Philadelphia Must Work Harder and Smarter to Combat Poverty


The Census Bureau has just released their annual poverty statistics for Philadelphia today, and it is clear that–despite progress–we still have much work to do.

The city’s overall poverty rate remains persistently high at 25.7%–essentially unchanged for the third year in a row, and the highest rate of any big city in the country. The brightest piece of news: childhood poverty has decreased from 37.3% to 31.9%

We at the Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity have the privilege and responsibility of helping Mayor Kenney coordinate and execute a plan to combat poverty in our city, so for all of us this high poverty rate is not acceptable. We know that in order to create an equitable city, low-income residents must also realize the benefits of Philadelphia’s growth.

In 2013, the previous administration launched the Shared Prosperity agenda, which we’ve continued to execute to help improve the quality of life and economic prospects of our fellow citizens living in poverty. In some key areas, our efforts are making a difference. In 2017, our BenePhilly centers, hotline and mobile units, for instance, have helped more than 10,000 of our fellow citizens access more than $10 million in previously-unclaimed public assistance benefits. Since 2014, we helped 1,200 people through our Financial Empowerment Centers increase their credit score and financial viability.

Following the release of the census number, Mayor Kenney has said, “ CEO has played and will continue to play a significant role in the City’s anti-poverty agenda in this administration. CEO helps connect those currently struggling with poverty to resources and services. Just a few examples include helping residents gain access to public benefits through BenePhilly; providing financial counseling through Financial Empowerment Centers; and managing the Promise Zone designation to increase educational and economic opportunities in West Philadelphia.”

As Shared Prosperity approaches its fifth anniversary, we’re quickly assessing what we’ve learned to ensure an even bigger impact as we look to the future. We’ve begun a strategic planning process by reviewing data and speaking directly with a broad range of stakeholders. Already out of these steps, we’re learning more about our organization, our partners, and the unique role the next generation of Shared Prosperity agenda can and should play.

We’ve almost completed this quiet phase, and now we’re starting the process of hearing more directly from Philadelphians who live in poverty and have experience interacting with a range of city supportive services.

Through both a series of community listening sessions we’re planning with a select group of our partners, and a larger community round table tentatively scheduled for November, we are seeking the wisdom and perspective we can only get from those most impacted by our collective work.  We’re already focusing in on new approaches and ideas that we can’t wait to share with everyone. We encourage you to follow us on Twitter and check our website for updates, and look for the public release of our new plan later this year.

Today’s new Census number underscore what’s at stake here. We understand this, which is why we are taking this planning process so seriously. We know how important it is to get this right not just for those now living in poverty, but for ensuring the long-term economic well-being of all Philadelphians.


Mitch Little

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