FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
When the Impacting Poverty Commission (IPC) issued a challenge to the community to help decrease the poverty trend in Greene County in October 2015, Mayor Bob Stephens proclaimed that the “consequences of doing nothing are just too great.”
Many issues weighed heavily on the minds of elected officials, business owners and citizens as the 2016 Presidential election loomed and a few key indicators of community health were headed in the wrong direction.
Citing poverty as a “red flag” issue for seven years in a row, experts compiling the annual Community Focus Report pointed to the fact that poverty “creates immense societal problems that our community must address, including rates of crime, domestic violence, substance abuse and educational attainment.”
So, our community zoned in.
As is characteristic of the people of Springfield and southwest Missouri – Rotarians, Sertoma Club members, churchgoers, government officials, health care providers, residents, educators and business owners – people from almost all sectors of the community collectively said “enough.” And then, they mobilized.
“More than 225 organizations have connected in some way with Zone Blitz activities, or taken steps in their own ways, to help lift up those in need,” said City Manager Greg Burris. “The momentum in our community to move the needle on poverty is incredible. Everyone is figuring out a way they can help make a difference. And we’re all working together to avoid duplication and fill in the service gaps.”
The City of Springfield’s Zone Blitz initiative dove deep into Springfield’s historic, yet troubled, northwest neighborhoods. The Community Foundation of the Ozarks raised $1.3 million in private money to launch The Northwest Project. The faith-based community rallied together with the City and the community’s extensive network of non-profit organizations to discuss, plan and collaborate. And we took action.
The IPC’s one-year update provides a high-level overview of some of the activities and initial results, following the 2015 IPC Report and Call to Action. It is not exhaustive, but does provide highlights of significant progress in addressing poverty and tracks prosperity indicators for which we have baselines.
“Perhaps the most exciting news reported in the IPC update is the fact that Greene County’s poverty rate has actually decreased from 20.6% in 2014 to 17.7% in 2015,” said Janet Dankert, Community Partnership of the Ozarks Executive Director and chair of the IPC Steering Committee.
The U.S. Census Bureau released the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE), indicating the first drop in the percentage of Greene County residents living in poverty since 2009. According to sociologist Mike Stout who served on the IPC, the SAIPE is the most accurate indicator of poverty at the county level that the government calculates, which means it's also the most reliable.
Burris said this doesn’t necessarily mean recent anti-poverty efforts have already made a difference, but it does provide encouragement and support for continued efforts to zero in on the root causes of poverty, including barriers to educational attainment and well-paying jobs. Many believe increased educational attainment and workforce development as the keys to linking people to higher-paying jobs and to attracting those higher-paying jobs to the community in the first place.
The average unemployment rate for the entire year of 2015 was lower than the average rate for the entire year of 2016 according to Bureau of Labor Statistics for the Springfield region.
“Also, the Labor Force Participation rate has increased .4 percentage points, so there were more people in the labor force in 2015 than there were in 2014,” explained Mary Ann Rojas, director of Workforce Development for the City of Springfield.
This unemployment information came from the Census ACS 1-Year estimate and backed up by an employment number comparison between the two years.
Based on these factors, one could conclude that more people in Greene County are working, both in raw number and as a percentage of the working age population.
“Also, you can see that those who are working collectively earned more in 2015 than they did in 2014. When you combine this with more people working, it makes sense that the poverty rate would decrease,” Rojas said.
A significant need identified in the October 2015 IPC Report and Call to Action is the need for coordinated case management of populations of people living in poverty. It is a need that requires a coordinated entry system, which teams immediately began to work on. Progress on this front is noted in the IPC one-year update.
“Overall, we are moving in the right direction,” noted Debi Meeds, president/CEO of United Way of the Ozarks and co-chair of the IPC Steering Committee. Meeds and Dankert are now working together on a collective impact model initiative that creates a system for addressing poverty that best addresses the causes of poverty.
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For more information, contact Cora Scott, Director of Public Information and Civic Engagement for the City of Springfield, at 417-380-3352 or [email protected].