How do you significantly reduce child poverty in Cincinnati? At the Community Issues Forum at Christ Church Cathedral on March 24th, Ross Meyer, Vice President of Community Impact at the United Way, addressed this question and encouraged Forum attendees to offer their ideas for shrinking the high number children living in poverty in the Queen City?
Last year they launched the Child Poverty Collaborative. Although the Collaborative was initially going to launch the project this June, it recently announced that more planning and information gathering were needed before forging ahead. The Rand Corporation, a think tank based in a Washington, D.C., has been hired to do this preliminary work.
Meyer began his presentation by citing some of the dismal data concerning child poverty in this city and region. 2012 Census statistics revealed 53-percent of Cincinnati’s children living in poverty, and that fact gave the city the second highest ranking for child poverty in the nation. Another study in 2014 came up with a slightly lower number, 44-percent, and reported that one out of every five children living in Hamilton County lives in poverty. The child poverty rate for the entire country is 22-percent.
Acknowledging the impact of the Urban League’s report, “The State of Black Cincinnati -2015: Two Cities,” Meyer called it “a wake-up call” for this community. This comprehensive report, he said, revealed the long term and systemic failure of this city to effectively address the causes of poverty. However, the amount of public concern about these grim statistics, he continued, provides us with “a unique opportunity to act – to launch some bold goals for our community.”
What are some of these bold goals? Meyer cited making quality pre-school available to every poor child as one major advance, and he described “Preschool Promise” as a current local initiative that seeks to achieve this end. He also noted that children are part of families in poverty, and effective new initiatives must be aimed at improving the lives of these families.
Meyer admitted that low paying jobs are keeping most of these families in poverty, and that more and better employment programs are needed to give people the skills for higher paying work. He said that one recent effort funded by the United Way had succeeded in training 10,000 people for such jobs.
Since the Child Poverty Collaborative is still in the planning stage, Meyer stressed that his job now is to hear from the community. One attendee questioned whether enough high paying, skilled jobs existed to emphasize job training as the key strategy for ending poverty. The same speaker cited studies that predict that technology is going to steadily reduce the number of total jobs available for all people in search of employment. “In the end,” said another attendee, “don’t we have to say that all work is valuable, and pay people a living wage?”
The huge cuts in recent years of federal, state, and local dollars for programs and services to assist the poor were stressed by a Forum attendee as a key factor that must be considered. “The elimination of the entitlement program, Aid to Families With Dependent Children, in 1996, was a major setback for struggling families with children!”
Another attendee declared that a lack of affordable housing kept thousands of families in dire economic straits or homeless. A giant step toward ending family and child poverty, said the questioner, would be to rehab and build many more units of decent, safe, and affordable housing.
Meyer admitted that many of the Forum attendees already knew the major causes of poverty and the steps needed to reduce it. People like them, he said, would be crucial in the long term struggle to adequately address these causes. As an “insider,” Meyer sees his role as engaging business leaders and the community at-large in the Collaborative’s goal of lifting 10, 000 children out of poverty by 2020. He reiterated that this initiative would hold one-hundred community meetings in the coming months.
(Part IV of this Forum Series on reducing poverty will take place on April 14th. A panel will discuss innovative approaches to creating new jobs in Cincinnati’s neighborhoods.”)