Approximately 34,000 Larimer County residents live in poverty. CSU and Fort Collins community members and local organizations recently developed a set of goals to reduce poverty in Larimer County in response to a 17.5 percent poverty rate increase, according to census data from 2005 through 2007.
Martin Shields, a regional economist and economics professor at CSU, said while the “surest path” out of poverty is a full-time job, educating the poverty-stricken and reducing the number of single-parent homes will help to reduce poverty rates, the single solution to poverty has yet to be determined.
“There is no real, single solution . no silver bullet,” Shields said, presenting the results from his independent poverty study to the about 175 people seated in the Foothills Unitarian Church sanctuary at the Pathways Past Poverty Community & Research Update Friday.
While family size is a determinant factor in the definition of poverty, the federal government set the 2008 poverty rate at $17,600 for a three-person family.
Speakers at the conference emphasized the need for the involvement of the government and the efforts of all organizations and citizens working harmoniously to find solutions to the growing crisis.
“Poverty is something that people don’t like to talk about; it’s not always prevalent on people’s minds,” said Maury Dobbie, president and CEO of the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corporation. “It’s going to take governments, citizens and non-profits to find a solution – let’s find a solution to the problem.”
After the release of “alarming” poverty census data provided by several American Community Surveys and other institutions, Shields, Matthew Aronson, a sociology Ph. D. studying sociology at CSU, and a team of researchers began an independent study of poverty in Larimer County. The goal was to use findings from the study to understand the regional distribution of poverty and the perspectives of people living in poverty to determine the root of the growing crisis.
Pathways Past Poverty, an organization convened by the United Way of Larimer County and other partners in October 2006, currently uses the statistics and results from the study to educate and involve citizens in the development of poverty solutions for the future.
In spring 2008, more than 200 Larimer County citizens attended open forums sponsored by PPP and developed 12 community goals to reduce the rate of poverty and improve the quality of life of those living in poverty.
While the goals determined by the community were prioritized – with the increased affordability and accessibility of childcare and the provision of better jobs and quality job training at the top – Nicolle Gregg, coordinator of Pathways Past Poverty, said that PPP and all participants will develop the goals where the passion exists.
“I work with poor people every day,” Shields said. “And they all go to CSU,” he added, noting that the college-age demographic only accounts for 30 percent of the total increase in poverty witnessed over the past three to four years.
He said the primary age groups living in poverty between 1999 and 2006 were adults between the ages of 25 and 65, and school aged children. In 2006, one in five children in Fort Collins under the age of 18 lived in poverty.
In 2002, after the economic success of the 90s, during which Shields said employment rates were high and poverty rates low, people witnessed about 3,300 job losses for the first time in Northern Colorado.
Currently, Shields said, there is an increase in the number of low-wage, low-education jobs — $20,000 to $25,000 — and high-wage, high-education jobs — $35,000 to $50,000. He said there has been no growth in the “sweet-spot” range, from $25,000 to $35,000, which he believes will push the greatest number of people out of poverty.
Aronson, who evaluated perceptions of 52 impoverished Larimer County residents over the course of several months, said that respondents addressed seven main themes they associated with poverty.
The respondents, representing a wide range of age, race and other social demographics, highlighted the effects of a limited education, housing affordability, challenging family structures and the absence of community awareness as the main contributors to the prevalence of poverty.
“There’s always jobs, I mean, you can go get a job flipping burgers or at Wal-Mart, but that doesn’t give you a good quality of life,” according to an anonymous study participant who Aronson noted in his presentation. “So it’s not that there aren’t enough jobs, it’s more that there aren’t enough good jobs.”
“(Poverty) is a toothache that won’t go away; you maybe just want to ignore,” Gregg said, encouraging attendants to learn the statistics and share them with others in order to promote positive change. “Educate your sphere of influence . be available, volunteer and be ready because we will call upon the community.”
Assistant News Editor Madeline Novey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org