In 2008, almost half the families with children living in a single female household in McCracken County were poor. A much higher percentage of African Americans than Caucasians reside in poverty in McCracken County.
These were just a few of the statistics provided in an “Impact Poverty Study” recently released by the United Way of Paducah-McCracken County. A group of 37 volunteers representing industry, health care, education, law enforcement, religious organizations, housing and the community at large spent nearly two years investigating the root causes of poverty and coming up with a 10-year plan to reduce poverty in Paducah/McCracken County.
“We didn’t discover a magic wand that magically raises the standard of living for everyone in our community to improve their quality of life,” said Kristen Williams of KRW Strategies and steering committee facilitator. “The good news is we have some ideas to work on over the next 10 years to really make a substantial difference.”
Poverty is a complex issue that has affected societies for hundreds of years. It often requires more than just money to move someone out of poverty.
Other crucial resources needed to move out of poverty can include emotional, spiritual, physical and health support systems.
The Impact Poverty plan looks at six strategic categories: Critical care & community wellness; kids & education; substance abuse; jobs; support systems; perceptions. Specific initiatives within the jobs category are taking shape.
Of those six categories, the obvious solution to poverty might be providing more jobs. The unemployment rate as of September for McCracken County was 9.6 percent, according to the Impact Poverty Study.
“Many of (individuals in poverty) have jobs,” said Ashley Wright, executive director of the local United Way. “They just happen to have jobs that pay minimum wage and probably offer no opportunity to move up. They never are going to move them out of poverty.”
Wright said many people in poverty have never seen people in their lives successfully move into the middle class.
“So we recognize when we talk about people getting jobs and creating jobs that will move people out of poverty, that we are not just talking about teaching people how to write resumes and how to dress for interviews, we talking about a cultural shift in the way people think about work,” Williams said. “That’s tough. That requires a long time and that requires a real commitment.”
Under the “Jobs” strategy, the Impact Poverty plan calls for the launching of a job placement team to work with Getting Ahead graduates by April 2012. They would also like to adapt a program known as Cincinnati Works in Paducah and McCracken County. Cincinnati Works is a successful program that provides intensive support for the working poor. Participants are provided job readiness classes with the goal of helping to keep participants in a job for 12 to 18 months.
Like individuals in the community, businesses play a vital role in reducing poverty in Paducah and McCracken County. Not only by supporting efforts to implement programs like Cincinnati Works in the community, but also by sharing information about the impact of poverty and volunteering to be a part of the Impact Poverty strategies.
The United Way of Paducah-McCracken County is also offering Bridges Out of Poverty training for organizations and businesses. Bridges Out of Poverty is a book and an approach that helps employers, community organizations, social service agencies and individuals address poverty in a comprehensive way. The training is available at a cost of $10 per participant with a minimum of 10 participants.
Find more information about Bridges Out of Poverty training by contacting Monique Zuber at the United Way of Paducah-McCracken County at 270-442-1691.
For more information about Impact Poverty contact Kristin Williams at email@example.com or Ashley Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website http://unitedwaypaducah.org/impact_poverty.htm Janett M. Blythe, a former reporter for The Paducah Sun, has been director of public relations at West Kentucky Community & Technical College for 19 years.