The following is a summary of a panel discussion about poverty in Fulton County that took place March 23, 2017. The forum took place at the Canton Church of the Brethren and was moderated by Pastor Kevin Kessler. Panelists included Missy Kolowski of the Health and Wellness Clinic of Fulton County, Rolf Siversten Superintendent CUSD #66, Paster Monroe Bailey of the First Baptist Church, Brooke Denniston Executive Director of the YWCA, Paula Grigsby Executive Director of the YMCA, Rhonda Morgan from the Salvation Army and Teri Williams director of Spoon River Pregnancy Center.
Pastor Kevin Kessler – Moderator
- ¨Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.¨ -Nelson Mandela
- The US Census Bureau indicates that over a 3 year period, 1/3rd of all US residents slip below the poverty line at least once for 2 months or more.
- We are all affected by poverty in some way and it is in the interest of all that we come together to work out solutions for eliminating poverty for the wellbeing of everyone
Defining the Problem
Question 1 – What are the major factors contributing to poverty in Fulton County?
Missy Kolowski (Health & Wellness Clinic of Fulton County) –
- Lack of jobs and bad health: I see so many people who´d like to work but can’t because of illness. If you´re not working you don’t have the insurance you need to take care of the illness you have.
Rolf Siversten (Superintendent CUSD #66) –
- Stagnant Wages: 104 million Americans, which is about 1/3rd of the population, have jobs below twice the poverty level. Statistically, poverty is defined as a family of 4 earning $24,300 or less. Poverty isn’t always defined statistically. You can live in poverty and still be a good parent.
- Globalization: Some manufacturing jobs have left this country and likely won’t come back. Manufacturing jobs have declined from 26.3% of the employment market in 1960 to 8% in 2016. Just since 2000, 5 million manufacturing jobs have left this country.
- Education: Our lack of education is also getting worse. Since the recovery, we’ve had 11 million jobs created. However, only 80,000 of those jobs have gone to people with a high school diploma or less. This indicates as a country we should be emphasizing a college education or college readiness programs.
Monroe Bailey (First Baptist Church) –
- Mental Illness: Mental illness is a lot of the problem. Our state is very slow in helping them….proper care is not being given.
- Education: We have a literacy program at First Baptist Church that is trying to help people earn GEDs.
- Hopelessness: I see a lot of hopelessness. We talk about poverty in the sense of income, but I also see it as a mental condition. Without leadership and direction, we find ourselves enabling people by our food pantries and other things we provide. More people are getting on government assistance than are willing to go out and find that job. The condition we have isn’t just jobs aren’t available, but many people have lost that drive to have a mind to work.
Brooke Denniston (YWCA) –
- Poverty is cyclical: You can’t see the forest through the trees.
- Lack of jobs, fair wages, and higher education: At the YWCA, we support women’s economic empowerment. In Canton, 15.2% of the population hold a Bachelor’s degree. 5% hold graduate or professional degrees. And that has an impact for earning a living wage. 1 in 4 women are the sole breadwinners for their families. An overwhelming majority of mother´s with children under 18 years of age are working. It is a statistical fact that women are earning less than men performing the same jobs. If they are the sole breadwinner, than this will contribute to the cycle of poverty for their children.
Paula Grigsby (YMCA) –
- Wages and lack of jobs: We see struggling families that can’t find work. We see struggling families that do work but it’s such a low paying job they are in a bind. We have a lack of jobs in our area.
- Nutritional Impacts on Education: The families facing this feel such a struggle because they can’t stretch their dollars far enough so they can’t buy better food. This impacts schools if they’re not getting a good nutrition so it´s like a dog chasing its tale. Kids begin to not like school and are not inclined to go on and get a higher education.
Rhonda Morgan (Salvation Army) –
- Generational Poverty: A lot of families that are 3rd or 4th generation are living on assistance so they do not have the soft skills to retain a job. They might apply for a job, they might get a job but they don’t have the soft skills to know when to call in, when they should be on their cell phone and when they shouldn´t, how to communicate with their employer. Those skills cannot be learned through school, they have to be modeled. There needs to be a mentor program to walk with them through those stumbling blocks and instead of getting frustrated with them, walk with them.
- Middle class rules. Many of us grew up middle class. Society is based on middle class. People in poverty don’t know the rules for middle class. Those in middle class don´t know the rules for poverty. We wouldn´t survive in their world. The differences in the class and the misunderstandings between the classes add to that challenge and conflict.
- Transportation: There are no driver’s license or public transportation in the area to get to jobs.
- Child Care: For 2nd and 3rd shift positions is very limited and sometimes not affordable for individuals on limited resources.
Teri Williams (Spoon River Pregnancy Center)
- Connecting and communication between social classes: I took a quiz in the book What Every Church Member Should Know About Poverty, and I learned that I wouldn’t even come close to surviving in poverty. I read the hidden rules of the poverty class, I read the hidden rules of the middle class and I thought no wonder we can’t communicate. We have no idea how to connect with their world and they have no idea how to connect with ours.
- Transportation: Coming from Peoria to Canton, the things that I’ve notice are the lack of transportation is a huge issue because it reduces access to anything. It reduces access to even trying to get out of the situation I’m in.
- Lack of Vision & resources beyond finances: I find this overwhelming. If I don’t have any vision past where I am now, or any goals. The complication and stresses from daily life. Why would I want to add to it by adding anything else that might help me in the long run? Not only does getting out of poverty require financial resources, it requires emotional and spiritual resources as well.