2013-07-18 / Local & State

Philly Unveils Plan To Reduce High Poverty Rate

By Kathy Matheson

PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Officials unveiled a comprehensive plan Thursday to reduce Philadelphia’s extremely high 28 percent poverty rate, which they depicted as a persistent and intergenerational problem with impacts far beyond the neighborhoods where it is most concentrated.

The initiative, called Shared Prosperity Philadelphia, sets several goals for the city, such as increasing the number of jobs by 25,000 in the next two years; providing 25 percent more children with pre-literacy skills before kindergarten; and raising the number of residents with bank accounts.

Mayor Michael Nutter described poverty as a debilitating issue that keeps residents from reaching their full potential, discourages businesses from locating here, strains city services and burdens taxpayers.

“We can’t afford the cost or the opportunities that are lost,” Nutter said at a news conference. “And the impact on human lives is even greater.”

Modern-day Philadelphia has often been described as a tale of two cities: a bustling downtown surrounded by gentrifying neighborhoods and a thriving restaurant scene, with outlying low-income communities plagued by violence and crumbling infrastructure.

According to the Shared Prosperity report, more than 430,000 of the city’s 1.5 million residents are impoverished, which is defined as having annual income below $23,550 for a family of four. Median income is $34,207, ranking Philadelphia as the 24th-lowest out of the 25 biggest cities in the U.S.; only Detroit is lower.

The plan puts forth a fivepronged approach to raise the standard of living: spur job creation, expand access to public benefits, increase affordable housing, improve early education and offer financial counseling. City agencies, nonprofit groups and private sector companies have pledged to help carry out the strategies.

On the access front, officials said they’ve already started streamlining application processes for myriad government benefits to ensure all eligible residents are enrolled. For instance, the report found that while about 61 percent of children qualify for child care subsidies, only one-third use them.

But for Sherita Mouzon, 37, of the city’s Juniata Park section, the real hurdle is the income limits set by various programs. Although she works part-time for the Salvation Army and her husband works full-time at a pharmaceutical company warehouse, “we still have some trouble getting food on the table.”

“We don’t qualify for anything,” Mouzon said.

Mouzon’s situation is not unique, according to Mariana Chilton, an associate professor at Drexel University. Chilton, who studies hunger in Philadelphia, was among more than 200 stakeholders consulted during the development of the Shared Prosperity plan, which she saw for the first time Thursday.

Overall, she said the initiative is ambitious and inspiring. But Chilton said she’ll reserve judgment until she can see hard data on the plan’s effectiveness – as well as reaction from the people ostensibly being served.

“They need to be able to give feedback on how well the programs are working,” Chilton said.

Shared Prosperity Philadelphia is being overseen by the mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity, which was created in January to address poverty.

Executive Director Eva Gladstein called the initiative “both aspirational and pragmatic – something we can get done, and get done well.”

She noted New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a similar citywide effort in 2006 called the Center for Economic Opportunity.

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