Improving Economic Mobility in Greenville County: A United Way Conversation Series
By Meghan Barp, President & CEO
From generation to generation, parents want their children to climb higher and grow up to live a more comfortable, successful life. The promise is that with a great education and hard work, everyone can achieve their full potential.
But the unfortunate reality is that promise is out of reach for too many in Greenville County, where more than 10 percent of people live under the poverty line — 60,000 men, women and children. Thousands more struggle every day to make ends meet.
Our community has grown accustomed to being on top 10 lists. Top 10 Place to Visit. Top 10 Place to Raise a Family. Top 10 Place to Retire. There are so many reasons to be proud to live here. But we can’t let that pride blind us from the fact that not all who live in Greenville County share in this success.
A couple of years ago, we showed up on another list — one of the worst communities in the nation (24th worst county out of 2,478 counties and 94th out of the 100 largest metro areas) for the likelihood of children born in poverty to rise up the income ladder as adults.
There are strong ties between economic mobility and racial equity. Communities can only reach their economic potential by resolving entrenched, often systemic, and structural racism. Greenville County, and especially the City of Greenville, is thriving — but not for all residents.
Confronted with these facts, many in our community, including United Way of Greenville County, began to look for solutions. We embarked on a significant evolution of our work at United Way, one that will help us better meet the unique challenges we face in economic mobility, and help us realize our vision for a Greenville County where all people have access to opportunities to achieve their full potential.
Informed by expert national research and local neighborhood-level studies with Furman University, extensive community conversations and 100 years of on-the-ground experience, we’ve identified Education, Financial Stability, and Vibrant and Equitable Communities as the three essential impact areas for increasing economic mobility.
We know Education is a powerful antipoverty tool — and the most consistent driver of sustained upward mobility. But to have the best chance to succeed in school, graduate and become financially stable, students must also have their basic needs met at home. That means having equitable access to opportunities for support.
Financial Stability is a critical stop on the journey to economic mobility. When people earn enough income to be self-sufficient, build savings to weather a personal financial crisis and gain long-term assets like home ownership, our whole community benefits. Financially stable families are also more likely to raise children equipped with the tools and experiences to succeed in school, creating sustainable impact across generations.
And finally, we define Vibrant & Equitable Communities as ones in which neighborhoods are safe and well connected, the nonprofit network is strong enough to meet community needs as they arise, and everyone has access to opportunities to achieve their full potential. To realize that vision, the community must work collaboratively to improve conditions for all, policy and advocacy efforts must be centered around systems change that move individuals and families out of poverty, and our most vulnerable neighbors must have equitable access to resources that meet their basic needs.
Our strategic funding, direct service initiatives and volunteer experiences are all designed to support these impact areas within our Economic Mobility Model.
Over the next few weeks, we will be digging deeper into each of these focus areas in a series of conversations with local leaders, including Long Branch Baptist Church’s Pastor Sean Dogan, Prisma Health’s Saria Saccocio, Greenville First Step’s Derek Lewis, CommunityWorks’ Tammy Hoy Hawkins, and TD Bank’s David Lominack. We’ll share videos of each these conversations on our website and publish excerpts here on our website.
The challenges we face are complex. To solve them, we’ll need our community’s support more than ever before. Click here to learn more and get involved.