Feel­ing the strain

Re­port says county res­i­dents face in­creas­ing fi­nan­cial in­se­cu­rity

The Progress-Index Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Buet­tner Staff Writer

CH­ESTER­FIELD – A ci­ti­zen com­mit­tee tasked with help­ing the county gov­ern­ment fore­see and pre­pare for fu­ture chal­lenges has de­liv­ered its lat­est re­port to the Board of Su­per­vi­sors, with a stark warn­ing about grow­ing poverty and fi­nan­cial in­se­cu­rity among county res­i­dents.

The Com­mit­tee on the Fu­ture, ap­pointed by the board to study and re­port on long-range is­sues and trends that might af­fect the county, last month wrapped up the eighth ma­jor re­port the com­mit­tee has pre­pared since 1991. Called “Pro­mot­ing Fi­nan­cial In­de­pen­dence for All Ch­ester­field Res­i­dents,” the study con­tains a clear mes­sage about the chal­lenges ahead.

“While the county’s econ­omy is cur­rently thriv­ing as a whole, trends in­di­cate that fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity is de­creas­ing across the county and will con­tinue to do so into the fu­ture,” com­mit­tee chair Wendy Austin told the board dur­ing a work ses­sion on Oct. 25.

Signs of strain are al­ready show­ing for many Ch­ester­field res­i­dents and fam­i­lies. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port:

“Ch­ester­field County wages are lower and grow­ing slower when com­pared to both the re­gion and Vir­ginia.”

“Ch­ester­field County has ex­pe­ri­enced a 64 per­cent in­crease in cit­i­zens liv­ing in poverty since 2000, and today more than 24,000 ... Ch­ester­field County res­i­dents live in poverty.”

“In the next 20-30 years, if the county adds the pro­jected 100,000 new res­i­dents who are im­pov­er­ished at the na­tional av­er­age (15.5 per­cent), that im­plies a 62 per­cent in­crease in Ch­ester­field’s poverty pop­u­la­tion to al­most 40,000 peo­ple.”

As the re­port makes clear, fi­nan­cial in­se­cu­rity isn’t just a prob­lem for the peo­ple suf­fer­ing di­rectly from it. On the con­trary, it af­fects every­one in the county and across the re­gion as it can have a num­ber of

neg­a­tive im­pacts such as “re­duced at­trac­tive­ness of the county as a busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment, stunted eco­nomic growth of [the] re­gion, lost pro­duc­tiv­ity, less tax rev­enue,” re­duced home val­ues, and in­creased costs for county ser­vices such as ed­u­ca­tion, pub­lic safety, so­cial ser­vices and health care.

“The long-term eco­nomic se­cu­rity of Ch­ester­field County is in­ex­tri­ca­bly tied to the eco­nomic se­cu­rity of its res­i­dents,” ac­cord­ing to the re­port. “The grow­ing num­ber of res­i­dents on the eco­nomic mar­gins lim­its the po­ten­tial of chil­dren and re­duces worker pro­duc­tiv­ity, lead­ing to re­duced po­ten­tial eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage for the county. Fam­i­lies un­able to live self-suf­fi­ciently re­duce the num­ber of con­sumers (pur­chasers of goods, ser­vices) and in­crease the cost of pub­lic ser­vices.”

Supporting res­i­dents’ fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity will re­quire a mul­ti­fac­eted ef­fort by the county be­cause of the com­plex­ity of the prob­lem, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. That ef­fort must in­volve gov­ern­ment, pri­vate in­dus­try and com­mu­nity groups, with the county pro­vid­ing “strate­gic co­or­di­na­tion of a spec­trum of re­gional gov­ern­men­tal and non­govern­men­tal ser­vices across pro­grams, de­part­ments and di­vi­sions; con­ven­ing a va­ri­ety of ac­tors and or­ga­ni­za­tions; se­cur­ing mul­ti­ple fund­ing sources; and mount­ing a strat­egy that is equal in scale to the grow­ing chal­lenge.”

The re­port’s rec­om­men­da­tions fall into four strate­gic ar­eas: So­cial Cap­i­tal, High-Op­por­tu­nity Com­mu­ni­ties, Hu­man Cap­i­tal and Jobs, and Fi­nan­cial Em­pow­er­ment. In each area, the com­mit­tee of­fers gen­eral rec­om­men­da­tions and spe­cific ob­jec­tives and strate­gies, all aimed at cre­at­ing a sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment for res­i­dents seek­ing to im­prove their own fi­nan­cial sta­tus.

In­cluded are pro­pos­als that pig­gy­back on the county’s on­go­ing re­vi­tal­iza­tion and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment ef­forts, as well as rec­om­men­da­tions to ex­pand tran­sit op­tions to en­able work­ers who have lim­ited per­sonal trans­porta­tion op­tions to get to the ar­eas of the county where the jobs are con­cen­trated.

Ed­u­ca­tion and work­force de­vel­op­ment will play key roles in fi­nan­cial em­pow­er­ment, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, and pub­licpri­vate part­ner­ships will be needed to con­nect work­ers with jobs and stu­dents with the most in-de­mand job skills.

While the jour­ney to fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence may be chal­leng­ing, the re­port does hold to a pos­i­tive vi­sion of the des­ti­na­tion – “a com­mu­nity with op­por­tu­ni­ties and con­di­tions that foster fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence for all res­i­dents. When in­di­vid­u­als have ac­cess to di­verse eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties and re­sources to at­tain and sus­tain ad­e­quate as­sets, res­i­dents can suf­fi­ciently shape their lives and meet their needs – such as food, hous­ing, util­i­ties, cloth­ing, health care, trans­porta­tion, taxes and de­pen­dent care – with some funds re­main­ing to save and plan for their fu­tures.”

The full Com­mit­tee on the Fu­ture re­port is avail­able for down­load at www.ch­ester­field.gov/ cot­fre­port/

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