A Multi-City Comparison of Poverty Reduction Strategies: What Can Tucson Learn from Other Cities

Brian Mayer, Ph.D. Associate Professor, School of Sociology, University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
Julia Grace Smith, M.S., Doctoral Candidate, School of Sociology, University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Increasingly, city and county leaders are developing regionally specific strategies and programs for alleviating poverty. As federal and state funding for antipoverty efforts continue to diminish, local stakeholders representing a broad set of municipal sectors are looking for ways to work together to identify alternative sources of funding and innovative approaches to address persistent and disproportionately high urban rates of poverty. Many cities across the United States are taking these bold and inspiring steps to develop collaborative models for priority setting, policymaking, and interventions.

The Making Action Possible Dashboard project was created to measurably improve Southern Arizona through data driven collective civic action and education. This white paper, “A Multi-city Comparison of Poverty Reduction Strategies,” provides potential models for collaborative action based on the activities of five cities across the United States: Norfolk, VA, Nashville, TN, Springfield, MO, Kalamazoo, MI, and Rochester, NY. This white paper builds on the research collected for Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild’s Poverty Commission (2012-2014) which profiled city and households trends in poverty in combination with a review of several other cities. Together, these reports provide a comprehensive review of the most prominent and potentially successful cases of city-specific initiatives to alleviate poverty and provide economic security to low income households within the past decade.

Our multi-city comparison found remarkable similarities across the five cities included here. In particular, we found that the cities adopted a collaborative model that included both municipal representatives, the local nonprofit community, and to a slightly lesser degree the for-profit private sector. This diversity in representation of interests, resources, and strategies was universally seen as essential for determining what regionally-specific antipoverty strategies should be developed and prioritized. The inclusion of the private sector, both for its potential in financially supporting key programs as well as influencing the development of strategies – particularly workforce development strategies – was also seen as essential to the long-term success of these antipoverty initiatives. The legitimacy of the proposed actions was also largely dependent on the representativeness of the programs, with backing and participation from both elected city officials and municipal agency directors.

Reducing poverty and providing economic security for low income families is an essential function for any city and its public and private sectors. Collaborative partnerships appear to be the ideal strategy for bringing key stakeholders to the table to determine priority areas that reflect regional concerns and potential resources for addressing them. In each of the five cities reviewed here, collaborative coalitions of city, nonprofit, and private sector stakeholders committed substantial time, energy, and resources to developing regionally specific antipoverty strategies. Each city’s coalition reported significant benefits gained through the collaborative process, from building trust to developing innovative partnerships and engaging solutions to the persistent problem of poverty.

Read the Full Report