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How has poverty changed during the pandemic — and how hasn’t it?

January 27, 2022 Category: FeatureFeaturedMethodShort
Economic mobility in the United States has been declining for decades.

An American born into a poor household in 1980 is less likely to out earn their parents than at any time in nearly a century of record-keeping, according to the World Economic Forum. The United States is now not even among the top 25 countries for social mobility — it’s something we were better at in the 1850s. Poverty is becoming ever more inter generationally entrenched, and despite modest improvements in past years, Philadelphia remains the country’s biggest poor city.

As an old boss of mine liked to say: “We’re sitting in shit and digging deeper.”

The pandemic has proved vexing. In 2020, poverty declined in the United states, due largely to world-leading fiscal stimulus. Those programs are mostly gone now, leaving only elevated inflation. Meanwhile, wealth has surged – public markets, private company valuations, real estate among other forms too. All told, income inequality has grown the world-over during the age of covid-19.

Amid the numbers, it is too easy for policymakers, philanthropists and other civic actors to lose sight of the lived experiences of people living in poverty — and feeling increasingly stuck there. In 2021, as the covid-19 pandemic dragged on, launched a Poverty Listening Tour with support from United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey — which is spearheading the city’s largest anti-poverty effort to date. Over the course of a year, a dozen Generocity contributors and reporters spoke to hundreds of Philadelphians living in poverty, alongside the advocates and activists adapting to the changing poverty landscape. The result is a new report that Generocity is releasing today.

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The report features people stories, themes and key takeaways. Among the takeaways is a rebuke of any feeling of hopelessness that intergenerational poverty can bring about. Philadelphia poverty remains entrenched due to uncoordinated efforts, which seem to remain uncoordinated because it is common to call for bold action and then criticize those bold efforts. Our clearest call to those who read the report: You are the leader you are waiting for.

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