In September of 2011, newly-elected Mayor Mike Rawlings and I announced the formation of the Commit Partnership. We did so in the belief that the educational challenges our community faced were too big to solve in silos, and we hoped that by coming together across sectors and institutions, supported by a dedicated Partnership backbone staff and armed with robust data insights, we could accelerate our community’s progress. Together, in collaboration with countless community partners, Dallas County has moved the needle forward and significantly improved academic outcomes in our region for tens of thousands of students.
But as we look at the state of poverty in Dallas County and its serious implications for academic success, it’s clear that there is still much more work to do – especially given the setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic. We must intensify our focus on increasing living wage attainment across our community.
As the 9th most populous county in the country, Dallas County educates about 9% of the state’s public school students and 1% of the nation’s. However, our community is disproportionately poorer (10-15% more compared to other large urban Texas counties, in part due to our historical education outcomes) as there are only five counties (out of over 3,100 in the U.S.) with more children living in poverty.
For young adults who grow up in homes experiencing economic insecurity, the average Dallas County household income is far below a living wage -- $28,000 -- (which we defined in 2018 as $50,000 based on data from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator to cover basic living expenses in our region adjusted for inflation).
Right now, only 30% of Dallas County young adults aged 25-34 earn a living wage.
A recent study of the City of Dallas showed that even full-time employment is not necessarily sufficient. More than 27,000 City of Dallas residents live in poverty despite having full-time employment.
And poverty carries an impact far greater than any economic consequences. Devastatingly, life expectancy rates vary widely between zip codes in our community just 15 miles apart.
It’s inconceivable that Dallas is both a national leader in job growth and in poverty — those should never be in the same sentence. All too often the open jobs paying a living wage in our community are filled with those educated elsewhere. Instead, we must commit to preparing Dallas County’s own young adults to participate in the same prosperity.
In examining this data, the Commit Partnership realigned around an updated North Star goal in 2021 to double the number of our neighbors aged 25-34 earning a living wage by 2040. What gets measured gets addressed, but our community also needs a more comprehensive approach that addresses the numerous root causes and barriers both inside and outside the classroom walls that impact living wage attainment. Only then can the Partnership’s vision of an inclusive, equitable, and prosperous region, where race, place, and socio-economic status no longer predict educational and economic attainment, be achieved.
The stakes in Dallas County are high but can also be transformational. Based on our region’s size and demographics, what works in Dallas County can be replicated across Texas with the potential to change public education, the workforce, and most importantly, our children’s future. It’s increasingly vital that we examine the challenging reality of living wage attainment in Dallas County and coalesce around a comprehensive plan to address it with others. The future of our community depends on it.