There is no single factor that keeps a person or family in poverty.
That’s according to a report released Tuesday by the nonprofit Greater Louisville Project, which has assessed Louisville’s competitiveness among peer cities for more than a decade.
Project director Ben Reno-Weber said the community needs to recognize that improving Louisville’s competitiveness will require including everyone in the city’s progress. To do that, leaders will have to look beyond solutions that address one person at a time.
Instead, he said community and civic leaders should address the systemic barriers people in poverty face.
“No matter how good an individual intervention is, if we don’t address the barriers to escaping poverty on a household level, they’re not going to be successful,” Reno-Weber said.
The report found income is not the only signal for poverty. Nearly seven in 10 households with children that live in poverty have at least one working person. But those people don’t earn enough to lift their families. Their median household income is $11,000.
According to the report, families stay in poverty, often across generations, because multiple factors such as food and housing insecurity, transportation access and poor school attendance, combine to restrict upward mobility.
Reno-Weber said he wants organizations and agencies across Louisville to understand the way these factors converge and harm people. For example, he wants nonprofit employees to know that if someone appears asking for help with food access, they are probably facing other problems as well.
“How do we leverage that, the fact that you have shown up on the radar on one part of our civic ecosystem, to marshal the resources and the support that you need to address the holistic issues that are stopping you from escaping poverty?” Reno-Weber said.
He wants to see those working at nonprofits make efforts to connect their clients to services that could help them combat other issues.
If local leaders came together to address poverty with this approach, it could help free kids from the expected generational poverty. That, in turn, could lead them to contribute more to Louisville’s economy — to the tune of $200 million a year, Reno-Weber said. The impact of that would be felt across Louisville, but he said the opportunity for change is highest in the poorest neighborhoods, where the needs are greatest.
Reno-Weber said community leaders know different barriers exist, but don’t always know what to do about them.
“What we’re trying to do is spark a conversation in which people can say, ‘OK, this is how I can get engaged in supporting the whole household, not just the direct issue that I serve,'” he said.