Effectively Escaping Poverty

Poverty cannot be solved by throwing money at it: poverty is the result of a number of factors, the most important of which in the United States are the belief system and values of those in poverty.

Persons temporarily impoverished by catastrophic economic changes have the social skills necessary to return to the middle class life style once jobs are allowed to return — they need only some retraining and temporary unemployment insurance claim payments (which they paid perhaps 8% of payroll to purchase every working day of their lives). More difficult is the situation for those who have always been poor and, barring changes in their own worldview, will always remain poor: the amount of the minimum wage will not change this at all.

There will always be some people who are classified as poor. Those who are considered poor in third world nations live substantially differently than those who are considered poor in first world nations. As an example, no impoverished father in the US would cut off his children’s feet  — just as his own father had cut off his feet — so that they could sit by the road and beg, yet in India this is seen. In my own city, no middle class person would countenance spending the entire week riding buses to churches and charities begging, or learning from your friends which lies must be told (and how to make them believable) to which organizations in order to collect various money or goods.  It is a different value system, a way of life.

And the two biggest barriers to overcoming poverty are 1. believing that what you do does in fact influence what happens to you, and 2. believing that you would be better off if you changed.

Helping a person in generational poverty reach this point takes a lot of effort. Once they do realize that their choices do have consequences (good as well as bad), then they need help gaining and keeping employment that is within their skill set. There is always a need for people who can lift a heavy bag or mow grass or wash windows or water plants or shovel snow. clean up doggie do, paint things, pickup trash, and so on.

The important thing is not the kind of work being performed but the fact that work is being performed and valued enough to receive pay for that work. The next step is helping them to keep that job — by coaching in the hidden rules of work: be on time and reliable, perform proper personal hygiene first, dress appropriately, stay respectful and not emotional, view the work as a business agreement between someone who wants work done and someone willing to do that work — not an entitlement that someone owes to you and you can complain about.

After there is a lifestyle change to a regular work schedule, then re-training in job skills of interest to and achievable by each individual need to start. This could be basic training with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development World Interactive Network (WIN) system in very basic hard job skills — reading for information, locating information, essential math — or it could mean learning computer job skills, or even working toward a formal college degree. In Indiana we are unusual because about 20% of workers are in various trades and train through Union Apprenticeship programs where they train in classrooms half a day and work on a job site the other half, earning half scale.

Once the person is in a lifestyle of routinely going to work, they will upgrade occasionally as they learn more and better opportunities find them. Their worldview will have changed and will continue to change as their personal experience teaches them what works and what does not. It takes about two years of personal one-on-one peer support to get them to this point, but once they receive real pay regularly they prefer it to handouts (it is more money and more reliably obtained).

Of course, after a year or two people who have been improving their job skills and working are self supporting and earning above minimum wage, and those who pursue a college degree or apprenticeship are earning well above minimum wage, so changing the minimum wage really does not help.

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