Sharing Prosperity in Philadelphia
By Lily Jamaludin
The 2008 Great Recession hit Philadelphia much harder than many other places in the country, exacerbating already-increasing poverty and unemployment rates. Since then, the city's recovery has been much slower than elsewhere. In fact, poverty in Philadelphia is the highest among the nation's ten largest cities, and the city has a stunning 28% poverty rate, 13 points higher than the national average. While some parts of the city are thriving and bustling, others remain mired in poverty, violence, and failing infrastructure.
It is timely, then, that Mayor Michael Nutter's administration released a plan over the summer to combat poverty in Philadelphia. The report, entitled "Shared Prosperity Philadelphia," emerges from the Mayor's Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO). The initiative was led by CEO Executive Director Eva Gladstein, in consultation with antipoverty experts in the city. The New York Times featured "Shared Prosperity" in an article over Labor Day weekend.
The report recognized the stark realities that Philadelphia faces: two out of five children live below the poverty line; by 2030, nearly 39% of Philadelphia's population will not have the skills to compete in a global economy; and the unemployment rate in the city for 2012 was 133% of the national average.
"In Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania government eliminated benefits like General Assistance. The disabled, individuals recovering from addiction, victims of domestic violence, and other vulnerable people were left without any source of income," the report stated.
"Shared Prosperity" has set five strategic goal areas with specific metrics:
- Focus workforce development and job creation efforts on adults with the greatest barriers to employment
- Expand access to public benefits and essential services
- Ensure children enter school prepared to learn and expand opportunities for year-round learning
- Increase housing security and affordability
- Strengthen economic security and asset-building
A key component of the plan is to combat poverty by utilizing collective impact and engaging cross-sector stakeholders: city departments, nonprofit and business sector partners, community leaders, and the broader public.
While the goal of combating poverty may seem overwhelming and perhaps unachievable to some, Philadelphia's track record with addressing obesity may provide more optimism. The city's concerted efforts to reduce childhood obesity allowed it to become the only city that has documented a decrease of obesity among children of color who are at greatest risk of being severely overweight.
Other cities, too, have been effective in tackling poverty through similar broad-based initiatives. New York City's Center for Economic Opportunity, for example, was established seven years ago to combat urban poverty. Since then, the Center has collaborated with almost 30 city agencies to set up more than 50 programs and policy initiatives in asset development, workforce training and job creation, and education. In one example of its success, the City University of New York Accelerated Study in Associate Programs doubled its graduation rate among students in its program, nearly tripled its two-year graduation rate, and watched 75 percent of its graduates go on to four-year colleges. The Center for Economic Opportunity has also developed an alternative measure of poverty.
Poverty is a complex issue that requires a complex response. Philadelphia is courageously stepping up and embracing the challenge of bringing prosperity to its citizens who are eager for a level playing field as they strive towards economic security. Other cities -- Hartford, Connecticut and Richmond, Virginia -- have also developed strong poverty task forces. . CLASP was privileged to convene the Mayors of those cities for an audiocall to discuss their positive results. Here's a transcript of the call, along with an archived recording of it.
Hats off to Philadelphia as the city embarks on this great effort to share the prosperity. We will eagerly follow your progress.