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Monday, May 23, 2011
Solving or Perpetuating Poverty

The reaction I’ve received to the column I recently wrote in the Coloradoan about poverty has been interesting.

An amalgamation of some of the comments would be ‘I appreciated your column, but societies have poverty and always will. Do you really think we can ‘end poverty? Another strand was ‘A rising tide lifts all boats. A strong economy and jobs is the solution.’ Another strand has been along the lines of ‘Good. It’s good to see this issue considered in different way from a different angle.’

Many of you donate money, time or both to causes to help people in poverty, and thank you for doing so. But I know that some of you wonder if it really matters. You give to help people in genuine, immediate need, but there’s a part of you wondering if all you’re doing is just perpetuating the issue. It seems that it never gets better. Does any of this really change anything for the individuals involved and for the community?

To add to what I wrote in the column, here are a few other thoughts:

Poverty – especially situational poverty - is growing due to a changing U.S. economy. Over the past generation our national leaders have lost their way when it comes to knowing how to compete globally. That’s another topic for another day, but big picture economics do impact household budgets. Poverty is not a problem likely to go away any time soon.

  • Not to over-think this, but for some the dilemma is that it’s immoral not to help people in poverty, but it’s also immoral to do things that keep them in poverty from one generation to the next.
  • Regarding the idea of a ‘rising tide lifting all boats,’ I generally agree with that perspective. The free enterprise system has lifted more people out of poverty than any other economic system ever devised. It is a national and personal wealth builder. However, for people stuck in generational poverty, it can be hard to get in the rising boat when you’re at sea dog paddling to keep your head above water. Just saying ‘go get a job’ ignores substantive issues that can be significant obstacles.
  • For those of us ensconced comfortably in the middle class, it can be hard to understand the daily grind of people in poverty. We have a future-focus and pay for various services to get us through the day. To us education matters, and we have careers not just jobs. We can participate in hobbies, take vacations and volunteer for organizations.
  • Contrast that with people in poverty who have outsized concerns about food and housing, are more likely to have transportation and child care problems and have jobs, not careers. One group is future-focused, the other is today-focused.
  • Some will argue that generational poverty is evidence of society’s injustices – class oppression, racism, the inequities caused by capitalism and so on. That isn’t my experience, but it may be for some. Rather, my experience, and why the Bridges Out of Poverty connected with me, is that generational poverty is an inside job. To some degree, it’s about what’s going on inside your own head and how you see the world. One option to help people is to redistribute resources from one group to another by government fiat, which I would argue often perpetuates the problem. Another approach is to help people see other options, create a brighter vision for the future and help them in select and appropriate ways. The question is ‘How do we switch the emphasis from perpetuating all this to empowering people to have more power over their own lives?’
  • Business is not the answer to poverty. People in poverty are the answer to poverty. BUT, business and other partners can help. When managers understand the attitudes and challenges of people living in generational poverty, they can provide constructive help within certain limits. To that end, a training session for human resource people is scheduled for July 21. For more information, visit www.bohemianfoundation.org.
  • Going a step further, it’s blindingly obvious to me that business is the only wealth creator in society. Therefore, to help individuals begin to build their own personal wealth, business is part of the answer.
  • But, the key is for all concerned to understand that businesspeople don’t hire people because they need a job. They hire people because they can contribute to the success of the business. It’s has to be a mutually beneficial relationship or it won’t work.
  • Can we eliminate poverty? The idealist in me says ‘yes’ but the realist who understands human nature and is a student of history says ‘no.’ There will always be situational poverty. The real question is ‘Can we eliminate or at least positively decrease generational poverty?’ Yes, I think we can make a difference.

There’s a lot more that could be said on the issue, but I’ve already written too much. Let me just end by saying that the “Bridges Out of Poverty” is a worthwhile conversation for the community to have. We appreciate the Bohemian Foundation expanding the conversation beyond the traditional social services / agency track from just focusing on symptoms to looking at solutions.

Posted by: David May @ 12:00:00 am 
 
 
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