On October 26, The Center for Community Solutions hosted its annual Celebration of Human Services. As part of the celebration, Community Solutions organized breakout sessions covering select topics. One such session delivered a powerful panel discussion around poverty and opportunity. Chris Matthews, a parent and Community Change Agent, Mary Bogle, Principal Research Associate at the Urban Institute and Christy Nicholls, Social Program Administrator for Cuyahoga Job and Family Services grappled with the topic as panel members. The synthesis of their perspectives yielded inspiring takeaways centered on Matthew’s lived experiences.
Matthews is a single mother living in the 44120 ZIP code in a neighborhood called Buckeye-Shaker; a community where nearly 50 percent of families with children live below the poverty line and 15 percent of residents live in deep poverty. While pregnant with her now 7-year-old son, she contemplated: What does it look like to raise a black son in Cleveland? Wary of the school to prison pipeline, she resolved to procure quality resources to pave a better way for her child and community. A self-professed “211-Queen,” Chris was ushered out of her ZIP code to connect with organizations like Senders Pediatrics and Menlo Park Academy. She tirelessly pursued a retired leading educator and accessed books by filling her son’s “Daily Dose of Reading” Rx prescribed by a health care provider at Senders. Matthews’ efforts raised the question: Is there an achievement gap or a resource gap? She asserted, “Raising a kid in the inner city is a call to action.”
Raising a kid in the inner city is a call to action.
Matthews’ lived experience aligns with Bogle’s extensive research. Bogle views mobility from poverty beyond economics. A sense of autonomy and social capital are also significant factors. Bogle stressed, “It’s not just about money, it’s about a growth mindset; agency over your environment.” Matthews is the embodiment of The Urban Institute’s research on poverty. Although she had limited economic resources, her sense of agency drove her to seek out and create opportunities for her son. However, Bogle made clear that not everyone has the same agency. Trauma and stress wear people down. Bogle then challenged the audience to consider the many forces hindering lower income people to move out of poverty. These forces include collective trauma, globalization, a broken criminal justice system, racial and gender discrimination and many other systemic inequities.
Trauma and stress wear people down.
The discussion turned to pathways toward prosperity. Nicholls highlighted the hard work of her staff and community partners to raise awareness and access to benefits for people of lower income. These efforts cultivating social capital, a key element emphasized by Bogle. Increased awareness and access will draw more people of lower income to benefits including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Women Infant and Children, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and childcare vouchers. Benefits that put cash into the hands of people with low incomes were highlighted as most beneficial, namely the Earned Income Tax Credit (and the Family Tax Credit. Bogle pointed out that these benefits work because cash equates to choice which in turn promotes control and autonomy within individuals.
Increased awareness and access will draw more people of lower income to benefits including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Women Infant and Children, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and childcare vouchers.
Through Bogle’s research we see that mobility from poverty involves three key elements: income and assets, individual control and autonomy and social capital. Hence, is there an achievement gap or a resource gap if an entire community lacks social capital? Imagine if the quality resources Matthews obtained were found within her ZIP code. Bogle’s research suggests we would see a decline in families below the poverty line. A sense of autonomy and agency over environment enabled Chris Matthews to access social capital and assets outside of her ZIP code to ensure a pathway out of poverty. She is a walking example that in addition to income and assets, mobility from poverty requires autonomy and social capital.