Why is this Important?
Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. John F. Kennedy
In this priority, there are three important components of change - place-based change, system change and individual change. Place-based change addresses the ways in which poverty is distributed throughout Des Moines. It also addresses some of the proposed solutions from the perspective of the people who reside in the neighborhoods. This component highlights the need for the development of an equitable approach to address poverty based upon need as determined by zip code and promoting replication of innovative programs such as VIVA East Bank, a model of neighborhood and small business development.
System change refers to changes in organizational culture, policies and procedures within individual organizations or across organizations that enhance or streamline access and reduce or eliminate barriers to needed services by a target population. (Systems Change Framework, Desert Vista Consulting). This component focuses on the application of the Centralized Intake model now used to address homelessness to job training and placement as a way to connect current job seekers to the available jobs in the community. A second part of system change addresses a family’s ability to move out of poverty when an increase in income results in a loss of benefits (cliff effect.) Current State Child Care Assistance Legislation creates a huge disincentive for parents to advance in jobs to earn a financially self-sufficient wage, called the cliff. The cliff effect in Iowa’s CCA program is severe. A parent deciding whether to find a job that pays more per hour or allows more hours per week could find herself facing a dilemma.
Individual change includes encouraging individuals to know and appreciate neighbors and other community members from diverse backgrounds,treating others with respect and taking individual action to better their community including voting in local, state and national elections.
Integrated into all 3 components are issues related to the poverty of newcomers to our country. Whether Iowa was their community of initial resettlement or they came to Iowa as secondary migrants from other states, refugees today face greater challenges than ever before. The current state of the economy poses one of the most significant external forces on the success of refugees in Iowa. Refugees face many of the same economic challenges all people do in the United States: the need for safe, well-paying jobs, and the cost of healthcare, transportation, childcare and housing rising faster than wages do. Therefore, we have included action steps for supporting refugees in our community.
Through the collaborative work of the OpportUNITY leadership team and community members we have begun to identify potential components that would be essential to transitioning Des Moines citizens from poverty to self-sufficiency. According to the Iowa Data Center, the median household income from a resident of Iowa is $50,957 and 12.7 % of Iowa’s residents live in poverty. System change is a way to implement long-term, sustainable personal and systemic transformations. In this priority, there are two important components- place based change addresses the ways in which poverty is distributed throughout Des Moines. It also addresses some of the proposed solutions from the perspective of the people who reside in the neighborhoods.
The second component of this priority is system change from the perspective of how policy is needed to remove significant, often crippling barriers- homelessness and the cliff effect. A positive step has been the centralized intake for homelessness, a strategy that could be replicated in other areas to remove barriers such as tracking of individual successes in education, employment, employment retention and employment advancement. Most often the single greatest barrier to self-sufficiency for low-income individuals is the “cliff effect.” Eligibility for work support programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) are based on income. Generally, eligibility for these programs is below 200% of the FPG, with benefits phasing out as earnings increase. The unintended consequence of this design either leads to a disincentive towards economic mobility, or leads to a situation in which the parent or guardian is working harder, but is financially worse off.[i]
Why this work is important
It is important that the approach to address the impacts of poverty is designed by ZIP code so that services meet people where they are physically located. For example, one of the strengths of the Viva East Bank! Model is that the approach centers the needs of the people that live in those communities and a city employee staffs the organization. Additionally, there are areas in Des Moines that have high concentrations of community members in poverty and thus tailoring approaches to engage diverse audiences in regard to income, race, ethnicity, education, and language are essential to creating community change.
Creating change within systems is also important as a person-first approach benefits both the community members and the organizations that provide services. It is important that unintended, institutional red tape is removed when it creates barriers to supports for community members. Building a community model can also impact the local economy through the creation of more jobs and numbers of qualified workers, increase the quality of live, and decrease reliance on social services.
- The needs of the community and neighborhoods need to be prioritized.
- People suffer because of fragmented programs and services.
- Middle-skill jobs already make up the majority of the jobs in Iowa’s labor market. Yet, only 33% of working Iowans likely have the skills and credentials for those types of jobs.
- Work supports, like Child Care Assistance help low-wage working families survive and keep their children out of poverty, as well as providing a stepping stone to a better education and a better job.
- Current State Child Care Assistance Legislation creates a huge disincentive for parents to advance in jobs to earn a financially self-sufficient wage, called the cliff.
- With the loss of Child Care Assistance as a parent receives a wage increase, the cliff effect impacts livable wage ceiling which is a deterrent to economic advancement.
