By Jack “Alex” White III, columnist ~ “Small towns, big potential”
Much of the debate around Page County’s economy revolves around two factors: the nearly 4,000 county residents in poverty and what it takes to help them survive.
Like most things, the issue is so much deeper than just giving people the chance to “squeak by” with a bare minimum standard of living. As long as that is our goal, then we are “barking up the wrong tree.” A community of people that is hanging by a thread can fall just as easily.
We need to ask ourselves what it takes to actually thrive in Page County. What level of income does it take to put a roof over your head, feed healthy food to your kids, and actually live life?
Thankfully, there is a Family Budget Calculator that can tell us exactly that. Unsurprisingly, it shows that a good life in Page County cannot be lived on many of the jobs in the area… much less those limited jobs that are the only ones available to workers without higher skills.
That is because an average-size family requires $59,749 a year to really make it in our county.
To put that into perspective, the median household income in Page County (the income that most families are close to) is almost $10,000 lower than that. This means that everyone from low income families to middling ones is at risk of not being able to fully address their needs.
In fact, a family of two adults and one child in Page County would have to spend an estimated $723 on housing, $600 on food, $545 on child care, $1,141 on transportation, $755 on health care, $681 in taxes, and $534 on other necessities every month in order to achieve what the Economic Policy Institute considers to be “a modest yet adequate standard of living.”
(You can find out more about the methodology behind those community-specific estimates using this tool if you search data for a two-adult, one-child family in Page County, Virginia.)
What should we make of this? For starters, it should cause us to step back and take stock of what changes can actually make a difference in our community. Since low-paying jobs do not allow the average family to enjoy the above, it is clear that there must be more to the equation.
That might include being more aggressive in courting high-paying jobs (and encouraging local entities who are already here to create more of their own). Ideally, these jobs — public and private — would be the kinds of good, blue-collar jobs on which an unspecialized worker can live.
There are still other ways to advance the ball on that; they include continuing to expand opportunities for workers to learn new skills, supporting our public schools, and even creating teleworking centers for locals to take advantage of good-paying remote opportunities.
Short of that, this also means investing in the local institutions that guarantee access to nutrition, child development, and health care regardless of a family’s income (like Page One, Page County Public Schools, the Rec Center, the Page County Free Clinic, and countless others).
There are huge barriers — monetary and geographic — to creating real opportunities for thriving. Nonetheless, the work is necessary, because life should not be lived paycheck to paycheck.
After all, the “Pursuit of Happiness” is only possible when people are not struggling to get by.
Jack “Alex” White III is the Executive Director of the Rural Leadership Initiative and the District 1 Representative on the Page County Economic Development Authority — where he was reported to have been “Virginia’s youngest government official” at the time of his appointment.
Alex is a lifelong native of Page County, a graduate of Luray High School
and is currently enrolled at Harvard University.