An Assessment of what’s happening in KC, the actions being taken, and how you can help.
For over 100 years, the United Way has played a unique role in the philanthropic community by bringing people and resources together to tackle the most pressing and persistent challenges facing our community today and tomorrow. We support children and families throughout the Greater Kansas City metro with real-time needs and work collaboratively on long-term solutions to remove barriers to social and economic mobility so that all people in our community can thrive.
As a convener and collaborator in the critical domains of health, education, and financial stability, the United Way of Greater Kansas City possesses a distinct perspective on the challenges faced by individuals and the emerging trends in our community. Equally, as the operator of Kansas City’s 211, a 24/7 information and referral service, we engage with individuals on a constant basis, addressing the issues they encounter, understanding the barriers they face, and responding to their immediate needs, which often reveal underlying systemic challenges that the Kansas City nonprofit ecosystem must confront. This unique vantage point along with triangulating data from multiple sources informed this United Way of Greater Kansas City Community Needs Index.
Today, we begin with an executive high-level summary. In the coming days, we’ll break down each component of the report in separate blog entries for you to take a deeper dive and gain a more full and complete understanding of the issues our community is facing, the steps United Way is taking to address them, and how you can be a partner in advocating and working toward change.
United Way looked at 19 issue areas in health and human services in completing this analysis. Capturing the intricacy of people’s experiences, the disparities that exist, and the amazing amount of work being done to address our communities is a complex undertaking. Below is a selection of community needs and the challenges we face as a primer for the full analysis.
Meeting Basic Needs
- Housing Security – Housing is increasingly out of reach of low to middle income households, placing households at greater risk of evictions. In Kansas City, 43% of renter households are cost-burdened, meaning they spend 30% or more of their gross income per month on rent.
- Food and Nutrition Security – There are over 180,000 people in the Kansas City metro who are food insecure, meaning they don’t have access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Wyandotte County, Kansas, Jackson County and Clay County in Missouri have the highest food insecurity rates for counties in the metro.
- Legal Assistance – Half of low-income Americans are unsure they can find and afford legal services for their major civil legal problems which includes evictions, healthcare costs, restraining orders for survivors of domestic violence, and public benefit enrollment.
Financial Stability and Income
- Financial Education, Coaching and Skill Building/ Financial Stability Case Management– In Kansas City, nearly 200,000 people are living in poverty and nearly 60% of Americans will experience a year living in poverty during their lifetime. Lack of financial knowledge is costing the average individual more than $1800 per year.
- Supports for People with Involvement in the Justice System– Nearly 1 in 3 Americans have some form of criminal record limiting their ability to obtain employment, housing, and other benefits. Arrest, incarceration, and collateral consequences disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, minorities, and economically disadvantaged people.
Early Childhood and Youth Success
- Early Childhood Education and Development- While birth to five years old is the most important time for brain development in a child, lack of access to quality, affordable childcare and early childhood education creates a serious barrier to development. Currently, Kansas City childcare centers operate at 60% of their capacity due to staffing, and even when space is available, the high costs are prohibitive to many families.
- Child Welfare- At least 1 in 7 children in the United States have experienced abuse or neglect in the last year, and the abuse/neglect rates are five times higher for children from homes with a low socioeconomic status.
Health and Well-Being
- Access to Healthcare and Supportive Services- One of the most significant barriers to quality healthcare is lack of insurance and in Kansas City, approximately 180,000 people are uninsured. When considering additional barriers to care, that disproportionately people of color and low-income households, our community experiences significant health disparities.
- Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse Intervention & Treatment- one in five US adults lives with mental illness and Kansas City rests between two states that rank last (Kansas) and 39th (Missouri) for mental healthcare. Mental illness is intertwined with substance abuse as both a consequence and cause, creating a complicated dynamic resulting in over 100,000 drug overdoses and 52,000 alcohol-induced deaths in the U.S. in 2021.
- Services for Individuals with Disabilities- one in four Americans live with some form of disability including about 216,000 people in the Kansas City metro. Yet barriers to education, healthcare, and employment prevent genuine inclusion in our community and create a higher likelihood for people living disabilities to face poverty.
- Crime Prevention & Intervention- Kansas City as a metro continues to struggle with crime and violence in our streets and neighborhoods. In 2022, the metro had 264 homicides, just short of the record set in 2020 and an analysis of Federal Bureau of Investigation data has Kansas City, Missouri ranked in the top 15 most dangerous cities in America.
Many of these issues are intertwined and coexist. Poverty, with its far-reaching impact on households, cuts throughout making addressing one necessitates tackling others (e.g., transportation and healthcare). These experiences give rise and warrant attention, analysis, and a proactive approach as we strive to build a more equitable community. This needs index serves as United Way’s commitment to staying attuned to the intricate ecosystem that is Kansas City, as we unite with our loved ones, friends, and neighbors to become WaymakersTM in the place we proudly call home.