Most people don’t know this, but about 65,000 Fairfax County (VA) residents were considered economically disadvantaged in 2012?
Of course, I would never have been able to cite this statistic if I hadn’t taken the time to conduct the research. What I discovered, though, blew my mind.
In an era where Fairfax County’s median household income for 2015 was around $113,000, single individuals under the age of 65 (in 2012) were surviving off an annual salary of $12,000 or less, and a family of four with three children $23,000 or less. But what was even more disheartening, at least for me, was the fact that poverty-level persons moving into Fairfax County from other areas did not cause the increase in the poverty rate and persons living in poverty. According to the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services (2013), the growth of poverty is more likely the result of lower income persons losing economic ground and slipping into poverty.
As many of you know, I am a Master’s-level Social Worker, having worked in the area of youth development for over 20 years. During this time, I’ve had the privilege and honor of working with parenting adults and their children as they struggle to make ends meet. But during these exchanges, I was witness to young people learning how to survive and thrive under the tutelage of concerned adults of all hues. And on a personal level, I can attest to the power of concerned adults’ life-changing involvement. If I had not had concerned teachers, guidance counselors and coaches looking out for me – and the strength of my once poor, single-parent mother – outcomes for me could have been quite different.
It is important that we dispel any notion that poverty does not exist in Fairfax County. Even though the percentage is small (around 5.8 percent), it represents a clear and present danger to the individual lives that it affects. That is why ACHIEVEMENT SQUARE Development & Training Centers, Inc. exists. We believe more needs to be done to uplift Fairfax County’s economically disadvantaged populations, especially those racial/ethnic groups most affected by poverty.
Here are two additional details I discovered about poverty in Fairfax County:
- Of those 65,000 Fairfax County residents living in poverty in 2012, around 38 percent of them were between the ages of five and 24; and
- Significantly higher poverty rates were reported for Hispanics (8.9%) and Blacks (8.3%), while the 6.5 percent poverty rate for Asians was only slightly higher than the 6.1 percent for Whites.
According to Boston Globe journalist Megan Woolhouse, in her May 2015 article Teens from Well-Off Families Most Likely to Land Summer Jobs, “Better-off families start with advantages that help their children get ahead, while low-income households struggle to break the cycle of poverty.”
No surprises here. Being able to leverage higher wages, and save and invest for the future, positions better-off families to take full advantage of educational, vocational and social opportunities. What is alarming, though, is the high percentage of Black American youths who were unemployed. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016, Black American youths (ages 16-24) had an unemployment rate of 20.6 percent. This rate more than doubled the rate for Whites (9.9%) and Asians (10%), and nearly doubled the rate for Hispanics (11.3%).
It is important that we not get it twisted. Poor children are poor not because of something they did but because of something their parents may not be able to do, which is to secure full-time jobs that pay livable wages. That is why we need more programs like the Young Achievers Network. These programs allow economically disadvantaged participants to acquire the knowledge, skills, experiences and connections that are needed to chart more prosperous futures. And in the short run, these program participants will ultimately, in the words of Megan Woolhouse, achieve success, as they too will “learn responsibility, punctuality, and other skills that give them a leg up when they enter the labor force as adults, helping them advance their careers and earn more over their working lives.”
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