What do these folks have in common?

The following people have something in common. Please scroll down the series of descriptions and let me know what is common for all of them. The names of have been changed to protect their confidentiality, but the stories are very real.

Anna is working as an office manager working full-time making $8.00 per hour. She has is separated due to a domestic violence situation and has two children.

Hope is working two jobs – one full-time as an Administrative Assistant making $11.75 and the other part-time as an intake specialist at a Human Services agency making $11.00 an hour. She is also separated due to a domestic violence situation and has four children.

Julie is working full-time as a CSR (Customer Service Representative) for a bank making just over $14 an hour. She is unmarried with three children.

Nina is working full-time as a CSR for a utility company making $12.25 an hour. She is unmarried with one child.

Sarina is an assistant manager at a fast food restaurant making $12 an hour. She is unmarried with three kids.

Paul is working full-time on a cleaning crew making $11.00 an hour. He is unmarried with one child.

Carrie and Michael are married with four kids. Michael was laid off and Carrie is working in hospitality at a local hotel making $9.00 an hour.

Felicia is a Certified Nursing Assistant making $9.60 an hour at a hospital. She is unmarried and has one child.

Dedrick is a full-time security guard making $9.25 an hour. He is unmarried with three children.

Cassandra is working two part-time jobs, one as an afterschool teacher assistant making $11.25 per hour and the other as a retail clerk for a discount company making $7.95 per hour. She is unmarried with two children.

Terry is working as a public school teacher assistant making $11.00 an hour. She is unmarried with one child.

I could go on, but let me ask the question. What do these folks have in common? They are all homeless. When I tell people that the homeless people the agency I volunteer with have jobs, these people do not believe me at first. How can they be working and be homeless? It takes some people time for that to sink in. In fact, 84% of the families we help are working. The median wage for those 84% is $9.00 an hour. I purposefully used higher figures to illustrate a point – you can make above the living wage for an individual, but still be homeless if you are a parent. The living wage in my area for an individual is around $10.00 an hour and for a one-parent, one-child family is around $19.00 per hour.

There are five additional things I want to mention that are important to understanding, preventing and climbing out of poverty:

  • Family size is highly correlated with poverty. We must do a better job on family planning and providing birth control means and education. For my evangelical readers, your kids are going to be tempted to have sex. Please do not preach a message of abstinence alone. Teach girls how to say no. Teach boys to treat girls as more than sex objects and that no means no. But, let them know that if they must have a sexual relationship, to use protection.
  • Education is key. While the economic downturn altered this statement with layoffs and downsizings, for the most part, the higher your education, the less likely you are to be homeless. For kids that fall off the track, getting them back in school or on a path to a GED is essential. Fortunately, the community college systems in cities and regions do a pretty good job at getting people educated and developed with new career skills.
  • Healthcare is very important. The absence of healthcare is the key reason for personal bankruptcy in the US and an important reason for homelessness. People cannot afford their employer plan and one of the kids get sick or has an issue. Or, the parent stopped taking his or her medications due to cost and the resulting physical or mental issue causes a problem for the family or on the job. Fully implementing Obamacare will help, but the states who did not expand Medicaid need to do so.
  • Minimum wage needs to at least be the living wage for an individual. The homeless we help work hard, sometimes at more than one job. People like to say that increasing the minimum wage impacts the number of jobs. To be honest, most studies do not support that contention. We need to increase the minimum wage to the living wage for an individual. These jobs perpetuate poverty (please read “Nickeled and Dimed in America” by Barbara Ehrenreich). Short of that, we need to increase it more than it is now and graduate it to a higher level. Yet, the same people who decry people on welfare, also don’t want to pay people for an honest day’s work. If we pay people better and not like an economic slave, then the economy will actually flourish more.
  • Domestic violence is real. About 30% of the people in our program have come out of an abusive relationship. So, the spouse is making due without one of the incomes (for the most part) as well as dealing with a court-ordered spouse to stay away from her and the kids. I have said this before. If you are in an abusive relationship – leave. He will not change – leave. He will move beyond verbal abuse and it will become physical – leave. For the sake of your kids – leave. You can live a more normal life. Domestic violence is about power and control. It is difficult, but please leave.

