How Building Civic Engagement Can Combat Poverty
A recent study, The Equality of Opportunity Project, showed significant variation in the economic outcomes of children from low-income families across different areas in the United States. In the District, a child raised in the lowest income bracket has a 9.5 percent chance of rising to the top fifth income bracket. To compare, the city with the greatest mobility is Salt Lake City at 11.5 percent. Youth in Atlanta, however, have a four percent chance of rising from the bottom to the top. The disparity between these cities seems to counter the American Dream; for decades, Americans clung to the belief that every individual can overcome adversity through strength and perseverance.
Yet despite our best efforts, this dream seems to be slipping from the grasps of many.
Researchers identified four broad factors that may affect the chance of income mobility in U.S. cities: 1) size and dispersion of the middle class; 2) two-parent households, 3) stronger school districts and 4) more civic engagement. In terms of civic engagement, the researchers highlighted the prevalence and strength of religious and community groups.
Here at CFLS, we focus on civic engagement as an escape from poverty. We provide services to homeless and low-income families and individuals that build strong ties to the community. We strive to provide our clients with the tools they need to move out of poverty into economic self-sufficiency. Through our “Go Green” environmental summer camp, we strive to inspire civic engagement in youth. Community beautification, for example, builds a sense of personal commitment and pride in the city.
We believe that programs like this helped D.C. rise to 25th in income mobility out of 100 U.S. cities. Through this five-week program, 70 students developed stronger reading, writing and oral skills as they learned about environmental preservation. From cleaning the Anacostia River to planting gardens, these programs instill personal responsibility and build life-long skills.
Whether these children plan to leave the city or not, we are confident they are developing the tools necessary to achieve their goals. If everyone continues to support our youth, we can restore faith in the American Dream and prove that zip code should not define who you are.