Reducing Poverty in Richmond

    Your Voice and Your Vote Matter

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    Do you know from experience, or have you ever considered, how stressful it is to live in poverty? Think about a family of four, trying to work one or more low-wage jobs, take care of children, arrange transportation, feed everyone – all on about $24,000 a year. Parents often become overwhelmed, making it difficult for them to provide a nurturing environment for their kids amidst the stress of surviving daily life.

    Research has shown that for kids, the chronic stress – what Harvard researcher Jack Shonkoff calls “toxic stress” – of growing up in poverty actually rewires their brains. Not all kids in poverty experience toxic stress, but those whose parents are unable to help buffer the negative experiences because of their own struggles are affected the most. The stress-related chemicals released in the brain interfere with the child’s normal brain development, putting the child, especially one younger than five, at greater risk of both physical and mental health problems throughout life.

    Unfortunately, many of our neighbors in the Richmond region struggle with this reality. Child poverty rates are growing in Chesterfield, Henrico, and the other counties, but the most significant and stubbornly high child poverty rate is in the City of Richmond. In 2014, 39 percent of the children in Richmond lived in families with incomes below the poverty line.

    RVA has so much going for it as a place to raise a family. But clearly, many of our neighbors are being left behind. What can be done to help ensure our community promotes resiliency for families in poverty, and creates opportunities for all to succeed? There are many answers to that question, but one significant step would be for our local elected officials to make addressing childhood poverty a top priority.

    Residents of the City of Richmond have a great opportunity this year to help make that goal a reality. Richmond will elect a new at-large mayor, a new city council, and a new school board in November. The mayor’s race has attracted the most attention so far with its large field of candidates, but there will be significant turnover on the city council and school board, as well. The deadline for candidates to file paperwork was last month, so the slate of candidates is now set and can be reviewed on the Virginia Public Access Project’s website, vpap.org.

    If you live in the City of Richmond, your vote in November is critical. But whether you live, work, or play in the City, you have an opportunity to raise your voice right now. Candidates for all these offices need to know if the citizens of the region expect their elected officials to work together to offer concrete policy solutions aimed at addressing child poverty.

    The Voices for Virginia’s Children team has pulled together a group of organizations that are interested in making the needs of the most vulnerable children and families in Richmond – the 39 percent of children living in poverty – a focus in the Richmond elections. The group is not supporting or endorsing candidates, but working to educate the candidates and voters about the needs of children and the policy solutions that might help improve their circumstances. This way, whoever is elected mayor, or voted onto the city council or the school board, can be as informed as possible about the community and its challenges and possibilities.

    To be a part of this effort and help amplify the message to make addressing poverty and opportunity in the Richmond region a priority, please contact Emily Griffey at emily@vakids.org.

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    Margaret Nimmo Holland
    Margaret Nimmo Holland is a mom and the executive director of Voices for Virginia’s Children, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization focused on informing lawmakers what kids need, based on data about child well-being and research showing what works to improve their lives.