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The Most Shocking Lessons From KERA's One Crisis Away Series 'Still On The Edge'

Allison V. Smith for KERA News
Chris Crowley, 39, takes a break from walking to the DART station from his home in Dallas. His commute via public transportation takes three hours each way.

One of the biggest surprises from the "Still On The Edge" series showed up early in Courtney Collins' reporting process. When she sat down to review data, she saw a 16 percent drop in median income in Dallas County over a six year period. In Texas, the drop was around 2 percent.

She wasn't the only one surprised by those numbers.

Frances Deviney of the Center for Public Policy Priorities told Courtney, "It was a stark decline that we weren't even expecting."

Courtney just wrapped up the One Crisis Away project's "Still On The Edge" series, where she revisited families KERA News has featured over the years and checked in on their financial health.

It was a mixed bag. For instance, Chris Crowley of Dallas has a much better-paying job than he did the last time we spoke to him. But it takes him three hours from his house to get there. Shirley Martin, 77, enjoys the caregiver job she has now. But she's not sure when, or if, she'll be able to retire. 

For this week's Friday Conversation, Courtney sat down with KERA's Rick Holter to discuss the people, and the shocking numbers, behind the series.
Interview Highlights

On what was discovered

We got some really interesting data that came out of study by Center for Public Policy Priorities and the Communities Foundation of Texas revealing that there was a significant $10,000 drop in median income. Frances Deviney is involved with the study, and explained that we weren't the only ones surprised by this data. 

On how these numbers factor in with the economic boom

It kind of depends on how you define "boom." The unemployment rate is really low in this area. It's been under four percent for a significant amount of time. But what Deviney explained was that after the recession, a lot of those middle income jobs — where you could be employed for 40 hours a week to have enough to pay all the bills, put some aside — those dropped significantly and didn't come back. What replaced those jobs were lower wage jobs in the service sector that pay so much less that people can't make ends meet when employed in them. Many more jobs paying $8, $9 or $10 an hour were replacing the ones that kind of had upwardly mobile trajectories and a much higher salary. 

On not having a financial cushion

That's the issue: Everybody is working, everyone is budgeted so tightly and still not really able to save. So if anything happens to derail them — whether that's a major car repair or being out of work for a short period of time — they really don't have anything to fall back on. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently said that the fastest growing segment of the workforce is people 75 and over. They're expecting about a 6.5 percent growth in that sector by 2024. 

Interview responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Gus Contreras is a digital producer and reporter at KERA News. Gus produces the local All Things Considered segment and reports on a variety of topics from, sports to immigration. He was an intern and production assistant for All Things Considered in Washington D.C.
Rick Holter is KERA's vice president of news. He oversees news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News has earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.