Memphis leaders vow to end city's poverty struggles

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Memphis' leaders are promising action after an alarming new study on the city's poverty struggles, particularly among African-Americans.

The report specifically focuses on poverty since Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr's assassination in 1968.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said he's determined to solve a long-standing problem.

This 27-page report details the shocking statistics about poverty in the city of Memphis.

It reveals childhood poverty rates for both blacks and whites have risen since 1980 but the poverty rate for black children is more than four times greater than that for whites.

"There's a sense in Memphis that it's not just city government, county government and schools who are responsible for this, it's the whole community that's going to have to lift up the people in poverty," Mayor Strickland said.

Mayor Strickland said he has short-term plans to move the city in the right direction.

Those plans include prioritizing city contracting with minority and women-owned businesses, providing universal Pre-K for children in the city, working every day on economic development to increase good-paying jobs, and providing services for work-force development.

"I think the solution to reducing Memphis' poverty rate, Shelby County's poverty rate is going to be tricky because individual programs that help individual people are not going to be successful the way large-scale policy changes would be," said Wendi Thomas, editor for MLK50 – Justice Through Journalism.

Data also shows that while there's been a dramatic increase in African Americans receiving high school diplomas, that can only help so much in reducing poverty.

Beyond that, a college degree is necessary to progress economically, which is why Mayor Strickland said he thinks the state's program for free community colleges will help.

"And if you get this post-high school degree or certificate, it's likely you're going to make a livable wage and that's what we want," Mayor Strickland said.

A presentation about this report will be given to city and county leaders Thursday.

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