What do you get when you gather artists, workplace experts, advocates, employers, city officials, nonprofit staff, single parents, philanthropists and community residents in one place to help solve a persistent community problem? A sorely needed discussion and place for innovation to thrive and solutions to be born.
The issue is poverty. Middletown is home to 43 percent of single-parent families, which is higher than the state average of 34 percent. Of those 43 percent, there are 35 percent living at or below the federal poverty level.
The “war on poverty” began 50 years ago, when President Lyndon Johnson, during his first State of the Union address, urged an “all-out war on human poverty and unemployment in the United States.” (Pew Research Center, 2018). Over the last few decades, there have been many debates over Johnson’s antipoverty programs. But one thing is for sure — today’s impoverished families look much different than they did years ago.
For example, single parenthood is on the rise. According to the Pew Research Center, “in 1973, the first year for which data are available, more than half (51.4 percent) of poor families were headed by a married couple; 45.4 percent were headed by women. In 2012, just over half (50.3 percent) of poor families were female-headed, while 38.9 percent were headed by married couples.”
Middletown WORKS, part of the Working Cities Challenge of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, seeks to reduce the number of single-parent families in Middletown living at or below the federal poverty level by 15 percent over a 10-year period (by 2028). It is important to note that Middletown WORKS is not a program, it is an initiative that uses a collaborative leadership model and collective impact to drive its work.
This means that the overall theme is to bring many different voices to the table, and find ways to think outside the box when it comes to finding pathways to prosperity. One voice that we typically do not have at the table is that of employers. Employers have a significant role to play. Not only can they help to lift up low-income single parents, but they can also reap bottom-line rewards, such as increased productivity and a more engaged workforce. It is a win/win for both single parents and businesses.
Middletown WORKS is in year one out of a 10-year plan and we are off to a running start. The core team has been working hard at recruiting new members to the team and creating subcommittees to address various strategies and goals. We are excited to announce our kick-off event, Middletown WORKS! Community Launch, which will take place Dec. 6 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the Community Health Center (675 Main St., Middletown). Our core team members, new and old, will be there to greet all members of the community for a fun and festive event.
If you would like to get involved with Middletown WORKS! or attend the launch, please contact call 860-975-5405 or email Rebecca.Lemanski@middletownworks.org.
Editor’s note: This is a guest column written by the director of Middletown WORKS!, A Working Cities Challenge initiative of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.