County creates Ending Poverty Now Initiative

Pima County officials have created an initiative to help fight, and ultimately bring and end to the region’s poverty.

Launched by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, Ending Poverty Now is being called a broad-based economic initiative that urges community leaders, employers, and government officials to come together to combat the seemingly chronic financial debacle faced by many Tucson workers. 

In recent weeks, the U.S. Census Bureau named Tucson the fifth- poorest city in the nation, with 19 percent of the county’s population living below the federal definition of poverty. That’s a step in the wrong direction from 2012, when the city was ranked sixth-poorest nationally. 

Bureau numbers show 34.8 percent of Tucson incomes are under $25,000, and only 3.3 percent of incomes exceed $150,000 annually. Tucson’s struggle isn’t limited to the problem of low wages but also unemployment, with the jobless rate spiking from 3.6 percent in 2007 to 9.4 percent in 2010, according to Arizona state government data. As of January 2014, Tucson’s numbers improved to 7.3 percent unemployment, just below the state average of 7.5 percent. 

Still, having a job alone isn’t the answer to the problem, says Huckelberry.

“If it were, we wouldn’t have so many hardworking people still struggling in poverty,” he said. “We need a broad-based approach that helps employers understand the benefits of supporting workers in ways that help them rise out of poverty. An approach that coordinates resources from multiple sources to consolidate and streamline help.”

To accomplish the feat, the county has partnered with a number of organizations such as the One-Stop Career Center, Pima County Housing Center, Bridges, Employer Resource Networks, Financial Opportunity Centers, and Centers for Working Families.

The strategy of Ending Poverty Now is to capture employer engagement, in turn reducing employee turnover while increasing retention rates, which can be cost-saving for the employer and provide upward mobility for employees through on-the-job training, new employee transition, and employer resource networks. 

“Traditionally, workforce training programs tend to focus on placement in a job as the way out of poverty,” said One-Stop Program Manager Dorothee Harmon. “In reality, getting a job is just the beginning. Insufficient resources may continue to keep that new employee trapped in crisis until they can build resources through job retention, advancement, and increased ability to navigate through instructions to access services.”

The Ending Poverty Now initiative was conceptualized after the county hosted an educational seminar last year to teach citizens about the impact of poverty on communities, and more than 150 people attended.



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