The University of Georgia's Initiative on Poverty and the Economy: an initiative of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach

The University of Georgia's Initiative on Poverty and the Economy: an initiative of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach

About

Background

In 2003, a comprehensive analysis of persistent poverty in seven rural southern states was completed with the publication of the Study on Persistent Poverty in the South. The primary charge in conducting the study was to determine if a region of persistent poverty exists in the rural South that is not served by an existing federal initiative; and if so, to determine the implications for the South's future growth and development. While the research builds on previous assessments of poverty in what is often referred to as the Black Belt, it is marked by an attempt to provide comprehensive analysis of social, economic, and policy-driven phenomena that go beyond the demographics of the region.

The study concludes that there is indeed a region of persistent poverty in the rural South. In fact, the region is judged to be the poorest in the nation with 242 counties experiencing persistent poverty among the worst in the country for at least the last three decades. Georgia is at the heart of the region as 91 of the 242 counties are located within the state. The analysis went on to suggest several recommendations for breaking this cycle of persistent poverty through coordinated efforts of governments, communities, and the private sector. One major recommendation was the creation of a federal commission to address the issues related to persistent poverty in this part of the rural South.

But the study and the call for a federal commission were deemed an insufficient response. The experience of doing the study created a compelling need on the part of those involved to keep the work alive, and to pursue a University-supported initiative rather than wait for federal funding. The energy for a continued commitment came from the collective belief that poverty is a subject that demands action, and from the synergy that came from the extensive collaboration involved in the conduct of the study.

As a result of considerable discussion among academic, research, and service faculty, the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach at UGA is undertaking the University of Georgia's Initiative on Poverty and the Economy. With full support from campus administration as one of the university's top priorities, the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach has been given full responsibility for overseeing the Initiative. The Initiative's mission is to create sustainable activities across multiple disciplines that are designed to address issues of persistent poverty specific to the working and nonworking poor. The Initiative serves as a bridge between research and public policy intended to ameliorate the consequences and/or factors associated with persistent poverty. The intended outcome is the support of sound scholarly research that will promote public policy designed to improve both individual economic well-being and community prosperity.