There’s a bit of a dust-up going on in Oakland County about what constitutes poverty.
The nonprofit Lighthouse of Oakland County issued a report last month warned that even in Michigan’s most affluent county. poverty increased 77 percent. The report said the local numbers show a “seismic” shift in poverty from urban areas to more affluent suburbs during the Great Recession.
That didn’t sit well with some county officials, who lambasted the “Combating Poverty in Oakland County” report as full of errors and sensational language, the Detroit Free Press reports. The report was positioned and timed to attract large donations, but damaged the county’s efforts to attract global businesses, they said.,
Oakland County Health and Human Services Director George Miller told the Free Press he doesn’t dispute that poverty has increased, but he took issue with the “alarmist” tone of the report.
County officials disputed the 77 percent increase in poverty from 2003-2013 – stated at 76 percent elsewhere in the report – and said it exaggerated the problem. The report was included in a mailing to donors, which county officials said was exploitive.
The letter to potential donors is included on page on the county’s web site – a war of the web fo sorts, that cites experts debunking the report. The page was launched as a counter measure by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s staff after county Health Division epidemiologists Nicole Parker and Shane Bies went through the report line by line and then compared it with the American Community Survey data on which it was based.
The county touted its business recruitment and other economic successes, including the addition of 65,000 jobs in Oakland County over the past three years; a poverty rate that is the lowest in the Tri-County area; and a nearly $33 million budget for fiscal year to help residents with economic challenges.
John Ziraldo, Lighthouse of Oakland County’s CEO and president, told the Free Press the errors were minor and the letter to donors was typical of mailings that occur anytime the agency has news to report.
The overarching message of the report remains the same, he said.
“They’re quibbling,” Ziraldo said. “The most important question for county leaders is how we can work together to address the needs of our residents who struggle to meet their basic needs.”