Francine Pratt outlines new goals for poverty reduction during an August 2022 news conference. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

When I look back on 2022, I reflect on many people trying to catch up with what was lost in 2020 and 2021. It gives me hope to see there was still progress with poverty reduction.

Some individuals and media outlets shared data about how bad the poverty level was in Springfield. However, when the data is disaggregated, a better understanding of what the data means occurs. Our community has made great strides in poverty reduction, with a strong understanding that more work still needs to be done.

Springfield and Greene County continued to reduce the overall poverty level and is 0.4 percent from reaching the 2025 poverty reduction goals of five percentage points.

Pct. of population in poverty20142022Change
City of Springfield25.7%21.1%-4.6%
Greene County19.0%13.2%-5.8%
Source: U.S. Census, American Community Survey

Through consistent and continuous collaborations our community made a difference:

  • November 2020, Community Partnership of the Ozarks (CPO) launched Phase II of Prosper Springfield and established the Equity and Prosperity Commission (EPC). The EPC reviewed work of the 2013 Impacting Poverty Commission (IPC) and analyzed several community assessments/studies with a group of community members who represented race/ethic populations and intersectional populations (people of culture). The focus for the EPC was to develop recommendations to enhance and refine ecosystems through the lens of equity and inclusion.
  • March 2021, Mayor’s Initiative on Equity and Equality Work Group was established to develop guiding principles to improve equitable access to opportunities, recognizing the inherent dignity, value and worth of each individual.
  • March 2022, Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce held their annual Springfield Business Development Corp. meeting with a presentation from the Harvard School of Business to over 450 business leaders about “Hidden Workers and Untapped Talent”as ways to manage the future of work.
  • April 2022, Mayor Ken McClure and City Council adopted the guiding principles created by the Work Group and encouraged private, public, and social sectors to incorporate elements of the principles in their businesses and organizations.
  • July 2022, CPO hired a Community Diversity and Equity Director (a position funded primarily by Community Foundation of the Ozarks) to work with businesses and organizations to build capacity for grant opportunities.
  • August 2022, CPO held a news conference and released the EPC’s Community Action Plan with new community goals. Some of the new goals align with the state of Missouri’s goals to be “Best in the Midwest by 2030!”

Addressing underemployment continues to be a main focus to reduce poverty through educational opportunities. As of November 2022, Springfield’s unemployment rate was 2.0 percent. With a 2.0 percent unemployment rate, we know many individuals were working, just underemployed. According to the U.S. Census Report, Springfield had 59.9 percent of its population, ages 16 and older, in the civilian labor force from 2017 to 2021.

There are other known facts that impact the poverty level. The poverty level of 21.1 percent for Springfield includes “untouchable numberswhere minimal impact to the poverty level is achievable. About half of the 21.1 percent poverty level includes the following populations:

  • Individuals with Disabilities — There are income limitations for some individuals with disabilities and Springfield’s population includes over 12 percent of individuals with disabilities. We are in the process of determining the percentage of individuals in this category who are working and included in this percentage.
  • College Students — Students who live off campus with non-family members and have income below the federal poverty level guidelines are counted as below the poverty level. These students are somewhat untouchable.
  • Ages 65+ Population — A large percentage of people in this group receive Social Security benefits and have no desire to return to work. Their income is at or below the poverty level.
  • Ages 5 and Under — Their poverty level is determined by their provider.
  • Ages 5-17 — Their poverty level is dependent upon a parent. If they live in the same household, their status is the combined income of all related household members.

Realistically, Springfield can only positively impact about half of the calculated poverty level, which the new goals address. Working with underemployed individuals is one of the best ways to move gross wages higher than the federal poverty levels. Several programs are available in Springfield to assist individuals through apprenticeship program or the statewide Fast Track program.

Fast Track is a workforce financial aid program designed to address workforce needs by encouraging adults to obtain a certificate, degree, or industry-recognized credential. The focus is high-need areas. The Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development has detailed information on the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant.

Francine Pratt

Francine Micheline Pratt serves as director of Prosper Springfield, a community collective impact model charged with oversight of community goals to reduce the poverty rate and increase postsecondary educational attainment. She is president of Pratt Consultants LLC, which focuses on community engagement, business infrastructure development, conflict resolution, strategic planning, and diversity training. She also is a creative partner for the Queen City Soul Kitchen restaurant. Email: prattconsultants@yahoo.com More by Francine Pratt