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Springfield cut its sky-high poverty rate by almost 6 percentage points in the last few years. What’s next?

Francine Pratt with Prosper Springfield presents a new community action plan on August 4, 2022 containing goals for 2030 to reduce the city's poverty level and increase educational achievements.
Gregory Holman/KSMU
Francine Pratt with Prosper Springfield presents a new community action plan on August 4, 2022 containing goals for 2030 to reduce the city's poverty level and increase educational achievements.

Last week, a local group called Prosper Springfield announced welcome news: Springfield cut its poverty rate by 5.8 percentage points over the past seven years.

In 2015, six years after the end of the Great Recession, Springfield’s overall poverty rate still included 27.5 percent of city residents. And the rate seemed to be growing.

Francine Pratt is a community advocate with Prosper Springfield. She said the city manager at the time, Greg Burris, advocated taking steps that Springfield could manage on its own, in order to work against poverty. The city started an Impacting Poverty Commission to enlist the community’s help. In 2020, an Equity and Prosperity Commission started meeting with 29 members from many walks of life.

“Because again, this is not a city-driven effort, this is a community-driven effort," Pratt said last week. "And the goal is for private, public and social sector to all get on board because all of the progress we’ve made in Springfield, it’s been no one particular entity. It’s been the community coming together as one.”

Gregory Holman/KSMU
Former Springfield City Manager Greg Burris and Drew Lewis Foundation CEO Amy Blansit listen to a presentation from Prosper Springfield on August 4, 2022 covering how the city's poverty rate has fallen since 2015 and how the community adopted new poverty and education goals for 2030.

Officials dug into data from the Census and local sources and soon figured out that looking at Springfield’s overall poverty situation didn’t give them the whole story: They needed to “disaggregate” the data, to look at component parts of the community to see where poverty festered.

People living with disabilities and Springfield’s growing biracial populations face greater poverty than the city overall, they found. Going forward, Prosper Springfield said focusing efforts on people aged 25 to 64 plus working individuals who have some college, but no degree, has the greatest chance of lifting them out of poverty. And education is key, Pratt said.

“You can’t reduce poverty without increasing education beyond high school," Pratt said. "So you have to be able to give people the tools that they need if they want so that they can actually work on bettering their situation.”

For the year 2030, the commission set new goals that line up with the state of Missouri’s intention to increase education beyond high school to 60 percent of adults, and increase participation in the workforce to 70 percent.

At a news conference Thursday, Pratt was asked whether these were optimistic goals or realistic ones.

“Realistic goals," Pratt told reporters. "They are what we call stretch goals.”

Mayor links poverty reduction to equity, equality

Mayor Ken McClure linked Prosper Springfield’s activities to the city’s commission on equity and equality formed after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer two years ago. McClure threw his endorsement behind the work of Prosper Springfield.

Springfield Mayor Ken McClure talks about equity and equality concerns and their links to efforts to reduce poverty in the southwest Missouri city at a news conference on August 4, 2022.

“What we as a city desire is to reflect and to commit to positive and needed change in both words and actions," McClure said. "This is a community-wide emphasis.”

The city’s current poverty rate stands at 21.7 percent, according to the 2020 census.

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs.