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|Solutions discussed to curb poverty|
Poverty and its effects on children's education is one of the most urgent issues facing the region today, according to many local leaders.
The 2008 Leadership Ouachita Class has been focused on children and the link between poverty and education.
Recently, the group held an education summit called, "Breaking the Cycle…Poverty in Education" to discuss ways to help children succeed in school.
Rod Washington with the city of Monroe said everyone is affected by the problem in some fashion.
"Being married to an educator who teaches children who live in impoverished situations, I hear the stories and I know the challenges," Washington said. "I also know the dedication of those teachers, principals and administrators who pay special attention to helping those children overcome the challenges in their lives."
"It's important that community leaders understand the problem so we can work together to find the solutions that will benefit all of us," he said.
Monroe Chamber of Commerce President Sue Nicholson said the issue also impacts economic development because Louisiana employers are facing challenges today in finding skilled workers.
"We know that a great workforce is rooted in a great education," Nicholson explained. "At its most fundamental level, economic development is about bringing money into a community and keeping it there as long as possible. The easiest way to do that is by creating good jobs with livable wages. That's the way to break the cycle of poverty.
"To break the cycle of poverty, we must have great jobs, but to attract great jobs, we must have a skilled and trained workforce. To have a great workforce, we must have an excellent elementary and secondary school system that graduates every student so they can succeed in college or in the workforce."
Denna McGrew, assistant director of operations for the Children's Coalition of Northeast Louisiana, said children are more successful when their families are self-sufficient.
She said the 12-parish region has some of the worst statistics in the state and nation for children and families living in poverty.
In 2008, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defined poverty as a family of four that earns less than $21,200 annually.
However, McGrew said recent studies indicated that for a family to be self-sufficient, a family's income should be about three times the current federal poverty level.
She said the method in which poverty is measured has not been changed in 40 years, though the economy has changed over the past four decades.
"So, today we're looking at much more than $21,200 for a family change that formula," she said. of four to be self-sufficient," she said. "We need to change that formula."
According to McGrew, about 28 percent of children in Louisiana live in poverty. In the United States, the national average is 17.9 percent.
"If you look at the data for our region, it's even higher," she said. "There are pockets of our region where 70 percent of children actually live in poverty.
"We're doing very poorly for our youngest children in our region. Many of our children are homeless and they don't have the basic things they need to survive. Many are being parented by grandparents because there is no one else to fill that role."
Louisiana has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the nation. The Monroe region has the highest rates in the state, McGrew said.
Louisiana also has the highest juvenile incarceration rate in the nation, and the second highest drop-out rate.
She said the state must work to help parents progress through a career and remain in the workforce without being penalized for earning more income.
"As we work to help families become more self-sufficient, over time we will break that cycle of poverty," McGrew said.
Rep. Frank Hoffman said the statistics in Louisiana concerning poverty was alarming.
"I think you can go to the Delta region in northeast Louisiana and find the poorest parishes in America," said Hoffman, R-West Monroe. "If we're going to solve the problem, for the most part, it will have to be done through education."
He said the community colleges, universities and high school programs must work together instead of trying to compete with each other.
Also, in the high schools, Hoffmann believes there should be a greater emphasis on vocational skills.