Our team has spent several months ( for some, more than a year) educating ourselves about what poverty looks like for children and families, not only in Northwest Arkansas, but nationally and globally. We all have different takeaways from our readings; different things that shock, sadden and even educate us on the issue. It has been interesting to discuss our learnings and find that when we began this journey, we were looking at poverty through different lenses, but the more educated we become on the issue, the more “Ah-ha” moments we have and the more we are focused on working together to change the statistics of children living in poverty in Northwest Arkansas. In this blog, you will see some of what our team has learned so far on the journey to providing a pathway out of poverty for children in Northwest Arkansas.
Kim Aaron – President:
Robert Putnam got communities talking when his book Bowling Alone was published in 2000. A professor of Public Policy at Harvard, Putnam wrote a book that was well-researched and chock full of data as you would expect, but also very easy to read. And he got people talking about the decline in American communities, i.e., we’re now bowling alone instead of in teams, and the resulting decline in the social capital and connections that make America unique.
Putnam’s conclusion: we’re better together and community decline can be reversed if we work to create and maintain connections, even with something as simple as joining a bowling team.
Fifteen years later, Putnam is again challenging our thinking with Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. In Our Kids, he takes a hard look at the inequality gap and why so many Americans, our children, have little opportunity for upward mobility. Again using a blend of data and stories, Putnam investigates the opportunities available to children today to break out of the cycle of poverty. Comparing children growing up in the 1950’s versus today, he identifies an “opportunity gap” that now exists reflecting changes in neighborhoods, schools, transportation and work. All impact a child’s ability to break out of poverty. Reading Our Kids, it’s clear that there are no magic bullets or special sauces that will provide a fix. It will take a community working together, clear-eyed and willing to take a hard look at local conditions. It will take a community conversation, some dreaming, a few reality checks and systemic changes to fill the opportunity gap. What an interesting conversation that could be in NWA.
Kim Johnson – Manager, Child Pathway Out of Poverty Programs:
In 2015, the Federal Poverty Guideline for a family of four was $24,250 a year. Roughly 14.8% or 47 million Americans live in poverty, but that number should actually be substantially higher. The Federal Poverty Guideline has not had a significant increase since the 1960s, and does not account for today’s cost of living and expenses. Researchers argue that today’s Federal Poverty Guideline should actually be closer to $48,000 a year for a family of four, but if the Federal Government increased the guideline, it would significantly increase the number of people living in poverty.
It is already astonishing that over 26,000 children in Northwest Arkansas live in poverty, but in reality, that number should be greater. That means there are even more children in our community that do not have adequate access to food, shelter, healthcare, education, and more. Understanding the Federal Poverty Guideline and realizing that the numbers should be far greater, definitely encourages me to make a difference each and every day at my job.
Ashley Wardlow – Director, Workplace Campaigns:
One of the most revelatory things I’ve learned is that employment doesn’t preclude an individual from living in poverty. In fact, many people working one job – even two – still struggle to make ends meet. The solution is more complex than job creation; it’s quality job creation.
Kelsey Brock – Associate Manager, Marketing and Direct Programs:
Something that has really resonated with me as I have been reading about these children, families and individuals who are living poverty, is sometimes, they don’t consider themselves as living are in poverty. In the book, Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, she joins in some high poverty communities across the country where she lives the life of a hardworking, impoverished community member. She witnesses the lives of people who are fighting for shelter and food and people who are struggling to pay their bills – and having to work multiple jobs to do so. Living without access to healthcare, education, without a checking account – things are normal for so many living in poverty. An issue that she addresses is that so many people who are living in poverty are constantly adjusting and living in a crisis mode, where survival is #1 and for so many that is what is considered “normal.” These families have no idea that there is any other way to live.
This realization saddens me, which is why I am so determined to be a part of this change. I want to work to educate our community so that we can better inform our neighbors living below the poverty line that it does not have to be this way, that this is NOT “the normal,” and that they deserve more. Everyone deserves the right to food, shelter, healthcare and warm clothes. We live in such a diverse and opportunistic community and we owe it to our friends and neighbors to help those who are struggling find a pathway to success; a pathway out of poverty.
Alexa McGriff – Director, Marketing and Direct Programs:
The most impactful book that I’ve read about poverty since starting this reading journey with our staff has been $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America. This book was so powerful because it not only gives the history of welfare (something that many middle class Americans, myself included, know little-to-nothing about), but it also paints a moving and emotional picture of what life is like for families in different parts of our country who lives on less than $2.00 a day.
One part of the book that particularly struck me was a section on housing. This quote sums it up:
“Housing costs have reached a crisis point for low-income families, eating up far more of their incomes than they can possibly afford. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) deems a family that is spending more than 30% of its income on housing to be ‘cost burdened,’ at risk of having too little money for food, clothing, and other essential expenses. Today there is no state in the Union in which a family that is supported by a full-time, minimum-wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent without being cost burdened, according to HUD.” (p. 66)
I think that it is absolutely unacceptable for someone who is working full-time at minimum wage cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment in our country without losing the ability to pay for other things. We can’t allow this to continue!
We hope you will join us as we continue to work to find a pathway out of poverty for children in Northwest Arkansas. If you are interested in learning more about the challenge, or how you can get involved in providing a pathway out of poverty for kids in NWA, contact us at 479-750-1221!