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Ozarks residents share their perceptions on poverty in just-released study

Published: Oct. 6, 2020 at 6:21 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) -

On Tuesday representatives from Missouri State University, Drury University and BKD CPAs and Advisors released their “Perceptions of Poverty Study” that shared the results of interviews with 3,000 respondents about their thoughts on what causes people to fall into poverty and what can be done about it.

What almost everyone agreed on is that poverty is a problem as 98 percent of those who took part in the study said it was an issue and 72 percent labeling it as a “big problem”.

While U.S. census data shows one-out-of-every-four Springfield residents lives below the poverty line, the “Perceptions of Poverty Study” points out that 51 percent of the city’s households with children live on $35,000 or less-per-year which puts them at-risk for being in poverty if a big financial burden comes up unexpectedly.

“Half of the population is one crisis away from really needing significant assistance," said Christina Ryder, one of the research leaders from Missouri State University. "Obviously anytime we hear half of our community is at risk for something it should be alarming.”

The study also shows that people believe the causes of poverty are mainly low wages, being a single parent, drug use, mental illness and poor quality education.

The solutions the respondents offered? Improving education, subsidized daycare, expanding employment programs, increasing minimum wage and more workforce training.

“Poverty is not just about money," pointed out Dan Prater, one of the study’s leaders from BKD and Drury University. “It’s about social capital. So if you have a flat tire for example you have friends and they’ll come and help. They might even change it. If you’re in poverty you lack those resources so what would seem to be a small thing to us could be a major thing for them. It’s important to understand that while finances are a critical and important part it’s not just that black and white. It’s much greater.”

The research, which was done before the pandemic, found that age and race had less to do with people’s responses than their political views.

“One group might say you need to pull up your bootstraps or make better choices with your life while the other says we need to come in and facilitate this," Prader said. "I think maybe the answer lies somewhere in-between.”

One thing that did emerge from the survey is that most people do feel at least some empathy for those who are facing poverty.

“There’s a recognition that nobody sets out to become poor," said Drury University’s Scott Simmons. “It is not something that is just due to someone’s individual actions. There are some systemic issues that could be improved.”

“That individuals are lazy or not working enough, those were actually pretty rare in the responses we had," Ryder said. “Although we may come from many different perspectives we do agree on quite a lot in regards to how we can address this issue in our community.”

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