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Boosting education can cut poverty rate, Prosper Springfield director tells council 

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In an update from Prosper Springfield Director Francine Pratt at its luncheon meeting yesterday, Springfield City Council heard that the city is making steady progress in its efforts to reduce poverty, and that efforts to boost post-secondary educational attainment are the key to further gains. 

The city’s median income is closely linked to its poverty rate, Pratt noted, pointing out that diplomas, certificates and training can move the needle on those middle incomes. She said 59.9% of the total population of Springfield is composed of members of the civilian labor force, and the unemployment rate is well below the 5% level that is considered full employment. She said in December 2021, unemployment was 1.9%. 

Pratt shared a comparison between Springfield and 15 other cities selected as benchmark cities for their size and other factors when the Prosper Springfield initiative began. 

Among them, Springfield has a poverty rate of 21.1% with a median household income of $39,991, according to 2021 figures from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. That was the fifth highest poverty rate on the list of cities. 

The cities included in the comparison, listed with their poverty rate percentage and median income for a family of four, are the following: 

  • Amarillo, Texas, 14.1%, $55,174. 
  • Huntsville, Alabama, 14.6%, $60,959. 
  • Salt Lake City, Utah, 14.7%, $65,880. 
  • Abilene, Texas, 15.4%, $54,495. 
  • Fort Wayne, Indiana, 15.5%, $53,978. 
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee, 17.6%, $50,437. 
  • Wichita Falls, Texas, 18.5%, $50,856. 
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan, 18.6%, $55,385. 
  • Columbus, Georgia, 19.5%, $50,542. 
  • Savannah, Georgia, 19.8%, $49,832. 
  • Evansville, Indiana, 19.9%, $45,649. 
  • Springfield, Missouri, 21.1%, $39,991. 
  • Knoxville, Tennessee, 21.3%, $44,308. 
  • Columbia, South Carolina, 24.3%, $48,791. 
  • Waco, Texas, 24.8%, $42,687. 
  • Kalamazoo, Michigan, 27.8%, $44,296.

More locally, Springfield is at the bottom of a list of Greene County cities when comparing poverty rate and median income, Pratt reported: 

  • Willard, 7.8%, $74,438. 
  • Battlefield, 4.1%, $74,159. 
  • Rogersville, 15.9%, $49,764. 
  • Strafford, 16.4%, $48,844. 
  • Republic, 13.4%, $58,972. 
  • Springfield, 21.1%, $39,991.

Prosper Springfield, an initiative operating under the aegis of Community Partnership of the Ozarks Inc., has two goals for the Springfield community with a deadline of 2025. One is to reduce the poverty level from 25.7% in 2018 to 20.7%, and the other is to increase post-secondary educational attainment to 60%, Pratt reported. 

Pratt said the only way to reduce poverty is to make progress with the educational goal. 

“You have to help people gain additional education beyond high school so they can have the skill base … that will help assist them to reduce poverty, so the two really go hand in hand,” she said. 

Pratt said the poverty rate’s drop to 21.1% in 2022 was the result of work by members of the community to address the problem. 

“This only happens when you have a community that’s willing to collaborate and work together and make things happen,” she said, pointing to a steady decline in poverty each year since the Prosper Springfield initiative began. 

She said underemployment is the main issue with poverty, and she encouraged every private, public and social group to focus on that issue to help meet poverty reduction goals. 

“By addressing underemployment, we could develop that stronger ecosystem to meet them where they are, provide that assistance and help them with pathways of choice,” she said. 

She said one way to make an impact is to help people complete credentials, whether that be finishing high school, finishing a degree, providing short-term training and certification, or increasing apprenticeships. 

“Being more inclusive and creating greater access for people is the key,” she said. 

Springfield’s current population, according to the U.S. Census, is about 169,000. The population of European Americans is the majority at 148,716, she noted. Other populations in order of size are two or more races, 8,488; Hispanic/Latinx, 7,640; Black/African American, 6,791; Asian American, 3,395; and Native American, 679. 

Additionally, across all groups, 12% of people in the community identify as having a disability. 

Pratt said the focus of helping people who are already employed or want to be employed offers a chance to increase median pay and lower the poverty rate in the community. 

“We have thousands and thousands of hidden workers here in Springfield,” she said. 

Darline Mabins, who leads CPO’s Equity and Prosperity Commission as its community diversity and equity director, said the commission released a community action plan in August 2022. One of its goals is to decrease the poverty level by 10% for each racial/ethnic group, for people with disabilities and for those with health disparities. 

Mabins told council they are the leaders in the community who can make it happen, but she added that the affected groups need to be at the table. 

“If you do not have those with lived experiences at the table when you make decisions, you are literally telling them that you do not see them and they do not matter,” she said. 


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