Women’s Foundation study drills down on poverty in Atlanta

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, November 2, 2012

Breaking the cycle of generational poverty in metro Atlanta will depend on reducing the number of teenage pregnancies and providing early education for children in need.

Those are a couple of the findings in a new Atlanta Women’s Foundation research study that was done by The Schapiro Group after a year of comprehensive analysis, interviews and voter polls.

“Poverty is pretty complex,” said Beth Schapiro, owner of the firm that did the research study. “The complexity of this is due to the foundational issues of health and wellness and education.”

The Atlanta Women’s Foundation, which was founded in 1986 to help improve the lives of women and girls in the metro area, commissioned the study to better understand the issues involved and the best ways to address them.

Since its inception, the foundation has invested more than $12 million in the five-county area of Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett. It has given grants to dozens, if not hundreds, of organizations aimed at services for women and girls.

“We knew about the issues all along,” said Danita Knight, chair of the Atlanta Women’s Foundation board. “What we really wanted to do is to be as effective as we can to meet the needs of women and girls. The issues are not new, but the approaches might be new.”

The findings in the study included that across metro Atlanta, there was a great disparity in high school graduation rates. In the Atlanta Public Schools and Clayton County Public Schools, graduation rates were only 52 percent. That compared with 88 percent in the city of Decatur.

Although the foundation has had a long-time focus on education, the study confirmed the importance of helping girls complete high school or earn GED certificates so they could go on to vocational training or college. But the study also highlighted the importance of early-childhood education in helping a girl succeed in school.

The study also focused on what it called “informal education.”

Women and girls need to improve their own life skills such as financial literacy, life planning and goal-setting — all factors that can lead to better emotional health and wellness. Learning to manage stress, enhance self-esteem and build healthy relationships also are key.

Metro Atlanta community leaders said that teenage pregnancy was a primary issue.

“Becoming pregnant at an early age makes it more difficult to complete schooling, places a new burden on the shoulders of both the teenager and the family, and sets all of them — the teenager, her family, and the new baby on a trajectory likely to keep all three generations of that family trapped in poverty,” the study stated.

For every 1,000 births in Fulton County in 2010, about 37 were to mothers between the ages of 15 and 19. In Clayton County, that number was 57. Also, about 20 percent of teenage mothers in the five-county area have another child before they turn 20.

The study also found that it was impossible to address poverty without addressing a multitude of other related issues — health, employment, housing and transportation.

The county that has the greatest need for services is Clayton County, and yet there is a scarcity of social service organizations working in that area, according to the study.

The Schapiro Group surveyed 500 metro Atlanta residents and found that people understood the need to provide a range of services to help break the cycle of poverty.

Those included: getting job skills; developing life skills; developing programs that help girls see a way out of poverty; attaining higher levels of education; finding a job, maintaining mental health, supporting health and wellness; addressing substance abuse issues; resources to find affordable and safe housing near child care and employment; and finding high-quality child care.

“We know we need to take it up a notch because the needs are going up in this community,” Knight said. “This is not new ground for us. It’s clearer ground for us.”

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