Wilder Counselor Robin Hicks tells her personal story of overcoming poverty
According to data from Minnesota Compass, 45% of people living in Saint Paul are considered low income, living at 200% of federal poverty guidelines. But being poor is not just about lack of money. It is also about having limited social connections, being invisible, and not having the access, skills or opportunity to do better. The Wilder Foundation hosted a community conversation "Seeing Poverty" on September 18 and over 260 people from the community, other nonprofits and government entities attended. Robin Hicks, a counselor with Wilder Foundation's Kofi Services spoke movingly of the journey she made out of poverty in St. Paul: "There is no clear way out of being poor when you are poor. You don't have others around you guiding you towards opportunities or resources for options with education, social connections, or even around making good choices about how to live."
Wilder Research Scientist Allison Churilla shared data on people living in poverty across the state and in Saint Paul where 67,000 people are considered low income, 25,000 of them children. Alarmingly, children are the largest group of poor people in St. Paul -36% of children between the ages of 0 and 17. Being poor is a leading indicator for how well a child will do in school, if a child will graduate from high school and even longevity expectations. On behalf of Minnesota Compass, Allison reported a number of gaps across the education continuum between children who come from higher income homes vs. children who come from lower income homes that shows a 23 point gap in 3rd grade reading scores, and a 31 point gap in both 8th and 11th grade math scores among others. There are also higher rates of poverty among immigrants and people of color. Download the full slide deck from the presentation here (PDF).
Wilder Foundation President MayKao Hang addressed the inequities that come with poverty and the need for people to see poverty. She says, "There is a three-legged stool that makes us whole as human being: good mental and physical health, access to knowledge (education, training, skills), and social and resource connections. We can't just focus on increasing financial literacy, we have to increase resilience and wellness for people to feel good about themselves and to go from poverty to enough to plenty."
No one chooses to be poor, not children, not the elderly, not immigrants; it is the luck of the draw of where and when one is born. Yet poor or low income people are often stigmatized or assigned negative values. Advancing social and economic opportunity is a priority for the work of the Wilder Foundation. By seeing and discussing the reality of poverty, this conversation is part of an effort to address the structural inequality that exists and change the narrative about poor people.