Wednesday, March 29, 2006

PPA: Too much of a good thing

Sorry for the delay in the PPA post, but you know, life was calling, and we were on the phone for a little bit. Here goes.

First, as has been mentioned in the comments and in the ABH, the response from the community was overwhelming. with something around 750 people showing up. Just about anybody who is a candidate for anything showed up, but there were also plenty of ordinary folks.

The evening began with an intro from Judge Jones and Red Petrovs, and then there was an extensive presentation of the statistical profile of poverty in Athens-Clarke County by Matt Bishop from UGA, who did an in-depth analysis for this purpose. There was too much to summarize here, but the long and the short of it is that Athens has a problem that goes beyond "the poor will always be among us". It turns out that Athens essentially has no middle class, or at least not very much of one compared to the state and national stats. There are a handful of richie-riches and a lot of poor people.

Just a sampling of the stats:

The poverty rate is 28.3% including students, and 23.5 not including them.

39.3% of ACC lives below 150% of the poverty rate.

16.8% of ACC lives below 50% of the poverty rate, which is higher than the statewide poverty rate of 13.o%.

25.2% of the under 18 population in ACC lives in poverty (that's 1 in 4 kids, and that's by definition not influenced by the student population)

Poverty is relatively color-blind in ACC; 27.8 of whites, 28.5 of blacks, and 30 percent of the hispanic population.

65% of those in poverty in ACC are working.

Once the initial presentation was done, we broke into the sub-committee groups. Because there were six groups (Education, Physical & Mental Health, Housing & Transportation, Dependent Care, Economy, and Workforce) and over 750 people, each group was obviously large (in the case of my group, Economy, greater than 100). This made for a logistically difficult situation, especially since not quite this many people were expected. The first session, which lasted for about an hour, consisted mainly of random individuals in the groups standing up to offer suggestions of what we should do to address our specific part of the puzzle. We filled up several easels with the brainstorming ideas, and anybody who didn't want to or didn't get to say it out loud got to write what they wanted to say on a blue card for consideration by the steering committee.

The next meeting for my group, and I think all of the groups (although each group is going to meet at different places this time, I think) is April 24. If the groups are still large at that meeting, the plan is to break up into smaller groups for discussion, which should be more effective.

Obviously, no silver bullets were offered Monday night. This problem wasn't created in one night, and won't be solved that quickly (there is a problem that goes beyond normal poorness, though: the poverty rate in ACC 10 years ago was about 19%). Who knows if it will be solved at all. All we can hope for is that the collective efforts will have a substantial, noticeable, positive impact that will make this community more like what we want it to be.

I will be involved in this process for the duration and will give more updates in the future.

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