- When we gain a better understanding of who is living in poverty, we can see different ways to support people in getting out of poverty, reduce duplication of efforts and address gaps in services.
Who is Most Impacted by Income Disparities in Des Moines?
According to American Community Survey data from 2008-2012, there are significant income gaps between African Americans, Latina/o, and Whites. In a study that identified 376 metropolitan areas across the United States, Des Moines was ranked 20th in the income disparity between African American Families (avg. $29,929/year) and White families ($79,143). Put another way, African American families on average earn 62.2% less than White families. Additionally, Latina/o families in Des Moines ranked 84th in the same study and earned on average $39,635 or 49.9% less than White families.
In addition to racial disparities of income in Des Moines, poverty as measured by median household income are highly concentration in 50314, 50309, and 50032 ZIP codes respectively. (See Appendix XX)
Refugees in Central Iowa:
In the past five years, nearly 3,000 refugees have resettled directly into Iowa. Today, the primary populations of refugees arriving in Iowa are from Burma, Bhutan, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The two agencies providing initial resettlement services, Catholic Charities and the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) anticipate several hundred refugees will arrive in Iowa in FY 2015-2016.
In addition to initial resettlement, increased secondary migration of refugees into Iowa is impacting communities across the state. For example, the number of Bhutanese families living in Iowa doubled through secondary migration. Similarly, in the past five years about 1,300 refugees from Burma were resettled directly into Iowa; secondary migration increased that number by 500%.
Whether Iowa was their community of initial resettlement or they came to Iowa or as secondary migrants from other states, refugees today face greater challenges than ever before. The current state of the economy poses one of the most significant external forces on the success of refugees in Iowa. Refugees face many of the same economic challenges all people do in the United States: Decent, well-paying jobs are difficult to find while the cost of healthcare, transportation, childcare and housing rises faster than wages do.
Though the Federal government continues to support refugee resettlement programs, tightening economic conditions have resulted in reduced funding for refugee services. Organizations serving refugees have had to secure state, local and private support to fill the gaps left by decreased federal resources. In order to fill the unmet needs Iowa has responded to the economic conditions by concentrating its refugee resettlement program around the Des Moines area.
Refugees arriving in the 1970s had up to three years to achieve economic self-sufficiency. Refugees arriving in the United States today are expected to make the same progress in three to six months. If refugees are not able to accomplish this, they enter the mainstream human services systems. Though committed to providing quality services to the newest Iowans, many of these organizations find negotiating the cultural- and language barriers daunting.
Historically, the United States opted to resettle blocks of refugees from a single region in the world. This allowed for service systems to secure interpreters, hire cultural liaisons and make appropriate adjustments for the few population groups arriving in the state. Since the mid-1990s, though, the cultural- and linguistic backgrounds of refugee arrivals represent a wider range and shift from year-to year. According to The Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services (BRS), refugees who have arrived in the past five years represent speakers of over thirty different languages. In addition to diversity in language and culture, refugee arrivals today have a broader scope of educational- and work experiences. Many new arrivals come to Iowa with limited exposure to any formal schooling or work outside of subsistence farming. Others fall on the opposite end of the spectrum, with significant educational and advanced professional experience.
Though individuals on either pole are considered “refugees,” the services for someone learning to read and write for the first time in his life are much different than those needed by a doctor seeking recognition of her medical credentials. This variety makes it difficult to create a one-size-fits-all refugee service program. Though people come to Iowa as refugees from a variety of circumstances, experts point out that refugees arriving in the country today are coming with greater needs than ever before. They have experienced higher incidence of violence, more serious health conditions and protracted displacement. Especially at risk are youth and elderly refugees, both of whom are resettled in greater numbers than ever before.
Des Moines Area’s Refugee Community Planning Group:
Given the multitude of challenges refugees and the agencies serving them face in Iowa today, a group of stakeholders resolved to create a unified plan to more efficiently use limited resources to better serve refugees. From July to October of 2013, 80 agencies and individuals from a variety of refugee communities, government agencies and service organizations participated in planning sessions.
Though the participants in this group recognized that refugees live across Iowa, the group concentrated on developing a plan for services for refugees in and around Polk County. This plan is a work in progress, which will be adapted by the group as future opportunities and challenges arise. The group also hopes that that plan can be used to educate those unfamiliar with refugees and provide a holistic picture of the needs and issues facing refugees and help set funding priorities to most effective address the needs of Iowa’s newest residents.