Experts: Poverty not easily fixed

ED HILLE / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Sister Mary Scullion says the Shared Prosperity plan focuses on practical, achievable goals to fight poverty in Philadelphia.
ED HILLE / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Sister Mary Scullion says the Shared Prosperity plan focuses on practical, achievable goals to fight poverty in Philadelphia.
Posted: November 05, 2013

TO PLUG budget deficits, cities raise taxes or cut services, or both.

To fix potholes, they send out workers to patch the street. To prevent fires, they distribute smoke detectors and encourage safe building practices.

But what can local government do about a problem like poverty?

"Poverty is affected by so many international and national factors," said Eva Gladstein, executive director of the city's anti-poverty agency, the Mayor's Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity. "Not just the economy, but what our federal tax-and-spending policies are."

Almost 27 percent of Philadelphians live below the federal poverty line, which for an individual is $11,490 per year. The problem is so enormous that it demands action from city government.

The city's new anti-poverty plan,"Shared Prosperity Philadelphia," aims to focus on what the city can do, said Gladstein, who oversaw the plan.

The plan has five pillars: jobs and training, access to benefits, early learning, housing security and economic security. Each has specific goals, but the plan does not specify a target for reducing the poverty rate.

"It would be great to be able to be more in the middle to where some other large cities are: below 20 percent, in the 15 to 20 percent range," Gladstein said."We didn't feel like we had the information or the resources to pin a number to that."

Sister Mary Scullion, who runs Project H.O.M.E., said Gladstein was right to focus on the"low-hanging fruit" of reducing poverty.

"You have to identify some things that are actually within the mayor's control to achieve," she said.

Jonathan Stein, general counsel at Community Legal Services, said the plan"has a nice pragmatic core that's doable, not pie-in-the-sky. ... It's not really ideological," Stein said.

"It gets on pretty solid ground to say, 'Look, there are critical services, critical benefits that should be available to people but are not."

Still, Stein said, the plan could have included some more-difficult issues that the city does control, such as its tax structure.

"The city tax system, with all the taxes it has, does not really address the needs of lower-income residents," said Stein,"and the tax system can if it's progressive and has a social-justice policy aspect to it."


On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

Blog:ph.ly/PhillyClout

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