Poverty figures prompt action
Joel F. Weiss, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Pioneer Valley, said he has invited representatives from area mayor's offices, the business community, human services and civic groups to a Friday meeting to develop a systemic approach to address child poverty.
Weiss said he sees the meeting as the first of a series of meetings.
Timothy W. Brennan, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, said federal census figures showed that in 1999, 31.6 percent of children from 5 to 17 years old lived in poverty in Springfield, while in 2006 the figure had climbed to 44.6 percent.
The census survey was based on a sampling of residents, so the rate has a large margin of error. Census officials said Springfield's actual rate could vary from 38.3 to 50.9 percent.
Weiss said an explanation for the high child poverty rate in Springfield is the large number of residents lacking skills and education for higher paying jobs.
Brennan said worker shortages are forecast in the region by 2011 and 2012 as retirees vacate jobs. Workers with education are needed to replace them, he said.
"The most effective way to ensure a work force is to impact the pre-K through 12 educational system," he said.
He said Gov. Deval L. Patrick has an initiative for universal pre-K education in the state and free community college for those who cannot pay.
Mary E. McGovern Walachy, executive director of the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, said the charitable foundation has a yearly Cherish Every Child initiative which allocates between $200,000 and $300,000 annually to focus on the following goals: to provide early education, to provide better training and early childhood educators, to make health and dental care available to all families, to develop an annual report card on the quality of life for children and to raise public awareness.
There is a statewide campaign to increase the number of early childhood teachers with bachelor's degrees, Walachy said.
She said the goal is to have one qualified bachelor's degree teacher in every state accredited pre-school classroom.
Kathy Treglia, vice president of the YMCA of Greater Springfield, said her agency held a staff meeting to discuss the apparent increase in the child poverty statistics for Springfield.
"We are a poor community. These statistics say we are poorer than we thought." She said the purpose for the staff meeting was for staff members to discuss how the YMCA can impact child poverty.
Treglia said there are state scholarships available for pre-school teachers who have matriculated in a program to earn a college degree. "Education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty," Treglia said. She said families in poverty also need financial literacy skills.
Paul Bailey, executive director of Springfield Partners for Community Action, said the things that impact poverty include "lack of employment opportunities, lack of education and lack of financial assets."
He said Springfield Partners for Community Action supports income tax assistance programs so residents claim their proper deductions and refunds and can put away some money if possible.
Walachy said Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution has found that increased education, increased marriage and increased work reduces poverty.
The sequence of events to reduce poverty would include finishing high school, or better still get a college degree, wait until your 20s to marry, and delay having children until after you marry and at least one parent is stably employed.
Walachy said the teen pregnancy rate in Springfield at 18 percent is three times the state average of 5.9 percent.
She said a lack of hope and a lack of vision prevents the poor from attaining their goals.
graphic from Pomona University