More than six months ago – Sept. 26, 2019, to be exact – the U.S. Census Bureau published a report that should have profoundly disturbed every San Antonian. The Alamo City ranked first among the nation’s Top 25 cities for the highest percentage of people living in poverty. San Antonio’s move “up the list” from its prior ranking of No. 2 meant the city had even fallen behind Detroit.

Editor’s Note

Disconnected is a series about economic segregation in San Antonio.

This is the last story in a series that has debuted a new story every Monday since February. The series explored economic segregation through the lens of the major beats the Rivard Report covers with the goal of creating a human-centric look at one of the city’s biggest problems.

We hope we accomplished that goal, but we’re not done. Later in the year, the Rivard Report will be back with another installment of stories that humanize economic segregation in the nation’s most impoverished city. Until then, we welcome your feedback and comments at hello@rivardreport.com.

For more information on why we chose this project or to catch up on any missed stories, visit the Disconnected home page.

Here at the Rivard Report, we found the reaction of San Antonio’s civic and business leaders to be more muted than anticipated. Initial reaction gave way to other news and headlines and the all-hands-on-deck response we expected never came. That is not necessarily a criticism as much as it is a reflection of reality. There is a belief among many that the city is already doing what it can with limited resources. Deeply rooted, multigenerational poverty has resisted solution everywhere, not just here.

The census report hurt more than it surprised. No new all-encompassing community initiatives would be organized, although the City issued a report on the challenges. San Antonio might need a Marshall Plan, but it lacks the necessary resources.

That’s when journalists here began discussing ways to focus the community’s attention and turning the statistical bad news into a deeply reported look at poverty through the eyes of people living it. We pledged to put a human face on San Antonio’s economic segregation, to find stories that would reach readers who have never experienced poverty and have little firsthand understanding of it as a condition.

Our assumption: What is not understood cannot be fixed.

The commitment would prove to be the most ambitious journalistic undertaking in the Rivard Report‘s eight years of work. Every journalist here – reporters, photographers, editors – was enlisted to participate.

The series was aptly named Disconnected. That best describes life and work for the hundreds of thousands of adults and minors who live in poverty in San Antonio. They are our neighbors, co-workers, our children’s classmates, close at hand yet cut off from the opportunities the rest of us enjoy.

The series has appeared on our site every Monday since Feb. 3. You can read the 12 articles and commentaries here. One month into publication of Disconnected, the coronavirus pandemic presented our journalists with an unprecedented reporting challenge. Like you, we are working remotely. Unlike most, we continue to fan out through the community to deliver timely, fact-based reporting.

Our published Disconnected work will pause for the moment. The series will resume publication after San Antonio starts to see a return to life free of the pandemic.

The fallout from COVID-19 has only made matters worse for people living in poverty. The 30 percent of San Antonians under the age of 18 who live in poverty depend on federally funded school programs to provide breakfast and lunch. For many, these are the day’s only meals. School districts have made valiant efforts to provide those meals to-go, but no one pretends they are reaching all the school age children who suffer food insecurity.

The elderly living in poverty face the same challenges.

Many working poor adults have lost low-wage jobs in the hospitality and service industries. These are breadwinners whose families have no savings and little chance to find supplemental work. They rely on inadequately funded public transportation, reducing their mobility.

Anthony Longoria waits for the downtown lineup bus which only takes him partially home. He walks over four miles every night following work. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

People living in poverty have less access to medical services, live in less healthy environments, and are less likely to afford preventive health care. That reality was shared by Health Reporter Roseanna Garza in a moving account of her own family’s health and wellness issues.

In other words, Disconnected is even more relevant now. Our journalists are searching for additional story subjects that will continue to illuminate the human dimensions of poverty in San Antonio when the series returns later this year. We see Disconnected continuing through 2020 as we work to keep attention on the city’s worsening rate of poverty and as we highlight the many nonprofit organizations that represent the front lines of San Antonio’s anti-poverty efforts.

For readers who have been following the series closely, and for those who now turn to it for the first time, it’s impossible to miss one important thread running through so much of the reporting: People living in poverty almost universally lack a good education. People who fail to graduate from high school or to learn a marketable trade are too often doomed to economic circumstances difficult to escape.

The Link Between Poverty and a Lack of Education

People of means often succumb to stereotypes in pointing fingers and affixing blame for why people live in poverty. Personal responsibility is certainly part of the social compact in the United States, but for children growing up in poverty the barriers to escaping it start at home and often prove nearly impossible to surmount.

Finding ways to provide education opportunities to children living in poverty is the proven way to break the cycle of poverty. San Antonio, too its credit, has shown a growing commitment to improving education outcomes.

That’s evident in the support the San Antonio Independent School District board has given Superintendent Pedro Martinez. It’s evident in the rapid growth of public charter schools and in-district charter schools. It’s evident in the success of the nationally recognized Pre-K 4 SA program. It’s evident in the emerging Alamo Promise initiative at the Alamo Colleges. It’s evident in the growth of the University of Texas at San Antonio and the future expansion of its Downtown Campus. More funding is going to education nonprofits locally than ever before.

That doesn’t help the many adults living in poverty now. Raising wages, incentivizing more affordable housing in a city that for decades imposed discriminatory housing practices, improving public transportation, and strengthening the social agencies serving families living in poverty remains essential business.

There can never be enough charity or philanthropy, which gives all of us a role to play.

The stories in Disconnected are well-reported. The photographs tell their own stories. The picture of poverty in San Antonio is so much more than numbers and rankings. We are proud of our team’s work, and we promise more to come. We hope to keep your attention and interest.

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor and publisher of the San Antonio Report.