SAN ANTONIO - As the nation's poverty rate takes a dip, San Antonio's is going up. But plans are in the works to fix that.
"Where other cities are moving, the middle class is improving, we still have a long way to go," said Edna Molina with the COPS/Metro Alliance.
From 2015 to 2016, San Antonio's poverty rate went up roughly 1 percent from 17.8 percent to 18.5 percent.
Compare those numbers to the national average. According to the United States Census Bureau: "The nation's official poverty rate in 2016 was 12.7 percent, with 40.6 million people in poverty, 2.5 million fewer than in 2015. The 0.8 percentage point decrease from 2015 to 2016 represents the second consecutive annual decline in poverty."
"For years, the city was marketed as a low-wage city to attract low-wage industries here," Molina explained.
Molina says that COPS/Metro Alliance is working to reverse that legacy. The organization strives to develop political will in the city and county to raise the minimum wage.
For example, in November 2014, minimum wage for city and county employees in San Antonio and Bexar County was $11.47, equal to the federal poverty level. But a new city budget now sets those wages at $14.25 an hour, a big difference for those working families.
"We're working toward the $15/hour which is the amount needed in this area as a living wage," Molina said.
Project Quest, a job training program started by the Cops/Metro Alliance 25 years ago moves workers from low wages to a higher-paying jobs. Last year, Molina says that 100 Quest students went from making an average of $11 an hour to $42 an hour.
"Which made about $3.1 million impact on our City of San Antonio," she noted.
The city is investing more money in the program, $2.5 million to be exact. Another $9 million will be invested to rehab homes across San Antonio to help working families.
"They help people whose homes really don't qualify for some of the programs available, like weatherization, because they need major help, major renovation," Molina said.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg says that the census numbers underscore the city council's agenda to combat poverty.
“We are working to create a culture of equity by focusing on needed infrastructure investment in historically neglected communities," the mayor said in a statement to KENS 5. "The city’s proposed 2018 budget seeks to address many of the underlying problems that thwart economic opportunity for too many San Antonians."
Mayor Nirenberg went on to say that the city is "continuing to fund job training and early childhood education, and we are contributing $4.3 million to VIA to improve bus service, providing better transportation for San Antonians who depend on the bus system to get to work. We continue to promote job creation and economic development."
He added that the lack of affordable housing is also a glaring problem, which is why he created the Housing Policy Talk Force, to get more affordable housing for working families.
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