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Muddy Boots Blog

Privilege and Poverty

Posted by griffithd on October 17, 2017 at 10:40 AM

“I know a few folks who were born on third base and think they hit a triple.”

“ People in poverty just don’t want to work.”

In the work that we do I hear the above all the time. The issue is the very uncomfortable topic of privilege. Privilege defined as a condition afforded to one set of individuals and not another. The news today holds up many examples with conditions rooted in gender, race, economic status at birth, or orientation to name a few.

Solutions to intergenerational poverty need to come from a place and perspective that recognizes that your experience may not be my experience or the experience of any other individual. When I started this work, one of our senior social workers pulled me into her office about two months into my start at the agency and brought me up short. I had been working with a young African-American man in our youth program and talking to him about careers. She pointed out a few errors in my approach. First I was talking and not listening. Second I was making assumptions not based on any inputs. Third, as she pointed out the young man had a few barriers that were not on my radar because of point one, issues such as homelessness, no drivers license, wellness, and a financial base to get started before a first paycheck. Problems I had never experienced, let alone understood the full impact. In fact, my approach was not helping the individual, and for me, it was a wake-up call.

If you are honest, I suspect many of you would have had the same experience. Mainly because of background, culture, awareness, or privilege. In the months that followed, I spent a lot more time listening and doing what I am teaching in the leadership class I participate in, that is putting on my muddy boots and going into the field and talking to the people who do this work. Learning to coach on a whole new level by meeting people where they are and listening to their story. At its core, this is what social workers do every day, and as I have learned, I have a deep respect for the MSW degree.

What the research and direct experience will tell you is people in poverty have experienced trauma, and trauma the science informs us impacts the brain and in turn behavior. How useful would you be if you had to deal with a personal or family crisis every day and all day? Also, the issues of economic status at birth, gender, and race set a higher hurdle in accessing opportunity that leads to getting out of the crisis. Opportunity that many of us take for granted. My direct experience is no one in poverty wants to be in poverty, and some of the most resilient individuals I have met are the individuals we work directly with as participants at ECS.

So what I ask is that when the issue of poverty is brought to your attention, and you hear the staggering numbers of 15% National and 25% Philadelphia rates of poverty, you pause and you consider your experience and the privileges that have impacted your trajectory and not judge individuals or groups of individuals. Instead look at the broader picture not just your experiences, the impacts of poverty, the science, the data, your call to service, and become part of the solution from a place of perspective and understanding and not from a place of political ideology. Poverty is a real bipartisan issue. It is not comfortable, but necessary if we are to deal with the challenges of poverty honestly. We either deal with poverty or it will consume us as a society. It is here that maintenance agendas need to give way to real change.

Look Up, Challenge Poverty.


Categories: Muddy Boots, Leadership, ECS Outreach

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Reply Peter Iannelli Jr.
4:18 PM on February 12, 2018 
Being born and raised here in Philadelphia, 48 years, I never imagined that I would be struggling so much to make a living here. It saddens me to what I've become to learn and experience first hand is the prejudice faced when it comes to landing a job here in this city. I've done what I can to better myself out of low paying entry jobs here in the city by going and graduating from college. Though at college and outside of college I'm still at a disadvantage, being an Italian male from South Philly. Don't get me wrong there are men and women alike from this area of the city who have made it, but it's a slim margin and it seems as if it's within their own little world that they have thrived in.
Everyday I seem to run into someone "new" who moved here from outside the city for a job, which they got hired for here in the city, but I have such a hard time to find one. I've been on one interview within the last 8 years in which the interviewer asked if I was from Philadelphia and stated they could tell by my Italian name. Oh yes, before I forget, I got laid laid off back in 2009 and since then I only had one telephone interview and the interview that the person made judgement of my Italian heritage; both no luck in landing a job.
It seems the only jobs given to us native Philadelphians are the low paying jobs - that no matter, you live in poverty with the wages you make and these jobs are mostly PT; not FT.
From what I come across as I converse with someone who moved here is that they did not have any qualifications to land the job that they got hired for here in the city, so it's not that I'm unskilled to get hired for a job that would bring me out of poverty. It's more of the pick and choose of whom and where a company in Center City prefers someone to be from when it comes to hiring and there is truth to what I'm saying.
I've spoken to some who have now retired and they have told me of how managers and HR would keep all the resumes on file of people from outside the city; especially, resumes from people who were outside the state. Now maybe this sounds like "extreme paranoia" coming from my part, but it does not surprise me and I do believe in what I've heard.
If you think about it there are so many people throughout the city who came from all over the country and the burbs and NJ for jobs here that landed them into long lasting good careers; as, where I and a majority of Philadelphians seem to only get hired for jobs that are on a paycheck to paycheck basis and leads us nowhere besides other low paying non-career jobs.
This city has the chance to help people like me and all-other Philly natives break out of this struggle we are faced with as we look for jobs here the city. Though the city is and has been for years a city filled with bias against its own citizens who love this city and have so much to offer the city of what it wants and that is good hardworking people, like me, who have just as much of a right (than our outside neighbors) to get the same opportunity in making a everlasting life-long career and earn decent wages, so that we can enjoy all that the city has to offer.

Reply griffithd
10:10 PM on February 13, 2018 
Peter , Feel free to give me a call or email, 215 351 1413 or griffithd@ecsphilly.org and you may be a candidate for our job assistance training. We work with young and old to help the job search.