January is Poverty Awareness Month – a month dedicated to learning more about poverty in our communities, how poverty impacts all of us and what we can do to help. At United Way for Greater Austin (UWATX), preventing poverty is our key goal as we work to help Austinites overcome barriers to opportunity so we can all thrive.
In Travis County, more than 192,000 individuals – or nearly one in five – live in poverty. Since 2011, an additional 1,512 children have fallen into poverty so that one in four Travis County children live in poverty, the highest poverty rate of all age groups.
Poverty has a lasting impact on children, affecting how the brain develops and often leaving young children with long-term deficits in their academic and emotional growth. Stress caused by poverty can even lead to permanent changes in the structure and function of the brain. Living in poverty in the earliest years (birth to age 2) can even predict high school achievement as well, making children roughly 30% less likely to complete high school.
The cycle of poverty begins early and continues to permeate all stages of development, from childhood to adulthood. Starting behind early in life is a key indicators that a child is unlikely to transcend poverty. Nearly half of all children that are born into poverty will continue to be poor as adults.
Nearly half of all children that are born into poverty will continue to be poor as adults.
But it doesn’t stop there: graduating high school represents another tipping point in the fight against poverty. In Travis County, individuals with less than a high school diploma have an unemployment rate nearly triple that of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher (12.5% and 4.3%, respectively). The median earnings for this group is $17,119/year or only a third of what a two-parent household would need to cover basic expenses for themselves and two children in the Austin area. If these individuals were to complete high school their median earnings go up $6,455 and continue to increase dramatically with more education.
Along with connecting individuals to services and providing financial education and resources , UWATX focuses heavily on these two tipping points by making our early childhood system better and more affordable and supporting middle school students, where many begin to fall behind. By investing in strategies to break the cycle of poverty, UWATX is ensuring that all families have the opportunity to thrive and succeed.