Feeling the strain
Report says county residents face increasing financial insecurity
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/