Nearly 1 in 3 Dallas children grow up in poverty — and more than 100,000 kids in the city are living below the poverty line. A North Texas nonprofit has a plan for a collaborative response and an ambitious goal: to cut childhood poverty in half within 20 years.
Alan Cohen, executive director of the Child Poverty Action Lab, talked about that goal and other issues with KERA's Justin Martin.
On the 2020 goal:
This is about supporting our government agencies and taking on a problem that everyone knows needs to be addressed, and everyone also knows that nobody can address on their own which is child poverty.
Poverty is such a complex issue. We have to realize that a lot of the root drivers are inextricably entwined. So issues like safety and health and basic needs and even the job status of parents, those things all interact with one another.
If we're going to lift tens of thousands of kids out of poverty, especially in a single generation, we're gonna have to attack the problem from multiple angles all at the same time.
On transportation issues:
Low-income families around Dallas face an enormous number of barriers. Transportation can be one of them. What the data shows is that a low-income family living in different parts of Dallas, less than 30 percent of families that are living in southern Dallas can get to a high-paying job within 30 or 60 minutes by public transportation, and so that does create a significant barrier.
On access to medical clinics and grocery stores:
Well that's exactly really what the analysis that we were doing with UTD students looked at was not just jobs but we looked at a whole variety of different services that can hopefully eliminate barriers for families.
We looked at grocery stores, we looked at women's clinics, we looked at basic health care, and what we see is that in different parts of Dallas we don't have equitable access to these services, which should surprise no one. But it's good to have confirming data and to be able to highlight exactly where we can get the greatest bang for our buck as we look to resolve these issues.
On how people can address transportation problems:
Well, I think we're all going to have to work together on this, that's first thing. What I want everyone to understand is that this is not just an issue for low-income families, this is an issue of self-interest for everyone that lives in Dallas.
When 1 in 3 kids are living in poverty, we are living on a broken boat in Dallas, and when you're on a broken boat you don't worry about whether the hole in the bottom of the boat is on the other guy's side of the ship, and so that's what we have to lean into in Dallas.
We all have to work together because if parents don't have jobs that means kids don't have food, and we need to make sure that our kids for tomorrow are getting the support they need today.
On what officials in Dallas and surrounding areas can do:
There's a whole variety of strategies that we know the Dallas Area Rapid Transit are already working on and that other agencies are collaboratively working on.
Some of the suggestions that were put out by the UTD students included adding kind of the last mile type services, making sure that there are much faster high-speed routes. And a lot of these are not new suggestions — these are things that people are working very hard on right now.
We have a terrific board at Dallas Area Rapid Transit, we've got terrific leadership there. I think the issue is that it's going to take more than any one agency — it's going to take all of us working together and not putting the onus on one group and hoping they're going to solve the problem for us. We're all going to have to lean into this together.
On cutting childhood poverty in half:
When we put this metric together, this idea let's reduce child poverty by 50 percent within 20 years, we didn't want this to be the classic, "Let's just shoot for the moon and if we don't hit it will land in the stars" kind of a goal.
We look at this as a math problem. And we have put together a mathematical model that shows if we address very specific outcomes — in basic needs, family structure, safe surroundings, education, and living wage jobs — that the outcomes, if we hit them within 20 years, that they will ladder up to a 50% decrease in child poverty.
This is audacious but it is absolutely achievable.
Alan Cohen is the executive director of the Child Poverty Action Lab