It Takes a Village — Its Assets, That Is

If you take a broad view of community health, it also encompasses the economic and social well-being of residents.

As I learned recently, philanthropic leaders are taking that approach in trying to reinvigorate struggling communities.

A key element in this line of attack is retaining family assets within the community for the benefit of future generations.

A recently released study said Missouri has a transfer-of-wealth opportunity of about $1.5 trillion during the next half century.

But as I dug into the report, commissioned by the Alliance of Missouri Community Foundations, some of the data below that top-line figure didn’t look too promising.

One finding, for instance, said nearly 60 percent of Missouri households have no wealth or low wealth (though the percentage was pretty much in line with the national average).

It also didn’t seem to bode well that Missouri households have become increasingly reliant on transfer payments like Social Security and welfare – with a “dependency rate” that stood at 20.5 percent of Missouri’s total personal income in 2010.

Nor did it seem all that promising that, throughout the state, entrepreneurs earned less than working stiffs. Isn’t small business the engine of job growth in our country?

And even though Missouri appears to be growing at a healthy pace (projected to add more than 700,000 people over the next two decades), its growth rate lagged behind the national average between 1970 and 2010.

But Ahmet Binerer, a co-author of the report, put the figures in perspective.

For instance, he said, the fact that nearly half of urban households have no wealth could reflect the fact that cities draw poor folks hungry for economic success.

“The important thing,” Binerer said, “is what happens in the future after these people come to these metropolitan areas. Are they able to find opportunity?”

And in terms of the transfer payments, he said, one way to look at it is that our social safety net is working.

In addition, he said, under-reporting of income among entrepreneurs could also skew their earnings downward.

And finally, he said, the slow and steady pace of population growth reflects the tortoise approach of the Midwest vs. the hares on the coasts.

As chief executive of the Community Foundation of Northwest Missouri, Mary Hinde coordinated the establishment of the community foundation alliance.

The low-wealth and no-wealth findings in the report, she said, “make our jobs as philanthropists even more urgent.” Foundation leaders, she said, must convince the well-healed to leave their wealth behind for those who are less fortunate.

At her foundation, Hinde said, they have already taken to heart the philosophy of not dwelling on problems within the community.

Northwest Missouri is a large hog producer, is strong in the animal-health field, and has natural resources that people on the coasts can only dream about, Hinde said.

“Let’s figure out first what our assets are,” she said, “and build on those.”

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