MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tara O’Quinn lives near Uptown and works out East. On most days, that means planning ahead to catch the bus.
“If I`m heading somewhere I need to be there maybe, nine o-clock, I need to be here two hours early.”
O’Quinn says on the days she has to be at work at 6:00 a.m. catching the 5:15 bus means being up before 3:00 a.m.
She works in retail, and like many, faces limitations with public transportation.
“As you know, better job opportunities are farther out and the buses typically don`t go that far,” said O’Quinn.
The 24-year-old’s routine is a reflection of what many Memphians deal with on a daily basis.
Dr. Elena Delavega, of the University of Memphis, says the problems with transportation contribute to the cycle of poverty in Memphis.
“When people cannot get to work, when they cannot get to jobs, they will not have jobs.”
And the problem is growing worse/
The latest statistics, compiled yearly by Delavega, show Memphis has the highest poverty and child poverty rate in the country among larger, metropolitan cities.
Poverty rates for 2016 increased for every race in Memphis.
The rates are higher for African-Americans at 32.3%. A look at median household incomes reveals blacks families earn roughly half than that of their white counterparts.
The 2016 poverty rate is 26.9 % and the child poverty rate is even worse at 44.7 % in Memphis.
“What that means and I want you to think about it, is that when you see a child walking down the street, when you see a child, there`s a 50-50 chance, there is yes, no, that that child is living in poverty.”
Delavega says we won’t solve child poverty without helping families, particularly mothers and it starts with jobs.
“Raising the minimum wage is an essential first step in eliminating poverty. Poor families have poor children.”
Delavega says the other two critical steps are an efficient and effective public transportation system; along with high quality, affordable child care.
She also says the entire community must realize poverty is everyone’s problem.
“The reality is, unless we all come out together, we will all sink together.”