Data Drives Community Change in Southwest Missouri

In southwest Missouri, there is a bit of a chicken and egg problem.

What came first, the high teen birth rates or the low access to primary care physicians?  Children eligible for free and reduced lunch or the unemployment rate? What is the root cause of the disparities in southwest Missouri?

Birth rates for teens in McDonald County are four times that of the national average. Over 30 percent of the population is living below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). Sixty-nine percent of schoolchildren are enrolled in free and reduced lunch programming. Twenty-five percent of children experienced food insecurity, while six percent of those children were deemed ineligible for assistance. More than 5,000 families are eligible to utilize the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program – but only about 11 percent of those families are are using the WIC services.

“It is difficult to move out of McDonald County,” Debbie Markman, Resource Development Director for the Economic Security Corporation (ESC) said. “You either have zero income or less than $300 per month or you make over the 50 percent of the area median gross income because you work at the chicken plants that they pay well and provide good benefits. We have people doing ‘sustenance living’ – growing their own food and sometimes are living in places that don’t have electricity or running water. It’s like the county is split in two.”

For four counties in southwest Missouri – Barton, Jasper, Newton, and McDonald – navigating the challenges of their community needs falls under the mission of the Economic Security Corporation (ESC). ESC works with communities to alleviate the conditions of poverty and provide individuals and families with opportunities that will enable them to achieve economic security.

When the time came to update the community needs assessments for the four counties, ESC turned to Community Commons to explore the areas of greatest need in their communities and to present that data in a compelling way to board members. The utilization of the community data provided unparalleled insight into a path toward community-wide economic security.

“The data we discovered has started so many conversations and really has given us a place to start from,” Markman said. “We’ve been able to talk about why things are happening and what can be done to fix it. Our goal is developing programs that have evidence-based processing behind it.”

ESC is now leading an effort to address three to five major priorities and hope to start implementation on these priorities over the next five years.


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