Norfolk plots tactics for poverty reduction

Jordan Crawford | 10/3/2013, 11:28 a.m.
The Mayor's Commission on Poverty Reduction is seeking to bring the city out of darkness and into financial and economic ...

The issue of poverty reduction in Norfolk has been discussed on numerous occasions over the years, but 2013 is really the first time the issue has been examined in an organized way. The Mayor’s Commission on Poverty Reduction is seeking to bring the city out of darkness and into financial and economic stability.

Represented on the task force is nearly every community partner that can contribute to that goal, including major private sector employers— retail, shipbuilding, healthcare and the visitor industry.

They alone account for over 25 percent of the jobs in the city. We have the major job training and employment organizations, universities, the community college, the medical school, the public school system and early childhood educations, and the faith community, which plays an important role in helping people, make the right decisions to turn their lives around.

There is also representation from the housing authority and Hampton Roads Transit (HRT), and from social service providers as well as from public safety and the legal profession.

“The right people and the right organizations are now in place and ready to go to work, and I believe the results of our efforts will help begin to lower the poverty rate,” said Mayor Paul D. Fraim. “This will be an enormously important contribution to the city and one that will require teamwork and coordination.”

Norfolk’s demographic profile will be important to the team’s work, as it presents an interesting picture. After a couple of decades where the population declined, the trend has reversed and now the population has grown. Since the 2000 Census, Norfolk residence has grown nearly five percent to 245,803. Mayor Fraim expects that trend to continue.

“We are also a city that is becoming more affluent. From $31,815 in 2000, our median household income has increased to $43,108 according to the most recently available figures,” said Fraim. “Norfolk employs close to 211,000 people, and we continue to lead the region in total average compensation per job which, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, now stands at $73,874— an amount almost 2 percent higher than last year.”

In contrast, Norfolk is also a city with the second highest poverty rate in the region. The city has areas with high concentrations of poverty and one of the highest unemployment rates in the region.

As of July 2013, according to city-data.com, 41,345 people in Norfolk live below the poverty line, 13,876 of these are children. Norfolk has an unemployment rate of 13.1 percent, representing 25,514 individuals, the majority of which being African Americans.

Norfolk is also challenged by lower rates of educational attainment which is linked to unemployment and poverty. The majority of unemployed individuals in Norfolk have less than a high school diploma.

Also, a high rate of out-of-wedlock births— nearly 51 percent of all births in Norfolk at last count— are another indicator of poverty as well as a cause.

While the recent recession certainly pushed the numbers higher, they have remained fairly constant over a number of years. This seems to illustrate a couple of important things about poverty in Norfolk.