This article continues the report of findings from the national poll commisssioned by the Northwest Area Foundation and relates how the data is put into action by Iowans and Horizons - a program funded in part by the Northwest Area Foundation and delivered by Iowa State University Extension.
AMES, Iowa -- Iowans are cutting back on their spending and many say these new habits are likely to be permanent, according to a recent national poll commissioned by the Northwest Area Foundation of St. Paul. More than half of Iowans (57 percent) say they have cut back their spending as a result of the recession. Many families are facing job losses, cuts in work hours, and one in four has had trouble paying for basic needs such as housing and food.
In general, Iowans (63 percent) say more people are struggling in their community compared to a year ago. Some communities have a more acute sense of local poverty and the actions necessary to move the community toward prosperity because of Horizons, a program delivered by Iowa State University Extension and funded by the Northwest Area Foundation.
“Horizons communities have identified issues in their communities that are holding people in poverty and are taking action to solve some of those issues,” said Ruth Freeman, ISU Extension Horizons director. “Six in 10 Iowans surveyed by the national poll say a family of four living in their community would need $40,000 or more to make ends meet. That is far beyond the federal government’s poverty income threshold of $21,834.”
Elma citizens built an early childhood center to remove one impediment for families. The center, which provides care for 30 children, gets at the heart of limited childcare options for the community’s working parents. Other Horizons communities plan to help families meet their needs by matching community volunteer skills with the needs of people in their community, or providing a resource center where people in need can learn about available resources.
According to the national poll, 44 percent of Iowans do not know where they could go in their community if they needed help with basic necessities. Most likely to say they would not know where to turn are residents ages 55 and older (55 percent) as well as those with a high school degree or less (49 percent).
“It was obvious during Horizons study circles that the community had many resources that people who needed them didn‘t know about,” said Amy Clair, Sac City Horizons steering committee member. “We responded immediately by creating a resource directory, printing up 300 of them and distributing them. I have heard over and over how useful these directories are.”
Data from the survey show how far reaching the economic recession has been in Iowa communities. Close to one in four (23 percent) say they or a family member living in their household have lost a job in the past 12 months, and 25 percent have had problems paying for basic necessities such as mortgage or rent, heating and food; and one in three (33 percent) say their or a family member’s hours have been cut at work.
To address similar needs, Horizons communities Elma, Keosauqua and Waukon taught ISU Extension financial classes as part of their poverty reduction plan. Greenfield increased savings through financial literacy efforts including America Saves for Kindergarteners and their families. Nearly a fourth of the Horizons communities have plans to provide adult skill building opportunities including money management, English as a second language, computer training or folk trades like blacksmithing, horse handling or wood crafts.
Mentoring programs, housing rehabilitation and support for local business development have all come from Horizons community action plans. These and other programs reflect the opinions expressed by eight in ten (79 percent) of those polled who say local officials have a responsibility to get churches, businesses, schools and other local groups to work together to help people struggling to make ends meet.
Directing Horizons in Iowa is one way ISU Extension responds to Iowans expectations and helps communities identify local needs, build leadership skills and improve quality of life. To learn more about Horizons and the Northwest Area Foundation visit the ISU Extension Web site www.extension.iastate.edu/horizons.