Published On: June 27th, 2023

Cambridge Community Foundation releases data on the families eligible for the Rise Up Cambridge program, revealing challenges and resilience

June 27, 2023 | Cambridge, MA

A new data brief by the Cambridge Community Foundation (CCF) reveals the pressures low-income families are facing in a city whose cost of living is 73 percent higher than the national average. CCF found that:

  • Just over 60 percent of Cambridge’s Black and African American families with children make half or less of what the Economic Policy Institute considers a living wage.
  • The median income of single mothers is $29,000—just 15 percent of the $191,000 citywide median for married couples with kids.
  • More than half of the people in eligible families are 21 or younger, with the largest share under age 12. That’s nearly 4,000 Cambridge children whose circumstances make it hard for them to live up to their potential and become thriving members of the community.

The Rise Up Cambridge program aims to help change these statistics. It is a $22 million City of Cambridge program run in partnership with Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, the Cambridge Community Foundation, and Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee that supports families with children making up to 250 percent of the federal poverty line—$66,250 for a family of four. The program is the only one in the country that’s not lottery-based, offering all eligible families $500 cash assistance for 18 months. Funds will be distributed beginning July 1.

“It is nearly impossible to get families out of poverty given the current policies at the federal level,” said Geeta Pradhan, president of the Cambridge Community Foundation. “The targets are unrealistically low.” The federal poverty line varies by family size, but for a family of four living in Cambridge, it was just $26,500 in 2021, the year the CCF data brief uses because it corresponds with the latest demographic data available from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

“When you think about what it costs to live in Cambridge, including the incredibly high cost of housing and childcare, what do you have left to live on?” Pradhan asked. “What is left to invest in yourself and your children to get ahead in life? Unless these big policy issues are dealt with, all we are left with as a foundation and a city is our ability to make sure these families are stable and surviving.”

CCF’s nine-page brief provides statistics on the makeup, income levels, educational attainment, race and ethnicity, and more of the families that are eligible for Rise Up Cambridge. These families constitute a significant population that often goes unseen in Cambridge, and their heads of household are incredibly resilient, making ends meet for their children month after month despite the odds. But their efforts come at a cost. Decades of research has now confirmed that even small amounts of unconditional cash can have a huge impact on these families, giving them a chance to catch up and breathe.

“The data in this brief are clear that not every Cambridge family has a basic level of economic stability,” said Cambridge City Manager Yi-An Huang. “Rise Up Cambridge seeks to empower families to make their own financial decisions, whether related to education, childcare, housing, food, or just enjoying life’s moments. Each family is unique and there is a deep dignity to giving people the choice and power to decide what they need.”

The majority of the households studied in the report include at least one working adult and many have two, underscoring the difficulty these families have of getting by despite trying their hardest. “People are often told that if they work hard and play by the rules, they will succeed,” said Tina Alu, executive director of the Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee (CEOC), the city’s anti-poverty agency. “But many of the recipients work two or three jobs and are still struggling to make ends meet. More than 87 percent of the respondents to a recent CEOC survey said they do not have $400 in savings to handle an emergency. The Rise Up cash payments will have a tremendous impact on the lives of these families.”

“This report presents a clear picture of the work we have to do in Cambridge as we seek to empower families and eliminate poverty,” added Mayor Siddiqui. “The fact that we received more than 1,000 applications in the first 24 hours of this program highlights the need, and I am grateful for CCF’s continued dedication to poverty-reduction in Cambridge.

Rise Up Cambridge builds on the guaranteed basic income pilot Cambridge RISE, a cross-sector partnership among Mayor Siddiqui, the City of Cambridge, the Cambridge Community Foundation, CEOC, Just A Start, UpTogether, and the Cambridge Housing Authority that was supported by a wide range of donors, including Harvard and MIT. Cambridge RISE, which concluded in February 2023, supported 130 single caretakers in Cambridge and their children with $500 a month no-strings-attached cash payments for 18 months.

Rise Up Cambridge will make a crucial difference for families, and the Cambridge Community Foundation is proud to be a part of it.

Read the new data brief.

For more information, please contact:

Lauren Marshall

Vice President of Marketing and Civic Engagement, Cambridge Community Foundation

[email protected] | 617-872-6543