As a finalist for chancellor of PCC this spring, I read extensively about Tucson to learn more about the community the College serves. Among the data I came across, one statistic stood out.
Tucson is the sixth-poorest metropolitan area in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with 1 in 5 Tucsonans living below the poverty line in 2011. In the aggregate, poverty correlates to high unemployment, anemic economic growth, poor academic achievement and low-paying jobs. Individually, it invariably amounts to the dispiriting sense that the American Dream is receding ever further from reach.
The statistic is, of course, sobering. But it is heartening that in the six weeks I have been Chancellor, I’ve talked to a wide variety of people – decision-makers in business, education, government, as well as leaders of civic and faith-based organizations, and students and others just trying to make ends meet – and not one has lost hope. No one accepts that decline is our destiny.
As a first step in fighting back, one must comprehensively identify a problem, and I want to congratulate Tucson’s daily newspaper, the Arizona Daily Star, for shining a light on the issue. The Star this week is publishing an in-depth series on poverty in Tucson — its causes, human impact and solutions. And I am pleased that the Star, in chronicling one of many solutions to this multifaceted problem, has spotlighted the effectiveness of the Pathways to Healthcare program, a partnership between PCC and the county’s OneStop Career Center, in breaking the cycle of poverty.
Pathways to Healthcare is funded through an $18.5 million U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant offering financial assistance for low-income people to train in high-demand health professions. Most of the training is offered through PCC’s Center for Training and Development.
As of August 1, 950 students had signed up for Pathways assistance. Pathways’ goal is to enroll a total of 1,750 to 2,000 students over the five-year life of the grant.
As of August 1, 378 of the 950 Pathways participants had completed training in fields that range from home health aides and medical billers to paramedics and nursing assistants. A total of 310 Pathways participants have gotten jobs. Now for the real bottom line: The average entry-level hourly wage for participants employed in the healthcare sector is $12.05. Compare that to Arizona’s minimum hourly wage of $7.80.
Pathways to Healthcare is but one attempt by PCC to improve the future economy of our community through meaningful employment. I will write about others in the days to come. It is appropriate that a public conversation is taking shape now on this critical issue. Fifty years ago this month, hundreds of thousands of Americans converged on Washington, D.C., to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his landmark “I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. King knew that gaining political rights without economic opportunity was a half-victory. In fact, the event was called the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” In 1963, the link between the two was clear. It remains so today.