In our book, “The Story of Kennett- Shaping the Future One Child at a Time,” Joan Holliday and I tried to stay close to home and show how Kennett solved its problems and we stayed away from the big stuff like world peace, global warming and politics. But there is one area that we can’t ignore and that is those friends and neighbors that have inadequate resources to meet their own and their family’s needs.
Chester County is the richest county in the state with a median income of $80,300, while Kennett borough is $65,795 and the state is $54,895 about the US average of $55,322. This compares to middle class starting at $40,500 according to Pew Research. Since the book was written a group has come together to address some of the needs of Southern Chester County called The Chester County Opportunity Network. So we are in pretty good shape, though we have a higher cost of living than most counties.
Still Kennett has a base of wonderful programs to feed the poor and provide them great hope with our wonderful school system that educates each child to their potential. But we do have poor people in our community and lots more people getting poorer and it is not getting better. Poverty is alive and well and getting stronger.
The rules of the game are making the rich richer faster than the poor. In fact the poor are losing ground. My only hope is that we keep a strong safety net in place around food, health care and housing as more of the middle class moves to poor. We also need the local communities to ensure new construction which includes two bedroom homes or apartments that can be rented for less than $1,000 a month.
So what is poverty? Statistics say that 11.4% of the Kennett borough lives in poverty, but 42% of the students in the school system are rated economically disadvantaged. We tend to think poverty is all about money, and it is a lot about money but it is really about being under resourced.
There are all kinds of resources we need. After financial resources you have emotional, mental, language, social capital, physical (When you’ve got your health, you’ve got just about everything.), and softer things like spiritual, integrity, motivation and relationships.
Plus you need to understand the rules of the game of life in a free enterprise society that is fairly Darwinian, which many of the poor have never learned.
We don’t have a legal entitlement to be rich but the three examples of unalienable rights we do have are “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” which the Declaration says have been given to all human beings by their creator, and which governments are created to protect.
Data shows that after about $75,000 a year, more money doesn’t provide more happiness. So basically if we can make it to the upper middle class, financial resources aren’t the issue and we should help people pursue this goal that is addressed in our Declaration of Independence.
In our book we wrote about our take on how Kennett needs to address poverty. “Preventing Poverty: The key to preventing poverty is sustainable jobs, ones that pay $20 an hour with benefits. To this end we need more facilitators.
That would be men and women who play matchmaker and provide direction on what kind of education and experience will make individuals fit an employer’s needs. And then help develop the flow of workers to the employers. There are some job placement programs in the community and there are a couple things we know.
There certainly are not enough good jobs to go around and there are good jobs that aren’t being filled. Plus there are not enough coaches and mentors helping people succeed at this critical process of career building.
Let’s reduce that gap, fill the good jobs and upgrade individuals to better ones. The larger mushroom farms have a professional progression from picker to supervisor to manager. That requires a lot of on-the-job training and development. When organizations are farsighted enough to invest in their employees, they see the money returned many times over.”
There is no doubt we need to beef up our resources around continuing education, mentoring, career counseling and networking workers with potential employers. The gold standard of job creation in Kennett was DuPont and then the banks and now Genesis and Chatham Financial.
These companies have provided salaries that brought a large proportion of the population into the upper middle class and resourced our community and schools with the best and the brightest. We need more of these commercial innovators but in today’s economy with so many people telecommuting from home, telecommuting is becoming one of the main employers.
So we want to add to the Kennett motto; “A great place to grow up and grow old…. And LIVE.”
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