Welcome to Poverty Awareness Month. It’s a new year and we are starting with a theme that makes up the core of our agency’s purpose: The daunting, complex issue of poverty. The root causes often go back generations –mired in systemic inequality, ineffective policymaking and a myriad of other barriers. Poverty is a cycle, and it takes incredible time, intention and access to resources for a family to permanently overcome the entrapment. But we know it’s possible, because we have walked with families, one at a time, on a journey to freedom and stability.
Measuring poverty in America
There are an estimated 38 million people living in poverty in the United States. That includes more than 4 million in Texas and hundreds of thousands across the 28 counties we serve as an agency. There are more than 200,000 people living in poverty in Tarrant County alone.
In 2018, 12.9% of women lived in poverty and 10.6% of men. 1 in 6 children also lived in poverty.
When someone’s income equals less than half of their poverty threshold, they live in deep poverty. As of 2018, this applied to 17.3 million people in the U.S. An additional 93.6 million (29.9% of the population) live near the poverty line, meaning their incomes are less than double their respective poverty thresholds.
Learn more about poverty statistics, including interactive data by state and county, at povertyusa.org.
According to Poverty USA, 7.6% of employed individuals in Texas are living in poverty.
The federal government sets poverty thresholds, which is approximately $25,700 for a family of four in the United States. A living wage income for the same family is $60,985, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator. This gap implies that many families who are not considered poor by the government are still struggling to meet their needs and achieve long-term stability.
Federal welfare programs are often divided by need area, creating silos of support and making it more difficult for families to holistically overcome poverty. In addition, welfare programs immediately disqualify families if they experience a modest increase in income. This is known as the benefits cliff, leaving many families ineligible for federal welfare benefits while still unable to reach self-sufficiency and long-term stability, especially if hit by an unexpected shock.
Learn more about the history of federal welfare programs, how they work and the challenges faced by working families.
We must recognize the multi-faceted challenges faced by families experiencing poverty. We must understand their unique situation. That’s why our agency eliminates silos by addressing the interconnected causes of poverty through holistic, relationship-based case management. Our programs aim to support the whole person, centering services around each individual and family’s unique needs, goals and strengths. Knowing the disempowering and stigmatizing nature of poverty, we give power back. We provide the space and support for our clients to achieve their bigger, brighter future.
In addition, evidence-based solutions are critical to sustainably overcoming poverty as a community. We build solutions through a human-centered design process and ongoing research and evaluation. These processes provide vital insights, allowing us to shape and re-shape programs to be as effective as possible.
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty
In the midst of a global pandemic, talking about poverty is particularly prevalent. As an agency, we have witnessed thousands of families come to us for help due to the pandemic, including many families who have never sought our services before. In the first six months of the pandemic, we averaged 550 calls per week, an increase of 150% relative to pre-pandemic times. This crisis will likely have long-term impacts on the rate of poverty, both across our nation and in our local communities.
The U.S. poverty rate has increased from 15% in February 2020 to 16.7% in September 2020, as estimated by researchers at Columbia University. Though initially stabilized by stimulus checks and elevated unemployment benefits, the poverty rate rose again after the expiration of key CARES Act relief measures over the summer, reaching a higher level than before the COVID-19 crisis began. (Source: Parolin, et.al., 2020.)
How can you help?
It takes all of us to solve poverty – learning, sharing, debunking the myths. No single person, policy or organization has the complete answer, but every solution we create is one component of a multidimensional problem. Here are a few ways you can join our efforts:
– Join our Research Spotlight Newsletter! Stay up to date on insights from our Research and Evaluation team. Sign up here.
– Become a Friend of Catholic Charities Fort Worth! Through affordable monthly giving, you can provide vital support to our agency’s mission. In addition, you’ll join a bi-weekly newsletter that keeps you up to date on what’s happening at CCFW. If interested, please contact Kristy Brown, CCFW Head of Advancement, at email@example.com.
– Attend a KNOW Poverty Hour or Poverty Simulation!
KNOW Poverty Hours provide an overview of our agency’s anti-poverty efforts, including ways to get involved. Sign up here.
Our monthly, virtual Poverty Simulations will give you a glimpse into the difficult daily decisions faced by families experiencing poverty. You will work with other participants to try and “make it” a month living in poverty! Sign up here.
– Become a virtual volunteer. We have opportunities for you to make a difference in our mission, such as serving in our Community Care Call Center or becoming a mentor to a new mother or mother-to-be. For more information, please contact Victoria Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Help us lead the conversation during Poverty Awareness Month by sharing our work with your friends and family!