Jul. 27, 2016 8:48 am

In states like Pa., the politics of poverty are ‘absolutely important’

Poverty in rural Pa. looks different than it does in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Still, "we should be able to have a statewide conversation about poverty," said GreenLight Fund Philadelphia ED Omar Woodard.

Over 200,000 people are living in deep poverty in Philadelphia.

(Photo by Flickr user Tony Fischer Follow, used under a Creative Commons license)

“Americans would rather talk about the rift between Kanye West and Taylor Swift than they would the deep divide between the nation’s haves and have-nots.”

Poverty, said Temple University School of Media and Communication Dean David Boardman at Spotlight on Poverty‘s “Opportunity, Poverty and National Policy” panel, is not a cash cow for the media. But it needs attention and solutions nonetheless.

In Philadelphia, over 26 percent of the population is living in poverty, with nearly 13 considered to be living in deep poverty. Over 45 million people in America are currently living in poverty.

“That’s the [population of the] top 46 cities combined. That’s a lot of people,” said Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth. “Labor market opportunity and labor market fairness will be a pathway for children to get out of poverty.”

What about universal pre-K? The cradle-to-career approach can work, said Cooper, and it can be a ladder out of poverty, but the end result is a 20-year horizon. Making changes to inequities in the labor market can help alleviate poverty now.

Besides, said Philadelphia Education Fund President and CEO Farah Jimenez, education funding in Philadelphia has its flaws.

“If you can imagine an image of an older woman sitting in front of a slot machine with a rum and Coke smoking a cigarette,” she said, “that’s how we fund education in Philadelphia — through all those sin taxes.”

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The challenge with Philadelphia, said GreenLight Fund Philadelphia ED Omar Woodard, is that the city is not attracting enough businesses.

“We have to ask more of business to think strategically about how they can impact and address the challenges in the neighborhoods they’re in,” Woodard said. “What happens locally is what’s most important. What happens in the community and in the neighborhood is what we need to lift up and use to inform our policymaking.”

Woodard said he’s concerned that nationalizing conversations about poverty will detract from finding solutions that are specific to the communities and neighborhoods we need to be caring about most.

“Small exception,” said David Elesh, emeritus associate professor of sociology at Temple. “We have literally dozens and dozens of communities who have fewer than 1,000 souls in them. They don’t have resources. They’re happy to have the state do the work for them.”

When we’re talking about finding preemptive solutions for poverty cities, we should know that those solutions may not apply to impoverished people in rural America.

But those conversations should influence each other, said Woodard. Pennsylvania is not aligned politically, but we all have a common foe in poverty and that should link us. There should be a moment in time, he said, where Philadelphia can look to rural Crawford County.

“We should be able to have a statewide conversation about poverty,” Woodard said.


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