Brian Angus is executive director of Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission.

Put Poverty Back on the Public Agenda

Advocates for ending poverty need to stop thinking and talking about poverty as something monolithic, as "Poverty with a capital P.'" If we agree that our goal is to reduce poverty in Northern Kentucky rather than eliminate it, then we can begin to plan much more meaningful and multi-faceted approaches.

To begin, our communities need to explore more deeply some of the many and varied dimensions of poverty, such as:

  • The fact that poverty is now and has always been worst among children and single female headed families;

  • The differences between people who are stuck in poverty chronically for instance, some elderly and those with mental or physical health problems and those who float in and out of poverty because of hard knocks that sometimes happen in life;

  • How unequal access to justice, to economic opportunities, and to other benefits of our society leads to increased levels of poverty among racial / ethnic groups;

  • The relationships between poverty and health (poverty will cause people to have poor health, and a health crises can put people in poverty), poverty and education (lack of education contributes to being in poverty, and living in poverty makes getting an education more difficult) and poverty and economic development (people in poverty can benefit most from economic development through training and preparations, yet concerns for those in poverty tend not to be in the planning);

  • Distinctions and interconnections between the poverty of people and the poverty of communities. The person who lives in a neighborhood facing the worst manifestations of poverty, such as drugs, decaying housing and violence will have a much harder time getting out of poverty than the person who, though poor, lives in a more upscale community.

We have to start by understanding poverty as a complex set of issues that require insightful approaches on many levels, with measurable and reasonable expectations, to make progress towards reducing it. The very complexity of poverty requires more people from different walks of life to be involved in the process of tackling it.

Community discussions and planning must engage varied sectors and be guided by an explicit goal to reduce the extent and depth of poverty in Northern Kentucky. This must be a first step upon which we can base a coordinated and sustained effort to address poverty, an effort that seeks to reclaim the resolve first expressed in the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964: "It is therefore the policy of the United States to eliminate the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty in this nation by opening, to everyone, the opportunity for education and training, the opportunity to work and the opportunity to live in decency and dignity." Such an effort would put into practice our strongly and widely held social values for providing a hand up, not a hand out, to those among us in need.

We should adopt poverty reduction as an explicit goal for the simple reason that it is what we as a society value. Efforts to reduce poverty by faith communities, businesses, non-profits and governments at the local, state and federal levels are not a matter of imposing values on the broader society. They are instead a way to put into action the existing and long-held values of our society. And we must start by putting the goal of reducing poverty back in its rightful place as part of our public discourse.

Brian Angus is executive director of Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission. Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission, Inc., Northern Kentucky's designated anti-poverty agency, has been convening policy specialists, corporate leaders, human service practitioners, advocates, low-income people and others affected by poverty policy to identify and advocate for innovative, effective and politically feasible policies and programs that lift individuals and families out of poverty and toward economic stability and self-sufficiency.

Community Action is hosting a Northern Kentucky Poverty Symposium Wednesday, May 19, at Northern Kentucky University's Otto M. Budig Theatre. Community Action is also planning to participate in a national rally on Saturday, Sept. 4 in Washington, D.C. designed to raise poverty on our national agenda. welcomes guest opinions from Northern Kentuckians or about Northern Kentucky issues. E-mail Editor Tom Mitsoff at for more information or to submit a guest column for consideration.

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