City Hall

How the Mayor's Task Force Wants to Combat Poverty in Dallas

In February, Mayor Mike Rawlings created a task force to fight against what he calls Dallas' "barbell economy." Dallas is a wealthy city, experiencing 68 percent GDP growth between 2000 and 2012, but it is also a city with pockets of concentrated poverty that promote blight and toxic stress for residents.

The task force, headed by Councilman Tennell Atkins, CitySquare president Larry James and attorney Regina Montoya, has been helped in the preceding months by hundreds of people. As you might expect, its recommendations to the council were general, if pragmatic and unlikely to face much opposition.

The recommendation likely to receive the most attention is a plan to leverage the federal Earned Income Tax Credit to reduce poverty and generate revenue for the city.

Basically the city would use $1 million in city funds and in-kind donations to set up centers to help those who qualify for the EITC file their taxes, access financial services and best utilize the money received from the credit. The centers, according to Atkins, will lead to more EITC qualifiers actually filing a tax return and allow those qualifiers to keep more of what they get back -- because of the access to financial planning and services for the unbanked and saving the average $225 tax preparation cost. The task force estimates that the total benefit to the Dallas economy from the initiative would be 36 times the initial investment, or $36 million.

That's about as concrete as it gets. The group supports the creation of a "Office of Community Opportunity" inside city hall to address poverty issues, leading the fight for a higher minimum wage by guaranteeing a living wage for city workers -- as the city already does -- and employees of city contractors. Reforming blight and early childhood education were also suggested priorities, the latter of which is already being pursued by Dallas ISD.

West Dallas was lauded for being an example of the diffusion of concentrated poverty.

"I believe that there is a best practice that has happened in West Dallas," Rawlings said.

Poverty, like wealth, builds on itself, the mayor said. That's why breaking up high-poverty pockets is important.

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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young