Observer-Dispatch: Symposium explores cycle of poverty
Expert opinion and personal stories mixed Monday at Utica College as dozens of people gathered to discuss the causes, effects and possible solutions for poverty.
The 2019 Poverty Symposium, organized by Mohawk Valley Community Action Agency and Utica College, began with tours of the action agency, followed by the Poverty March Initiative back to the college. The rest of the evening included a panel discussion and a “human library” of stories told by people who have experienced poverty.
One Utica College student recalled how he didn’t know his family was struggling until the day all their utilities were shut off and they received an eviction notice.
At the time, he was a high school sophomore growing up in the South Bronx, he said. And before that day, his parents had tried to hide their financial struggles from him and their children.
Hope and faith have gotten his family through, though, he said.
“It wasn’t something that we let get us down and stay at rock bottom,” he said.
When it comes to poverty, hope can be a powerful force, said expert panelists at the event. For example, Ugur Orak, assistant professor of sociology, talked about the correlation between high poverty and high crime neighborhoods. But research shows, he said, that people don’t commit more crimes just because they live in poverty.
“What makes an individual more crime prone is hopelessness,” he said.
Statistics also show that poverty is an extremely difficult cycle to break, he said.
“You are born into poverty and you will live in poverty and your children are born into poverty and will live in poverty,” Orak said.
Monday’s discussion was more than relevant to Utica, where 30 percent of residents – twice the national average – live in poverty, said Richard Duque, assistant professor of sociology. More children live in poverty in Utica than anywhere else in New York, he said.
Poverty, Duque said, leads to many kinds of disparities: economic, environmental, educational, judicial, and even health and social service disparities.
“The effects of poverty on children in the educational system are profound and long term,” said Mary Hayes Gordon, director of the Young Scholars Liberty Partnership Program at the college.
Students in districts with fewer resources lack access to internships, are less likely to receive advanced Regents or technical diplomas, attend schools less likely to be strong in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, and aren’t taught the skills for community leadership, which can leave their voices out of decision making, she said.
Research has shown the remedy, Gordon said: more support, more opportunities and internships.
“We know what works. But it doesn’t work unless we actually make it work,” she said.
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