Springfield's poverty level
Springfield's poverty level is rising rapidly
The Springfield region is growing faster than the city of Springfield, and almost twice as fast as the United States average. We have outpaced the state in job growth over the last several years, yet we also have significant challenges based on the changing demographics of our region.
According to Dr. Michael Stout, Sociologist at Missouri State University, data shows that the region’s median household income is significantly lower than the national average and that the poverty rate is growing rapidly.
Today, one of every two single mothers in the region is living in poverty and nearly 50 percent of elementary children in the Springfield R-XII School District qualify for a free or reduced lunch.
Homelessness exists in our community in record numbers, and many of the homeless in our community are children – some estimates show as many as 50 percent of the homeless population in Springfield.
Challenges to overcoming poverty are numerous and include a lack of adequate affordable housing, difficulty in understanding and accessing the system, high rate of drug and alcohol abuse among the impoverished, and a perception among the public that those in poverty are “lazy” or unmotivated to find work when many simply don’t have the necessary skills required for available jobs.
Yet one of the strengths of the community is the collaborative spirit with which leaders address local challenges. For example, a Homeless Task Force is working with the faith community to provide emergency homeless shelters and the higher education community to provide customized training. According to Annie Busch, Co-Chair of the Homeless Task Force and a self-described preventionist, “Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. It makes it worse. If you don’t have a heart for the issue, you need to have a pocketbook.”
Likewise, organizations such as The Kitchen Clinic, Jordan Valley Community Health Center, Ozarks Community Hospital Medicaid clinics and hospital emergency rooms are working to provide a “safety net” for healthcare. Yet, it is not enough. Dr. Janie Vestal with The Kitchen Clinic acknowledges, “We’re an efficient operation but we can’t handle the volume.” New patients have been known to wait three days in some cases in long lines in front of the clinic just to see a doctor. “The determinants of health have little to do with healthcare. Really it’s poverty that we need to fix,” said Vestal.
So what does this trend towards increased poverty mean for Springfield? Stout’s concern is that this economic disparity has created significant social divisions (particularly between north and south Springfield) that affect involvement and engagement in government decision-making and community development efforts.
Stout notes that Springfield suffers from “domestic in-migration” from the surrounding region, and this further complicates the poverty statistics. Individuals and families from the outlying rural areas come here to access social services and this increases poverty levels even more. At the same time, Springfield is losing its well-educated young people to larger, metropolitan communities who often pay more for similar jobs. With the loss young people to other communities, Springfield loses talent and potential for greater economic contributions.
As we work to address the tremendous societal challenges of increased poverty, Stout says community leaders need to be reminded that we live in a region where people generally don’t want the government to help them. They want to be heard and feel like they have some sense of control over their lives. This will make gaining public trust a difficult, yet important aspect to finding solutions, but those solutions should include a commitment towards a “deliberative democracy” where an inclusive approach leads to more citizen involvement in the process.