Census finds highest poverty rates in Wetumka, Smithville

Sunday, June 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WETUMKA, Okla. (AP) _ Wetumka has the highest poverty rate of any Oklahoma community with a population larger than 1,000, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

``One of our goals around here is to talk positive about ourselves and our community,'' said Renee Ross, a Wetumka pastor. ``Sometimes, we become what we say.''

Of the 335 Wetumka families surveyed, 105 rated below poverty-level status. That's 39.6 percent. Eighty-three of those families were led by single-mothers.

Broken Bow was second highest with 38.9 percent and Hollis was third at 36.2 percent.

Others rounding out the top ten were Vian, Rush Springs, Stilwell, Antlers, Konawa, Idabel and Carnegie. All of those communities reported more than 30 percent of families were living in poverty.

Wetumka businessman Steve Hughes said there's still hope.

``We need new industry here, something to keep the young people,'' Hughes said. ``I'm in the natural gas business, and I could live anywhere I wanted. But I choose to live here because I'm happy here, and this is my home. So I'd like to challenge some people. If you are a good entrepreneur, prove it. Come to Wetumka and help turn this thing around.''

Fred Welch, who runs a furniture store with his wife, said the new businesses won't come unless city policies change.

``The city leaders don't allow industry in here,'' Welch said. ``For instance, city utilities are outrageous. The restaurant across the street pays $2,000-a-month on its electric bill during the summer. That's ridiculous.''

Census figures show Smithville in McCurtain County has the highest poverty rate of any Oklahoma town. Smithville, with a population of 133, reported a 63 percent poverty rate.

``A lot of those people used to work in Arkansas, and they've been shutting down factories and moving them out of the country,'' said County Commissioner Eugene Burke. ``A lot of the big logging mills around here are laying off a lot of people. It's really hurt them. It's hurt everybody.''

School Superintendent Delbert McBroom said Smithville's largest employer is the school system, with about 50 workers.