes place every two years to determine funding priorities and was done this time around via mailed surveys. A total of 3279 were mailed out to households and 582 were returned.

The board expressed surprise at the low turnout; upon hearing that it was only announced on the district’s website, Trustee Sandy Neiman requested that, in future, the community be given a heads up via the newspaper. Shields agreed that it could have been better communicated but said, “it’s not terrible, really, especially compared to other counties.”

The assessment also included interviews with 18 individuals representing 17 agencies that can give insight into the needs of the community, as well as quantitative data about Crook County.

Interviewees rated the biggest strength of the community as its small-town lifestyle with community members that are willing to help each other and engage in teamwork and partnership. The biggest challenges included a lack of resources and services due to size and access to cell service and internet.

According to 2019 population estimates, said Shields, the population of this county has increased 7% since 2010, which is slightly above the state average. The largest increase is among people aged 65 and over, of whom there are 19.39% more than ten years ago.

The cost of living in this county was found to be overall lower than the Wyoming average. However, Shields explained that this is because the cost of housing is notably low; all other categories are higher than the state average, including medical, food, recreation and transport.

The poverty rate in Crook County was 8.2% in 2018 compared to the state average of 10.7%. This was not a surprise, said Shields, as “It’s never been higher than Wyoming’s average.”

Household income has increased, said Shields, and is also higher than both the state and national average. Crook County’s median household income of $64,055 is above Wyoming’s $62,268 and the national $61,937.

Within the county, the largest category of people when it comes to education level is “some college, no degree,” which accounts for 29.8%. The next largest is “high school graduate” at 29%, followed by “bachelor’s degree or higher” at 22.4%.

Crook County’s high school graduation rate was 92.1% in 2018-19, which was significantly above the state average of 82.1%.

The largest category of employment, as of the first quarter of this year, is “local government,” followed by mining, oil and gas and then construction and manufacturing.

Unemployment was at 3.5% in October compared to a statewide average of 5.5% (seasonally adjusted). While this is up from 2.8% a year ago, said Shields, it has trended downwards each month since April.

Interviews conducted during the assessment saw the economy rated as “fair to poor,” with respondents citing energy sector decline and the impact of COVID-19 on small businesses. In the surveys, the two difficulties most often noted when it comes to employment were “being employed with a livable wage”

And having enough money to gas the car.

Crook County has seven licensed childcare providers, Shields said, and survey responses found that 32% of people find it difficult to access childcare some or most of the time.

“A few interviewees mentioned affordable childcare as a need for low-income families, but it wasn’t one of the top needs identified,” says the assessment.

The assessment found that over 30% of survey respondents are “housing burdened,” which Shields explained means they are spending over a certain amount of their income on housing. 16.8% of renters in Crook County are spending 30-34.9% of their income on housing, for example, and 23.1% are spending more than 35% of their income.

Respondents noted problems associated with housing including being unable to afford needed repairs (6.63%), the lack of affordable housing to buy (2.15%) and finding it difficult to rent due to bad credit (1.43%). Housing was identified in interviews as one of the top needs for low-income families, said Shields.

Food insecurity was found to estimate 9.5% of the community, or an estimated 700 people. For children, said Shields, the rate is 11.1%, or 200 children.

In both cases, the percentages are lower than the state averages, which are 12.2% and 15.9% respectively. Shields said that 446 respondents mentioned the difficulty of having enough food in the home and 11% identified it as difficult sometimes or most of the time.

While just under a third of community members access health coverage via their employer, and 28% qualify for Medicare, the assessment found that 5% of people have no insurance at all. The most common reason given for this, said Shields, is that they cannot afford it.

Just over a quarter of respondents said that co-payments are a big enough problem that they have gone without medication.

The most pressing health concern listed by survey respondents was the cost of healthcare. Other concerns included cancer, prescription drug affordability, lack of health insurance, chronic disease management and mental health services.

When respondents were asked if they have received care in a hospital within the last three years, said Shields, the top answer was “overwhelmingly” that they have done so in Crook County. However, respondents indicated that they would like more services and medical staff, more affordable care and increased public relations to inform them of the healthcare services that are available.

According to Shields, the assessment identified four top needs for low-income households in this county: food assistance and money for gas; employment opportunities (with a livable wage), mental health and medical services and housing assistance.

The next step, she said, is to prepare a full report and submit the Community Services Block Grant funding priorities to Goshen HELP.


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