Transforming Communities requires Innovative Policy
February 3rd, 2016
Persistent poverty is a technical term that defines counties or parishes where the poverty rate has exceeded 20 percent for at least three decades. With nearly one-third of persistent poverty counties located in the Mid South, the story of persistent poverty is not one told through the data alone. Nor, is it a story that should be told from a place of despair or deficit. The story of these communities highlights the need to focus on identifying innovative and translational opportunities to build on social capital to create opportunity.
Systemic and long-lasting poverty has devastating implications for individuals, families, and communities. While data provides an analytical snapshot of these challenges, data is not the only way to confirm the harsh realities of poverty. Data confirmation is not needed when we see with our own eyes schools with inadequate resources to educate children, communities without banks, people dying prematurely because they can’t afford to go to the doctor. Every day we see the negative economic effects of the growing racial wealth divide and the struggles of males of color to find and keep good jobs.
Creating opportunity for Mid South residents living in persistent poverty counties requires policy innovation. Recently, I had an opportunity to speak with a group of local elected officials about the need for local policy innovation. Local leaders, not only elected officials, have a role to play in supporting community transformation through policy innovation and by engaging communities in a participatory process that elevates the needs and wants of residents. Innovative policy interventions can serve as a tool to initiate and sustain positive community transformation. Policymaking should be leveraged to maximize positive community outcomes and transform communities into places where all residents prosper.
Erasing the lasting impact of persistent poverty on communities will not happen overnight. Employing a strategy to change community outcomes through policy, will require strategic, long-term and innovative policy interventions. More importantly, the process of community transformation must be built with the shared leadership of community members, leaders, and elected officials.