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ESPRI Partners Need To Think Of New Solutions In NYS

This week’s Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative task force meeting paints a sobering picture of Jamestown, when you think about it.

Consider that there are an average of 12,788 households in Jamestown over the past five years, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. ESPRI task force members say 8,000 of those households are considered Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed (ALICE). That’s 62.6% of the households in Jamestown.

While you’re thinking about that, further consider that the ESPRI task force has leveraged $1.1 million from the state and some additional support from local foundations into programs that have helped 323 households. More than a million dollars has been spent so far to effect change on roughly 4% of the ALICE households in Jamestown. It’s downright depressing when you really think about the numbers we’re talking about.

That doesn’t mean the partner organization’s in Jamestown’s poverty reduction task force aren’t doing their best. We believe they are giving their best effort with the tools they have. While the numbers of people who have yet to be helped are immense, it’s important to remember that the ESPRI task force does have 323 distinct success stories of families who are in a better place financially than they were before ESPRI agencies stepped in to help. There are 323 families in Jamestown who aren’t feeling quite as much financial strain, parents who don’t worry as much about paying their bills or caring for their children. The Jamestown community is better off because of the efforts of the ESPRI task force.

But the number of people yet to be helped is staggering. Those numbers shouldn’t taint the success stories, yet the success stories shouldn’t prevent policy makers from looking for new or better solutions either. We need to reach far more than 4% of the ALICE households in Jamestown each year to make a serious impact on the economic malaise that has reached Chautauqua County, particularly if policy makers realize that 62.6% of Jamestown households are struggling to make ends meet during an economic boom. How many more households will struggle if an economic downturn hits?

If the Jamestown statistics are similar to other ESPRI communities in New York state, and we have no reason to believe they aren’t, then it becomes obvious there needs to be serious changes to education, economic development and welfare policy at the state level. The state needs more good-paying jobs in economically distressed areas filled by workers from asset-limited families. It needs educational facilities that provide workers who can work those jobs. It needs a welfare system that provides more than checks each month, but distinct ties to skill building.

Members of the ESPRI task force are working hard to deal with poverty. Their partners at the state level need to work just as hard to come up with new solutions.

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