Our agency is built with a model of helping people climb a ladder out of homelessness. The past fiscal year, 91% of our families were back to self-sufficiency in 21 months.  We provide rental subsidies based on their ability to pay, but they must work with a social worker and meet certain milestones. We also offer Hope Teams to mentor the family and kids. We do not do for them what they can do for themselves, so they must have a savings plan, take classes on Bridges Out of Poverty, and achieve certain milestones.

We all need to better understand our poverty problem in America. We must do better, but it must begin with realizing how it happens and helping people climb ladders out of poverty. We cannot solve this problem by kicking them when they are down and placing ill-founded labels on them as reasons to dismiss them as undeserving. Not only is that cold-hearted, but it is harmful to our economic growth. As Gandhi said it so well, “a society’s greatness is measured in how it takes care of its less fortunate.”

14 thoughts on “What do these folks have in common?

    • Marsha, thanks for writing. Our clients tend not to have healthcare insurance, especially if they work in a retail job. I had one discount retailing client (in my old job) where fewer than 20% of its eligible employees could afford to sign up for healthcare. The wages in many jobs/ industries (retail, restaurant, hospitality) are so low, that foregoing coverage our buying a high deductible plan where someone must pay $5,000 for a non-preventive medical need, will exhaust a budget. This is a key reason these industries are having issues with Obamacare as the employees are as close to slave labor for US citizens as we can get. But, it is precisely the reason we need Obamacare and the expanded Medicaid for those in poverty. Thanks again, BTG

  1. Well, now you really got me going.

    1) Part of the Undercover Boss issue that really bothered me were the shots of these CEO’s homes, all palaces, and yet their employees are struggling to make ends meet. And they don’t even seem to get the dicotomy of this: Those making the money so the “kings” can live so well, don’t make enough themselves to live on…

    2) A one-off, mom and pop burger shop in the midwest announced today that every one of its employees will make a minimum wage of $15/hour.

    3) But the “biggies” cant afford to pay their people even $10-$11 an hour. As a side to this, having a McDonalds franchise used to be a way to almost mint money. No more. Corporate continues to increase fees and royalties in the face of declining sales, in order that top management continues to receive outlandish salaries and benefits. As the CEO in his infamous “training tape” tells his poor hourly employees, “learn to budget better, and get a second job.”

    Lastly, I would recommend to you that you find a movie, “I am,” by Tom Shadyac. I watched it last nite on Netflix, and the premise is how we are all really interdependent, and how greed is destroying the world. Interviews with the likes of Noam Chomsky and Desmond Tutu. I think you are one that would get a lot out of it.

    Great blog, we need to send this to Obama, Jamie Dimon, Larry Summers, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Ted Cruz, etc etc.

    • Barney, many thanks. And, thanks for the recommendation on the movie. I will indeed check it out. By the way, my wife and I saw “The Butler” last night. Wow. A must see. After reading your post, I was thinking of the famous Marie Antoinette line last night when the poor said they could not afford to make bread, to which she retorted, “let them eat cake.” We have moved to an aristocracy model in the US (the data last week has borne it out) and people do not realize it. I constantly find uphill battles explaining to people who “have” what the “have-nots” face each day. I feel like they are telling me a modern day let them eat cake. Thanks bro, BTG

    • Barney, I watched “I am” tonight with my wife. We both thought it was terrific. It was quite illuminating in many ways, especially the notion of democratic decision-making and cooperation among animals and the science around matters of the heart. Thanks for the endorsement. BTG

      • I’m so happy you both enjoyed it. My wife is the one who turned me on to it. I was enthralled with the yogurt expiriment, and the random number generator incident.

        Thanks for letting me know.

      • Thanks. The random number generator example was pretty cool. My wife and I enjoyed watching Desmond Tutu. He just seems so genuine and his eyes light up.

  2. Unfortunately the very ones who should be reading and paying attention to this won’t. I also thought the common denominator would be lack of health care insurance…and it probably is…the second common denominator.

    • I agree about the intended audience not paying attention. Lack of healthcare insurance is usually in the mix. Predatory lending enters the equation more than it should. Lack of education resulting in lesser wages and the inability to save are predominant reasons. Yet, we should not overlook lack of family planning for some. I am 100% in favor of better sex education for teens and easier access to birth control. Thanks for reading and commenting. BTG

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