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A Storm in America

Posted by griffithd on January 17, 2019 at 9:35 AM

Poverty in America is not unlike lightning that comes in the middle of a summer night.

You lie in bed the windows open. It is dark but you wake to the rumble of what could be distant fireworks, but it is not July. If the shades are open, you might catch a flash of light over the horizon followed again by that rumble.

Slowly, but not that slowly, the rumble grows louder and the flashes more distinct. You grow more awake and a primal fear grows.

The air grows moist and you become aware of a static and a smell of ozone.

Then suddenly you are lifted out of bed by a flash and a crack of thunder that are simultaneous. The storm is on you, the lightning strike may or may not have done damage, you can’t tell until morning. Another strike, and now the thunder shakes your house. You feel helpless and fragile.

You are grateful to be in your house, perhaps a house with lightning rods and circuit breakers, and you feel protected. You wonder what you would do if you were in the open?

Hold that feeling and thought.

Poverty in America is growing. It is a rural and urban problem. Looking at the data you see that all of our public and private funding and efforts are not moving the needle on the poverty rate and deep poverty is growing. Unfortunately, many of us are lying in bed and despite the summer lightning feeling safe and in some cases not feeling there is a problem.

Pew will tell you the cost of each family in poverty is $60,000/year. The cost to business of 15% of Americans living below the poverty line, let alone at a living wage is huge in the context of consumers who do not have the income to consume. The cost of maintaining the poverty level over generations is unsustainable. Do you hear the rumble yet?

Set the public and private cost of poverty aside. As a people of faith, regardless of your tradition, is the notion of the common good, that a rising tide lifts all boats. As you sit in service next Saturday or Sunday, ask what are you as a person of faith called to do. As I have noted before in this space, self-interest is best served when you consider your neighbors interest. Consider that you neighbors may be folks you cannot see or know. Do you see the flash of light in the distance?

The economic and faith based reasons are compelling for us as a society to address poverty. The hard work is that our traditional responses is to participate in efforts that maintain poverty. Vital services that feed, cloth, provide housing and education, and a host of other services. I take no issue. But to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty we need efforts that drive transformational impact.

My direct experience with individuals in poverty is that they are among the most resilient people I know. They have to be. I have yet to meet someone living in poverty who wants to be there. What breaks the cycle of poverty is access to opportunity, specifically access to economic mobility in the form of a job at a living wage. Without that job you are out in the storm in the rain and the lightning.

At ECS where I work we will launch MindSet at the end of the month. MindSet is a program based on the most current brain science available that provides coaching and financial assistance to help individuals navigate the system and access opportunity that many of us take for granted. MindSet is based on programs that have been running for ten plus years and have shown significant results. It is a three to five-year program that has the objective for the individuals when they are done of having the economic stability of a job at a living wage, benefits, savings, and no longer needing government assistance. It is to bring people out of the rain. For good and on their own efforts.

MindSet is our response to the gathering storm. In addition to MindSet we have implemented the coaching model in all of our existing programs that provide stability and prevention to our participants. We also are building along with our stakeholders and partners a formal advocacy effort that address the SPP’s that impact our participants. SPP’s are “Stupid Public Policy” that by unintentional design hinder an individual journey out of poverty. Two specific examples are benefits that phase out at an average of $1.50 for every additional $1.00 earned and benefits that cliff as in go away entirely at a specific income level. Childcare assistance is one example.

For information on our work see www.ecsphilly.org .

The storm is very much in play in America. The lightning and rumbling you see in our society is very much the storm of Poverty in America. For many there is no long term shelter from the storm. For all of us, on many levels, it is a storm we cannot ignore.

Will you help bring people out of the rain before the storm grows?

Join the movement. Look Up and Challenge Poverty.

Categories: ECS Outreach, Muddy Boots, Griffith Thoughts

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