Overcoming Persistent Poverty

Poverty is a complex issue, and much of the Community Foundation’s work to date has focused on the symptoms of poverty rather than the root causes. We know there are systems in place that create barriers for people working towards economic security and well-being. This priority is about identifying and breaking down those barriers to success, whatever they may be, to address the underlying issues that result in persistent poverty. Overcoming persistent poverty is related to economic opportunity, but includes those who may not be in the workforce, like children, some seniors and some disabled individuals.

What We Believe

Persistent poverty affects everyone in our community and is an issue that we have a shared responsibility to address.  Alabama is the sixth poorest state in the U.S.; 17% of Alabamians and 24% of Alabama children live below the federal poverty threshold.  Child poverty rates are highest among African American and Hispanic children. Single mothers experience significantly higher rates of poverty in Alabama and more than 47% of female-headed households with children in Alabama report income below the poverty threshold.  The gap between Alabama’s median household income and the nation continues to grow. Alabama’s median household income is $48,193, or $12,143 less than the national median of $60,336.

These facts about poverty help us understand the issue of persistent poverty, but they do not fully describe the challenges faced by individuals and families in our community who are living at or below the poverty threshold. Overcoming poverty requires addressing a diverse range of issues within systems: equity, educational attainment, job creation, income inequality, housing, food security, public transit, healthcare, child care, asset building, and more.

The Impact We Seek

The Foundation is committed to:

  1. Reducing the number of children and individuals living in intergenerational poverty by identifying and addressing obstacles to prosperity

  2. Building systems of support to meet the basic needs of those in crisis with a wide array of holistic safety net services

  3. Breaking down societal barriers that result in the disproportionately high cost of poverty through advocacy and public policy reform

What Progress Looks Like

While there are many roads to economic opportunity for all, below are some measures the Foundation will track that we see as critical markers of progress. We will also track qualitative measures and – because this work is dynamic and we are learning – may evolve our measures over time.

  • Number of new benefit enrollments
  • Number of homeless housed
  • Number of quality childcare programs (or number of children served in same)
  • Number of underserved individuals receiving basic education supports
  • Number of quality elder care programs (or number of seniors served in same)
  • Number of affordable housing units
  • Number of individuals/families achieving homeownership
  • Number of individuals/families moved to secure, quality housing
  • Number of individuals/families achieving living wage income
  • Number of bills entered / policy changes proposed
  • Number of engaged in advocacy initiatives
  • Number of advocacy initiatives
  • Number of policies changed / policy goals met

We will also track longer-term community outcomes like the data points highlighted above.  We believe the Foundation can contribute to moving the needle on these outcomes over time.


Numerous resources have contributed to our understanding of persistent poverty in the Greater Birmingham region. Here are some of the most significant:

Laura Moore of Opportunity Insights was invited by the Community Foundation to speak on Persistent Poverty, and shared findings from that organization’s Opportunity Atlas in her presentation “The Geography of Upward Mobility in Birmingham.  Just one example of a troubling data point from that study: Birmingham has one of the lowest rates of economic mobility in the country. Compared to most other cities and the national median, fewer children growing up in low-income households in our region are able to improve their economic status as adults.

The annual Brookings Metro Monitor provides data on poverty, equity, and economic growth annually for the 100 largest metropolitan areas.  Although Birmingham has seen some strides in recent years, the  most recent data shows that from 2009 to 2019, out of the top 53 largest metros in the country, Birmingham is 40th in the relative poverty rate change and 53rd (dead last) in the change in the relative poverty gap between whites and people of color.