Although painfully obvious, the first part of the solution is critical. Without meaningful employment and education with long-term economic potential, no individual currently subject to poverty will have a chance of escape. For us, jobs fall into two big categories: 1) Fillers and 2) Growers. Filler jobs are exactly what they imply—the fill the need for immediate income to pay bills. These include all of the standard, clerk/cashier-type jobs. Growers, on the other hand, are those jobs that have long-term economic upside. These include any entry-level job where the employee has access to robust skills training, potential for advancement and managerial opportunity. The wages for Growers may be lower at first, but over time, they will create a pathway to things like retirement savings, home ownership and college funding for the next generation, all of which help break the cycle of poverty.
The second part of the solution is also fairly obvious. By way of example, according the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a worker on federal minimum wage can afford to pay $377 in rent. Unfortunately, the average fair market rent for a one-bedroom home in the U.S. is $788. This disparity presents a huge problem in that just having a job, even a good job, does not solve the problem. Housing goes hand in hand with employment as a part of the solution to poverty.
The third part of the solution is focused on Mentoring. Attempts at addressing poverty have been historically independent and singularly focused. Any successful attempt must include a whole person and collaborative approach where clients are matched with mentors, coaches and advocates, to help them maneuver through the steps necessary to succeed. The effects of poverty are interdependent on each other. Ask any service provider in your community what resources are available to a person in need, and you’ll likely receive a very long printed list of organizations that meet one or two parts of those needs. It is almost impossible for any person not intentionally educating themselves on their community to understand, let alone, a person in need who doesn’t have a home, transportation or a consistent form of communication to figure out!
As we developed the platform and began executing the parts in a more efficient way, we discovered something that should have been obvious in the first place. When you combine the lack of knowledge, lack of resources, lack of money, lack of housing, lack of communication and lack of community together, and you add to it an independent, inefficient delivery system to the mix, the real problem becomes glaringly apparent! Poverty is expensive!
Here are a couple of examples:
The poor tend to purchase with high-interest debt. We see this across the board. Whether it is for a car, furniture or education. There is a very expensive “poverty” economy where people who are already barely making it, pay more than anyone else to have the opportunity to stabilize their finances and succeed.
They can’t afford traditional housing. Because they cannot afford the down payment for an apartment, they become long-term renters at the mercy of a landlord whose focus is on profit, with no ability to “control” their future.
They don’t have access to traditional banking. Poorer Americans are so cash-constrained and have so few opportunities to save, that many banks don’t even see the point in opening in their area. A combined 68 million Americans have either no access to traditional banking services, or limited access. Instead, to cash checks or take out loans, they rely on a mishmash of pawnshops, payday lenders, and other unsavory firms, who cumulatively suck up an enormous portion of poor Americans’ incomes through user fees and exorbitant interest rates.
There is a “snowball” effect when trying to help. Housing requires a job. Jobs require health, education, daycare, appropriate clothing and transportation. Once you have a job, a house, daycare, education and appropriate clothing, you need access to a washing machine and dryer and pots and pans, etc. All of these require resources and money. If there is not a plan for all of the resources to insure complete change, you end up back at step 1.