According to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the official poverty rate decreased between 2012 and 2013; however, the Census Bureau explains that the number in poverty in 2013 was not statistically different from 2012. What does this mean for Americans currently facing financial barriers, though, and more importantly, what can be done to help families overcome these barriers?
USA Today’s Eric McWhinnie responded to these findings by identifying five reasons why these barriers continue to exist: median household income, wealth accumulation, employment-to-population ratio, food stamps and wages. At Loaves & Fishes, we have seen first-hand how these barriers contribute to our neighbors’ lack of financial stability. For example, the median household income for our clients last year was $14,400, and 8,250 clients of working age were unemployed.
While these numbers provide insight into our clients’ financial barriers, Dr. Deborah Frank, founder and principal investigator at Children’s HealthWatch, paints a broader picture and demonstrates how poverty impacts families, especially children. “Children in families who experience the most basic level of material hardships associated with poverty – not enough nutritious food, inadequate or inconsistent access to lighting, heating or cooling, and unstable housing – suffer negative health and development effects, which constrain the next generation’s opportunities to live healthy lives as successful participants in education and the workforce.” Thus, the cycle of poverty continues and creates more strain on our economy now and in the future.
Many non-profit organizations, like Loaves & Fishes, have set out to create pathways to financial stability. We are preparing to launch our Client Engagement Model, which will integrate our grocery assistance service with educational and prevention programs to address our clients’ barriers. Loaves & Fishes volunteers will meet with client families to create care plans that will involve participation in job search support, skill-based classes (computer, financial literacy, nutrition, English as a Second Language), public benefit assistance, mental health counseling and legal solutions.
By creating care plans for client families, Loaves & Fishes will transition from a “serve” to “solve” organization by increasing clients’ job marketability, skill knowledge and, ideally, self-sufficiency across a continuum. Moreover, we propose that more organizations on the frontlines of combating poverty should evolve programming to address the root causes of issues such as hunger.
As Dr. Frank states, “Children in poverty cannot wait for the slow recovery from the 2009 recession to finally arrive. We need to expand and protect programs to keep all our children nourished, warm and safely housed.” We, as a community and nation, need to implement programs that seek to solve poverty issues rather than continuing to perpetuate the cycle.