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The in-depth reporting on poverty in Fayetteville in the Fayetteville Observer has catalyzed several conversations about the importance of a local effort to address poverty and build a stronger economy.  Pathways For Prosperity was born out of a desire to create pathways to family-supporting work that allow more individuals to build wealth and thrive. It focuses on the intersection of economic competitiveness and equity to create wealth in a way that lifts people up, particularly those stuck—generation-to-generation—at the lower-end of the income scale.  The goal is to create community conversation and action to address economic mobility and drive change in economic outcomes for Fayetteville & Cumberland County Residents.

The imperative is clear: we need to build an infrastructure of opportunity to ensure all our citizens have a clear path to family-supporting work, that employers have the workforce they need to grow and innovate, and that our civic culture is one that supports prosperity for all.

Why do we need to act now?

A report released in 2014 by the University of North Carolina’s Center for Urban & Regional Studies classified six census tracts in Fayetteville as economically distressed. To reach that designation, poverty and unemployment rates in the census tracts had to be at least 50 percent higher than the state average, and annual per capita income at least a third lower. The six Fayetteville tracks meeting the designation include the neighborhoods of Massey Hill, Bonnie Doone, the Old Wilmington Road and B Street area, both sides of Murchison Road and another area downtown that includes Hillsboro Street.

In May 2015, Harvard University released a study ranking Fayetteville DEAD LAST out of the country’s 100 largest economic centers in earnings potential for children growing up in poverty.

A New York Times analysis of the study — called “The Equality of Opportunity Project” — found that Cumberland is “among the worst counties in the U.S. in helping poor children up the income ladder. It ranks 18th out of 2,478 counties, better than almost no county in the nation.”

These two studies are the most powerful demonstration yet that neighborhoods — their schools, community, neighbors, local amenities, economic opportunities and social norms — are a critical factor shaping your children’s outcomes.

In December of 2015, The Fayetteville Observer showcased a special report called “Poverty’s Price” that consisted of a seven part series on poverty in our community and its effects.

The MDC and the John M. Belk Endowment released a report in November 2016 called “North Carolina’s Economic Imperative: Building an Infrastructure of Opportunity,” that reports Fayetteville has the 17.8% loss in adult income from growing up in certain areas of the city compared to other locations across the state.  It also strongly recommended that the city must have a “convenor”.  The convenor—the one who can bring people to the table, who can make it an inclusive table, and keep people focused and taking concrete steps toward a vision—is an essential part of any effort to strengthen an infrastructure of opportunity.

In January of 2017, the City Council stepped up to be the community convener on this issue based on a concept and plan led by Councilman Kirk deViere. The challenge is linking all the systems. We have most of the pieces in place here. That connecting together requires the education systems, nonprofit organizations, and private employers to have a data-based economic vision of how the city’s unique assets can attract family-supporting work.

The Pathways For Prosperity Summit was held in November of 2017 and over 250 people from the community attended.  The community identified five key areas to address the reduction of generational poverty.   The five areas are K-12 Education, Pre-K Education, Workforce and Industry Alignment, Affordable Housing, and Parent Life Skills and Mentoring.

These five areas are now separate working groups that are meeting to identify and develop two to three vital few objectives and strategies.  The goal is to combine these objectives into a Community Action Plan in May of 2018.

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