The Charlotte Region’s Lack of Economic Mobility, and What Ada Jenkins Is Doing to Help

On my way to work at Ada Jenkins Center, I often listen to NPR’s Charlotte Talks. The subject one morning was Charlotte’s center city expansion and how planners intend to make Uptown more attractive. Over twenty five new housing projects – mostly expensive apartment complexes – are under construction or will begin in 2015. Seven new office space projects have been announced; two are already under way. Planners want to bring new businesses, conventions, and tourism to Charlotte to aid its economic growth. However, a significant population outside of Uptown remains stuck on the slick lower rungs of society’s economic ladder.

The ability of an individual to “move up the ladder”, or improve their economic status, is called upward mobility; this is usually measured by a series of economic factors including income, liquid assets, and wealth. Factors that limit one’s movement include income inequality, education quality, community involvement, family structure, and segregated ethnic communities. Charlotte deals with all of these problems, so it should be no surprise that the city ranked 50/50 for upward mobility in major U.S. commuting zones.

A historically segregated Charlotte is still divided along major transportation arteries. As many affluent (and usually Caucasian) citizens left inner city schools with little money and even fewer teachers who were willing to stick around for more than a few years. A growing number of Charlotte citizens are working full-time or multiple part-time jobs at a wage that fails to protect from various crises that can and will occur. And as many as 36% of households live in poverty; over half of these are single-parent households.

In North Mecklenburg county and South Iredell county, a significant number of people are still facing some form of crisis. Usually, the issues we see are tied to a lack of financial resources. At the Ada Jenkins Center, we work with clients to end the immediate crisis and then establish a foundation that allows them to build their own success. Our goal is to promote upward mobility and to establish safety nets that will protect community members from future incidents. We realize this goal by offering a variety of programs including case management, job search assistance, emergency rent and utility assistance, and referrals to specific partners in our community such as Lydia’s Loft, The Bin, and Crisis Assistance Ministry.

When people walk through the door at Ada, they know that they are welcome. It’s a tangible feeling, and our client partners experience it through our hardworking staff and volunteers. I was able to talk to a staff member who works with client partners to improve their economic standing. She had this to say:

 

For the most part, income levels have gone from nothing to something. Other times, we work with client partners who were formerly in stable situations, but in the blink of an eye they found themselves in crisis.

One client partner has a college degree. She has always had professional, well-paying jobs. Her last job ended several years ago around the time of the recession, and she’s in her 50’s. She’s sent out hundreds, maybe thousands, of resumes. She gets interviews in her field and former pay rate, but never a job offer. Eventually she applied for jobs that paid less and was hired. She is now employed for the first time in years and although it’s not exactly what she was hoping for – after years of no income – she’s grateful for it.

Another client partner worked in the fast food industry on and off for years and was barely able to make ends meet. When she lost a job, she would take advantage of Ada’s free computer stations to job search. She was referred by Ada to a business in the area, hired, and has been there for a year now! She is able to be creative with her work and looks happier than she has in years. Her attitude changed others around her. Her daughter, previously unmotivated, has found and kept employment for several months now.

Here at Ada, we serve client partners like these every day.  We open doors and partner with people to achieve upward mobility.  We strive to cooperate with other nonprofits in the community, so as to not duplicate services. We could not possibly achieve all of this without the help of our amazing volunteers. Together, we are working for a better tomorrow.

 

 

 

For more data about our region, please visit http://ncassets.org/research-and-data and http://cfed.org/policy/resource_center/.