Victims of poverty pandemic are more vulnerable to the other storms of life

Featured on: The Oklahoman
November 28, 2022
David Dennis, Guest columnist

Pandemic-induced states of emergency are meant to be temporary in nature. When we began discussions in 2020 about the short-term setbacks our economy may experience, few of us predicted we might near ‘Year Three’ of instability. While many have settled comfortably into a new normal with more flexibility and freedom as we work together to rebuild and regulate the economy, others have yet to find solid ground after the storm.

For Oklahomans in poverty, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are compounded — and over time, the compounding worsens. I wrote for The Oklahoman back in 2020 about how poverty is its own pandemic, shedding light on the vulnerabilities of those whose lives were not built to weather turmoil as significant as what COVID-19 caused nationwide. At the intersection of these two factors are millions of Americans fighting for survival — families who feel the effects of business closures, who live paycheck to paycheck with no room for error, whose lives would be derailed by taking one week off to recover from illness. Though it seems the worst is over, these same families seek stable work, food security and dependable resources today.

We remain hopeful there will be a post-COVID world but understand that the pandemic of generational poverty is much more difficult to eradicate. This is an evergreen public health crisis. In Oklahoma, the census indicates that 15.6% of our state is below the poverty line — nearly 1 in 6 people. All signs point to one truth: Those who fall victim to the pandemic of poverty are exorbitantly more vulnerable to the other storms of life.

Our highest priority, as we consider the memorable natural disasters and crises that mark our years (if we’re lucky) or wreck our lives (if we find ourselves vulnerable), should be to consider how we can protect those in need by equipping them with a strong foundation built to withstand trouble. As a native Oklahoman, I’m proud to lead a company that operates workforce development programs here. While we have footprints in 20 states and the District of Columbia, my heart beats for the people of Oklahoma and their unique challenges. Eckerd Connects operates these workforce development programs with one goal: to end the generational cycle of poverty and ensure that families have the education, tools, resources and supports that they need to achieve stability as productive and fulfilled members of the American workforce.

I’m calling for us to allow Year Three of a COVID-19 pandemic to elucidate the much longer suffering of those within the pandemic of poverty, and the unique vulnerabilities of those caught in the intersection. Their voices are valued and remembered because everyone deserves the opportunity to succeed.

David Dennis

David Dennis is the author of the recently released book “Gameness: Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Feelings” ( and president and CEO of Eckerd Connects (, a national nonprofit organization that provides Job Corps, workforce development, and children & family services across the United States.