Danville’s Poverty Rate Drops

Danville, Virginia John Crane GoDanRiver.com March 11, 2018 Finance + Operation

The city is not unique when it comes to a steadily declining poverty rate, said Karl Stauber, president and CEO of the non-profit community development group Danville Regional Foundation. It’s going down throughout the country.

Since the Great Recession and its disruption, there has been a slow and gradual improvement, he pointed out. However, the decline in population has been the product of lack of job opportunities here, Stauber said. In 1970, Danville and the commonwealth overall had the same median household income. “We were all pretty much in the same place,” Stauber said. But by 2015, the city’s median household income was half that of the state. “That picture tells you a whole lot,” Stauber said.

“Many factors can drive an area’s poverty rate, ranging from lack of educational attainment to low wages, and many of these factors are interconnected,” said David Eichenthal, executive director of the National Resource Network, a Washington, D.C. based economic development think tank for municipalities.

The same factors contributing to the poverty rate can lead to population decline, especially a lack of jobs, Eichenthal said.

“Residents who cannot find employment may move away from the city to pursue other opportunities,” he said. “Worse, a declining population may result in other negative factors such as housing vacancy and blight, which further drives residents away.”

Eichenthal and the network are conducting a five-year financial planning forecast to help Danville officials anticipate revenues and spending levels over the coming years.

Cities facing poverty and population decline can become trapped in a cycle of structural deficits, Eichenthal said. A balanced budget may be essential to the governance of a city, but that alone won’t attract many new residents, he said.

“Fiscal stability is a necessary but not sufficient aspiration for distressed cities,” Eichenthal said. “Multi-year plans are a means of ensuring that cities also have the means to make those beneficial investments for quality of life and economic competitiveness.”

Danville City Manager Ken Larking said officials have been trying to make Danville a more desirable place to live, and that has included making the River District more attractive.

“We’ve tried to increase amenities downtown,” Larking said, citing the Riverwalk Trail, the bike trail system and the bike share program as examples.

Everything that makes Danville more attractive can help grow the city’s middle-class community, Larking said. Workforce development aimed at enabling people to gain skills to perform the high-paying jobs that officials are working to attract helps, he said. Years ago, area residents and others across the country could make a decent wage without a high school degree, Larking pointed out.

“That was a common experience in Danville,” he said. “Today, if you don’t have a post-high school degree or certificate, your chances of competing in the workforce … are pretty slim.”