Bartholomew County’s so-called economic gap is not exactly a new discovery. It has existed here for decades, but it is only in recent years that the stark reality of statistics relating to household income has been acknowledged on a community-wide basis.
The notion was reinforced most recently in a community needs assessment issued by the United Way of Bartholomew County. One of the most telling findings that lends weight to the widening gap in income is that 21 percent of all the county’s households earn less than $25,000 a year.
There are pockets of poverty in certain areas. According to officials with Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center, a nonprofit agency that focuses on working with low-income residents primarily in the downtown area, approximately 40 percent of the people who live in the neighborhood are at or below the poverty level.
The community has not been remiss in addressing problems that go with the economically deprived in Bartholomew County. The United Way and its member agencies have long records of providing services for those in need. Over the years, social service groups have developed a variety of programs designed to help people gain economic independence.
Some programs have been creative, such as Project Self-Sufficiency and Volunteers in Medicine. Funding is always an issue, but the people and institutions of Bartholomew County have been generous in donating to efforts aimed at helping those in lower income brackets. This year the United Way fund drive broke its previous record with a total take of more than $4 million.
Nevertheless, the statistics relating to income disparity continue to be more depressing.
While funding will always be a need for programs designed to help low-income residents gain a measure of economic independence, community focus can be even more important. This community appears to be taking a major step in expanding that focus.
One of the most important developments in this endeavor is the recent commitment by leaders of the Heritage Fund: the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County to add financial stability for local residents to its list of major initiatives.
While some might interpret this as a welcome sign that the county’s largest foundation will be throwing a vast amount of financial resources into the effort, this is about much more than handing out grant money. It is also not about giving and taking but more about developing ways to help people chart their own courses to economic independence.
Just as there are a variety of reasons to explain how the economic gap has widened in this community, there are also responsibilities that have to be accepted. Programs already exist that provide pathways through education and job training to better standards of life. Others can be developed.
Ways need to be developed to make people aware of these opportunities and help them to utilize the aid.
Having a major institution like the Heritage Fund as a key player on this team is a major step forward.