‘Each of us cannot tackle poverty alone’October 17, 2018 Category: Featured, Long, Method
DisclosuresThis is a guest post by Philadelphia Youth Network President and CEO Chekemma J. Fulmore-Townsend.
The data does not lie: Poverty is a persistent problem in Philadelphia.
With a poverty rate 10 points higher than the national average, and nearly half that population living in deep poverty – that is, living on an income that is half of the poverty line – Philadelphia’s poverty is intergenerational. We know that with poverty often comes exposure to trauma, which studies show can negatively impact brain development in youth. Luckily, these same studies indicate that the intervention of caring adults can reverse these impacts.
I’m humbled to work alongside hundreds of local partners who are working every day to do just that. Each of us cannot tackle poverty alone; a problem of this magnitude requires lasting partnerships and systemic change.
At the Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN), we firmly believe that education and employment can help disrupt intergenerational poverty and inequity. Over nearly 20 years, we’ve worked together with partners to create more than 175,000 high quality education and employment opportunities for youth and young adults. We’ve seen the impact in our city’s high school graduation rate, which has increased by nearly 30 percent in the past 10 years through the work of Project U-Turn, an alliance dedicated to increasing the graduation rate and preparing young people for future opportunities.
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Why does this matter? Data tells us that having a high school diploma or equivalency or less means Philadelphians are more likely to be unemployed, and less likely to be a part of the labor force. While we celebrate the progress we’ve made, we know there’s more to be done as our city’s graduation rate of 67 percent lags still behind state and national averages, and significantly more so for subpopulations facing additional barriers such as pregnant or parenting teens and those involved in foster-care or juvenile justice.
Project U-Turn partners know that they are stronger together than separately, operating collectively to create systemic change on a broader scale. When more young people are graduating and taking that next step, more are participating in the labor force and achieving economic stability for themselves, their families and their community.
That labor force, however, is also changing as the future of work evolves. It is not enough to solely help our young people graduate. We need to think differently about how we are equipping them for successful futures. At PYN, we know that young people need a continuum of experiences ranging from early, through intermediate to advanced, which combine learning, skill-building and paid work experience, leading toward a viable career pathway.
Again, this takes all of us. As the managing partner of WorkReady Philadelphia, a citywide effort to address the skills gap, we convene partners from public and private sectors, employers, leaders of youth-serving systems and youth to create a coordinated approach to preparing young people for future employment. Today’s young people are tomorrow’s workforce, and when they succeed, businesses and communities succeed as well.
I see the potential of our young people as individuals and how brightly each can shine, and I invite you to see the power it could have if every young person was given an opportunity, how it could disrupt intergenerational poverty starting within our city, having a lasting impact. I’m so grateful for the partners who work alongside us toward this vision of ending poverty, not just today — the United Nations’ International Day for the Eradication of Poverty — but every day.
For years, the City of Philadelphia’s system leaders, including the Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity, have supported our work of building solutions to educate and employ by creating summer jobs. Our partnerships with PowerCorps and the education and economic subcommittee of the West Philadelphia Promise Zone helped to create the Hub at PA CareerLink® West to help prepare and connect youth to career pathways.
Eradicating poverty starts locally and cannot sit with any one individual, organization or agency. It takes all of us to make a lasting impact. It takes partnerships like Project U-Turn, WorkReady Philadelphia, Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine and others to align systems and create lasting change. When we work together to lift people out of poverty, we all win — children and families, employers, government and our city overall.