Based on household income and home values, Springfield is poorest city in Missouri

Published: Dec. 5, 2022 at 6:39 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Springfield is known for having a low cost of living but is also known for having below-average wages.

And while there are many ways to crunch different numbers relating to poverty levels in any particular area, news headlines across the state have been declaring “Missouri’s poorest city may come as a surprise” in referring to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey that shows the poorest city is... Springfield.

That distinction is based on only two sets of numbers, average household income and home values from 28 Missouri cities with populations of at least 25,000.

With an average Springfield household earning $37,491 a year, the Queen City ranks far below the statewide median household income of $57,290 and the national average of $64,994.

And while an average home in Springfield is valued at $122,200, a typical home elsewhere in the state is worth $163,600.

People will argue about whether or not those numbers should be the sole determiners of a “poorest city” designation, but there is no denying that Springfield has a lot of families who are struggling financially.

“When we look at the adjusted cost of living and housing for Springfield, numbers show that nearly 40 percent of the population is living paycheck-to-paycheck,” said Dr. Amy Blansit, the Founder and CEO of the Drew Louis Foundation, a non-profit named in honor of Amy’s late husband that helps financially-struggling families. “So the person who’s sitting next to you at church or your co-worker could be struggling but they’re just not talking about it or showing it.”

Based at the old Fairbanks elementary school, the Drew Lewis Foundation offers a number of programs including RISE, which stands for Reaching Independence through Support and Education. Classes held on Thursdays are intended to teach people how to escape generations of living in poverty.

“We teach financial literacy, parenting skills, nutrition, and life skills like setting healthy boundaries,” said Holly Melton, the foundation’s Director of Development. “They have the ability. They just don’t know yet that they can get themselves out of a generational poverty situation.”

“The idea of creating community always comes back to connections,” Blansit added. “Research shows that individuals who have more connections are more likely to move out of poverty and that’s really what we’re doing here. But first, you have to have advocacy and empowerment and believe that you have self-worth.”

Another major program is the Blue House Project where the foundation buys nuisance properties in the Grant Beach neighborhood and refurbishes them. So far the foundation has purchased 16 houses.

“One of the houses we bought was known as a drug house,” Blansit said. “The police watched it and were regularly arresting individuals out of it. But it’s amazing. When you change one property it affects the neighbors next to it and the people down the block. I get asked so many times about how can we make a difference with 16 houses when there’s 3,000 in this neighborhood. But those 16 really do change the face of the street and encourage others to invest in the neighborhood and get value back on that investment. When we bought that drug house and changed the dynamic of that one block a single father who had a 10-year-old daughter told me that his daughter could now go out and play in the street and he felt safe about her walking to school.”

As to what needs to be done in getting Springfield away from that “poorest city” label?

“We do have a housing crisis in Springfield not just in terms of a shortage but also individuals not being able to afford quality housing,” Blansit said. “And when we don’t have that stability factor in our community, everything else will crumble. We also need to look at what our legislators can do to bring back funding and sources that help build workforce development and promote a strong, thriving economy. We’ve been really lucky that individuals like Alex Riley (Republican) and Betsy Fogle (Democrat) have been fighting to bring money back to Springfield for this exact issue.”

“We have to step up,” Melton added. “We have to find ways to advocate for better work and benefits. Maybe it’s working from home so you have less child care expense. But there has to be something that our community leaders can do in helping our community members.”

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