Poverty and Economic Insecurity
Parish leaders consistently raise poverty and economic inequality as critical community challenges and barriers to healthy communities. The data support this. Texas ranks 38th nationally in terms of income and wealth, with 17% of people living in poverty. Some of the poorest counties in the country are located within the Diocese. The maps below indicate the poverty level and health outcomes by county. It is notable that in 16 of the 57 counties in the, more than 20% of the population lives below the federal poverty line.
Use the interactive map below to see the poverty rate and the County Health Ranking for each county. You can hover over each county or click on the county to see the information.
Sometimes the connection between poverty and health is quite obvious. EHF research shows that along with high poverty rates, Texas has the most uninsured adults in the nation and those with the lowest incomes have the lowest rates of insurance coverage. Many clergy report they are often approached for financial support from individuals faced with making a choice between receiving needed medical treatment or paying their rent. In other cases, families may buy less nutritious food as a way to stretch dollars or live in sub-standard housing, with a negative impact on family health. Both of these examples demonstrate the effect of poverty on health through material deprivation, which occurs when a family can’t afford what it needs to lead a healthy life.
A second pathway from poverty to poor health is through poor social integration, in which the separation of groups by income or class reduces the ability of lower-income groups to participate in the relationships and activities available to higher-income groups. That can result in missed chances for opportunities such as employment, mentoring to raise educational attainment and networking.
Third, poverty can impact health through chronic stress. Consistent anxiety and insecurity due to living in poverty can have powerful effects on physical and mental health. People experiencing stress over long periods of time have a higher risk for a wide range of conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke, and their life expectancy is lower. People living in poverty are twice as likely to have been diagnosed with depression as those not in poverty.
To make matters worse, families can become trapped in a vicious cycle where poverty leads to poor health and poor health reinforces poverty. And of course poverty has its own traps. Community barriers to getting out of poverty include low access to banking among the poor; lack of living wage jobs and skills training opportunities; lack of affordable childcare that prevents parents from working; poor transportation; physical and social segregation; and lack of affordable legal services. Families in poverty often do not have a savings buffer to handle even a minor unplanned event, which can drive them into debt that escalates at high interest rates. Need for a car repair can set in motion a cycle of events that leads to loss of employment. The stress of poverty undermines family relations and may lead to violence within the family. Poverty can become an albatross, affecting every aspect of a family’s life and creating a collection of burdens that can’t be easily overcome.
EHF’s Congregational Engagement initiatives aim to tackle the issues that can interrupt the link between poverty and illness, such as improved food security and nutrition, strengthening social networks among diverse groups, and mental health and wellness. We can also connect congregations to training programs such as Bridges out of Poverty that help people better understand the impacts of poverty and what they can do about it.
Examples of poverty reduction work taking place in congregations
Bridges Out of Poverty . Bridges Out of Poverty is a support program which helps employers, community organizations, and social service agencies as well as middle class individuals better understand, address and reduce poverty in a comprehensive way. The program has been influential in helping communities to approach poverty in a sustainable way in order to best serve those living in poverty.
Alyssa Stebbing of Trinity Episcopal Church, Woodlands is a certified trainer for the Diocese. At Trinity Episcopal Church, she has given presentations on Bridges Out of Poverty in Montgomery County for various community partners and organizations. The Bridges Out of Poverty framework has also been presented to the Board at Lord of the Streets and at Good Shepherd, Friendswood to clergy, outreach leaders, and youth mission groups.
Capital IDEA. In 1998, Austin Interfaith founded Capital IDEA as a response to area employers having unfilled, well-paid positions and a population of hard-working adults stuck with dead-end jobs. In partnership with the local business community, Austin Interfaith created a long-term training program to bridge the gap and help non-traditional adult students succeed in college and reach self-sufficiency.
Members of St. David’s Episcopal, Austin, meet frequently to discuss the community issues to bring to Austin Interfaith monthly meetings. As a part of the AI organization, members of St. David’s have had the opportunity to speak with county commissioners and elected officials about their community concerns, one of which was workforce development and job training. Through the support of city council members and business leaders, CapitalIDEA has continued to receive funding and has created career paths for those who are in need of better wages. In September 2015, Capital IDEA in Austin was awarded $100,000 from EHF’s Grant-making Division. As a Grant Partner, Capital IDEA works to strengthen and build a network of providers by offering support and guidance to low-income adults working toward healthcare.
Currently St. David’s members and Austin Interfaith leaders The Rev. Katie Wright and Minerva Camarena-Skeith are active on the Board of CapitalIDEA.
The sister organization Capital IDEA Houston was established in 2009 through the organizing efforts of The Metropolitan Organization (TMO). The efforts of TMO garnered political and financial support for the program which lead to active partnerships with employers, the Houston Community College, and the Lone Star College System. The program has been supported bySt. Timothy’s Episcopal in Houston and San Pedro Episcopal Church in Pasadena. They have organized community events to raise awareness of this opportunity and help recruit participants to the program.
- Economic Justice
The Episcopal Network for Economic Justice (ENEJ) serves to support those engaged in economic justice ministries and advocate for initiatives within the Episcopal Church. EHF welcomes interest in participation by congregations.
- Links to Information and Support from EHF
In addition to providing training to learn more about how to address poverty in the community more effectively, EHF can help congregations assess needs in their community and connect them to community partners who can help address them.
Program and Organizations
- Bridges Out of Poverty and the Getting Ahead Programs
A program that trains community members on how they can support those in poverty to rise out of poverty and prevent re-entry.
- Capital IDEA and Capital IDEA Houston
A sponsorship program that supports under-employed adults seeking higher education focused on employment and removing barriers to success for non-traditional students.
Further Information and Background Reading
- Living Wage Calculator
The Living Wage Calculator was developed in 2004 by Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier at MIT. The instrument is an alternative measure of basic needs, which estimates the cost of living in a particular community or region, including typical expenses such as housing, transportation, food, etc. based on family size. Use the living wage model to discover more about the living wage in your states and county.
- When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
The non-fiction book, first published in 2009 is a biblical based approach, which explores and dissects common perceptions on poverty and the means to relieve it.
- The Health Inequality Project
The Health Inequality Project uses big data to measure differences in life expectancy by income across areas and identify strategies to improve health outcomes for low-income Americans.
- With Poverty Comes Depression, More Than Other Illnesses (2012)
Gallup conducted a poll of a random sample of 353,492 people in the U.S. and found some striking results.
“Americans in poverty are more likely than those who are not to struggle with a wide array of chronic health problems, and depression disproportionately affects those in poverty the most. About 31% of Americans in poverty say they have at some point been diagnosed with depression compared with 15.8% of those not in poverty. Impoverished Americans are also more likely to report asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart attacks -- which are likely related to the higher level of obesity found for this group -- 31.8% vs. 26% for adults not in poverty.”
- Homelessness & Health: What’s the Connection? (2011)
Issue brief on homelessness and health published by National Health Care for the Homeless Council
- Rural Poverty, Food Access, and Public Health Outcomes
An article published by the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association. Although this paper is more academic, it’s relatively short (only four pages long) and it provides a great summary of health issues in among poor rural communities.
- See the recently-released Texas map with food insecurity data from Feeding Texas
- Bridges Out of Poverty and the Getting Ahead Programs