Last week brought encouraging news that as our economy and population grow, Philadelphia’s poverty rate has retreated to its lowest level since the 2008 recession, 24.5%.
While the decline is progress, there is no denying it is still too high and we cannot relax our efforts. In fact, we must be bolder and pick up the pace. As Washington remains mired in partisan gridlock, the burden falls heavily on all of us locally.
As mayor of our great city, I believe any strong and sustained reduction in Philadelphia’s poverty rate will only be achieved when we listen to the voices of those in poverty and when all sectors of our economy – government, philanthropy, corporate, civic, education, nonprofit, labor – work together to help at least 100,000 Philadelphians rise out of poverty over the next decade.
It gives me confidence that leaders across our city are committed to addressing our greatest challenge. Presidents and chief executive officers such as Jerry Sweeney, Brandywine Realty Trust; Sidney Hargro, Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia; Sharmain Matlock-Turner, Urban Affairs Coalition; Bill Golderer, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey; Donald Guy Generals, Community College of Philadelphia; and Jerry T. Jordan, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, representative of sectors across our economy, join me in declaring our shared commitment to reducing poverty and bring all that we have to that fight.
Together we applaud that Philadelphia has created many strong poverty reduction policies and social service programs, and we honor the hundreds of organizations working hard every day to provide an essential social safety net for our residents, many of whom experience trauma. But that net, while important, is not enough.
In a good economy, where the benefits of growth are not shared equally, we need more scalable solutions that raise incomes and grow good-paying jobs. It is clear this, above all else, will have a lasting impact to change the trajectory of those living in poverty.
To raise incomes so people can lift themselves out of poverty, we commit to these goals:
Growing more family-sustaining jobs and building more career pathways, adult education, and training opportunities to move residents from low-wage work to middle-skill jobs, including apprenticeship programs to diversify the labor force.
Pushing for an increase in the Pennsylvania minimum wage, while at the same time implementing meaningful tax reform in Philadelphia to improve economic competitiveness.
Creating more wealth in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color by incentivizing and removing barriers to entrepreneurship and other business growth opportunities.
Ensuring more dollars come to residents through federal tax credits and benefits enrollment, which is proven to bring more individuals into the labor force.
We’re also committed to fighting systemic drivers of poverty through related policies, to name just a few:
Increasing access to affordable, quality pre-K to improve long-term outcomes for children.
Investing in public education, public colleges, and supports for students to increase on-time graduation rates to ensure young people and adult learners are prepared for the future of work.
Stabilizing households by reducing the impact of evictions, increasing affordable housing for renters and more opportunities for low-income residents to be homeowners and create wealth.
Adopting a racial equity lens across key economic policy strategies and the criminal justice system to redress disparate outcomes on the basis of race, gender, and disability.
It is painfully clear a family can barely sustain itself and achieve their dreams on a household income even if they’re just above the federal poverty line. Simply put, to reduce the poverty rate, incomes of people in poverty must rise. This is especially urgent as two-thirds of our adult residents in poverty aren’t working or are unable to work, often due to barriers such as low literacy, disabilities, caregiving responsibilities, or a lack of educational credentials.
So, you have our word. We are committed to working together to grow our job base and to lift residents out of poverty — for good. To advance our commitment, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey will bring together civic leaders and experts focused on reducing poverty and exploring a public-private fund that tests, evaluates, and scales solutions that work with and for residents.
When families rise out of poverty, we all rise. We view this as our opportunity to strengthen our great city, and it’s our commitment to you, fellow Philadelphians. Please join us. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Kenney is mayor of the City of Philadelphia.
The Inquirer is one of 21 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.