GARY | Poverty reaches across Northwest Indiana into communities not traditionally considered areas of low incomes, and creating solutions will involve a regional partnership to stimulate economic growth and educational opportunities.
Speakers stressed that message during Wednesday’s Chancellor’s Commission for Community Engagement at Indiana University Northwest focusing on poverty and economic growth. The event hosted by IUN Chancellor William J. Lowe brought together leaders from business, industry, nonprofits and community volunteers.
“Poverty exists in every community, not just in East Chicago, Gary and Hammond,” said Micah Pollak, a professor at the IUN school of business and economics, who presented information about poverty trends in Lake and Porter counties.
Valparaiso and Merrillville have had “significant increases in poverty,” Pollak said. Poverty rates in Schererville have increased more than 240 percent since 1980.
“There is a strong correlation between unemployment and poverty,” he said. “One of the best ways to reduce poverty is jobs.”
Increasing the number of people who graduate from high school and go on to college or other postsecondary education is another vital step, Pollak said.
“We have to do this as a region,” he said.
Surekha Rao, a professor in the IUN school of business and economics, shared research she continues to do on poverty and how that information needs to be included in indexes of economic growth. The goal should be to eliminate poverty, she said.
“There is a big gap in the income levels. Poverty is increasing at an alarming rate. Over 16 percent of the population in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties live in poverty. How can we ignore those numbers?” Rao said.
The gap between those who earn a good living and those who don’t is increasing in Lake County, she said.
“Porter County is doing the best in our region and poverty is at a much lower level there. There is still a gap that needs to be looked at,” Rao said. “LaPorte County shows the widest gap in income levels and has the highest rate of poverty in the three-county area.”
Ty Warner, executive director of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, talked about the 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan that envisions growth and revitalization throughout the three-county area.
Among the opportunities Warner said would address poverty include creating livable centers that encourage people to live and work in an area that doesn’t require vehicle transportation. Establishing a strong, multimodal public transit network is another way to get people to good-paying jobs in Chicago and throughout Northwest Indiana.
David Reingold, from the school of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University Bloomington, spoke via webcast. The professor stressed the need for universities and other community organizations to work with such programs as AmeriCorps VISTA. Now in its 50th years, VISTA sends people of all ages into areas to work on anti-poverty solutions.
These partnerships between federal, state and local agencies, including IUN, “will create natural incubators trying to formulate a new generation of anti-poverty efforts,” Reingold said.