Friday’s editorial offers our support for the latest group to push for the construction of I-73:
The statistics are difficult to comprehend. Almost 1 in 5 Horry County residents is now living in poverty, according to new numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau. Among children, the percentage is even higher, with almost 1 in 3 in poverty in 2010. The magnitude of what that number represents simply baffles.
The Census Bureau’s definition of poverty changes depending on the size of a family and the age of its members, but rest assured that nobody would want to be in any of the categories. The income threshold for a single adult under age 65, for example, is $11,344 a year. That’s just over $200 a week. For a family of four, with two parents and two children, the threshold is $22,113. Raising a family on that sort of annual income would be inconceivable to many on the Grand Strand.
Reporter Adva Saldinger chronicled the struggles of some of these residents earlier this week, along with the efforts of the selfless volunteers and workers at our local aid agencies. But as important as food and shelter are, they won’t help solve our region’s underlying problem: a sluggish economy that isn’t producing jobs.
It was with that problem in mind that a group of local leaders traveled to Columbia on Thursday to talk with Gov. Nikki Haley’s office and the state Department of Transportation Commission about the need to build I-73. While there have been a number of I-73 lobbying efforts and groups, the I-73 for S.C. group that filled a bus on Thursday went with a unique focus on the benefits that the highway could have for some of the least of those among us.
Mike Chestnut, a Myrtle Beach city councilman and one of the leaders of the recently formed group, said at least one goal was doing something for the large numbers struggling in our area. “We’re wanting to see what they can do to help those people,” he said from the bus.
There’s nothing particularly new about the numbers and the projected benefits that this latest group cites. Most – like the vision of an economic boom – have been touted for years, if not decades. But it can’t hurt to hammer them home once again. And perhaps the more diverse makeup of this group – with community activists, faith leaders, businessmen and elected officials – will find receptive ears where others have not.
Local activist Bennie Swans, one of the group’s members, said the variety of backgrounds among its members was “the beauty of it, which you don’t see very often.” And it’s true; many of the people involved are not those we would normally have expected to see involved in a lobbying push for interstate construction. After decades of waiting for a road that has yet to appear, it’s hard to get our hopes real high, but we certainly wish this newest group the best of luck.
The bus will get more miles soon. More events are already planned in Mullins and Bennettsville in January. Will all the driving and talking lead to anything? Perhaps so, perhaps not, but if nothing else it keeps the issue closer to the fore in minds across the state, another goal of Swans’.
“We’ve got to make a noise,” he said. “We’ve got to sustain the interest.”
A report commissioned by I-73 supporters this past year determined that the road would bring 29,000 jobs to our region. If true, we could certainly use them, and these latest poverty numbers reinforce just how much.