As we progress through our strategic planning process, Harvest is assessing the impact of our current plan. And with our equity lens, we are looking deeper into who is benefiting from the progress in our community and who isn’t. There were three pieces of data that stood out to me and forced a deeper reflection.
First, MHC achieved great success (pre-COVID) in reducing unemployment, increasing the number of jobs, increasing the average wage, and increasing the number of residents with associate and bachelor’s degrees. These successes are to be celebrated as they are hard to do and even harder to achieve all at the same time.
When embarking on a strategic plan, there is an opportunity to reflect on what is working and what is not. Poverty data is one way of measuring progress and understanding if all are benefiting from economic improvements. Unfortunately, over the past five years, the poverty rates in the city and the county remained flat. Approximately 18% of the county and 24% of the city residents live below the poverty line (U.S. Census Bureau, 2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimate) and that number has fluctuated, but essentially remained flat. How could that be with all of the named achievements?
Second, we reviewed the economic mobility of our children, essentially, what are the chances of moving up the economic ladder and doing better than your parents. The youth living in households with lower incomes are very unlikely to climb out of poverty and the youth in Martinsville rate at the bottom of the country (New York Times, Opportunity Insights). Why is this and what can be done about it?
Lastly, we saw the average wage increase by over $1/hour. We looked at the gender wage gap in our community. Women make less than men in the same job in every field. In fact, a single mother with a master’s degree on average does not make a life sustaining income. The only field where wages were close was nursing, but there was still a gap. Again, why is this and what can be done about it?
I don’t have the answers, but our process is certainly bringing up big concerns and big questions that we as a community need to address. I know there is much more for us to learn and I plan on sharing our progress over the next few months.