I learned a long time ago that it makes no sense to talk about poor people without including those who have experienced poverty. While there are a lot of ways to describe what it means to be poor, it really comes down to the amount of money someone brings in to meet their family’s basic needs. Growing up, I never saw my mom bring home a paycheck except for what came once a month from the government (for which we kids were grateful). Dad wasn’t around and we were, by definition, poor.
In America today there are about 46 million people living in poverty, struggling to earn enough to meet their basic needs. This equates to roughly 15% of the population. Contrary to commonly held beliefs and my personal experience, many of these people are employed and doing their best to provide for their families, day by day. They are our coworkers, neighbors, and even family members, and are worthy of help as they strive to keep their families afloat.
I’ve yet to meet a person who aspires to be poor; still, there are so many factors that conspire to maintain poverty as a permanent condition. Throughout my entire professional life, I’ve observed the often pointless finger pointing as our country and local community grapple with prioritizing possible solutions. Rare is it that people can be guilted or goaded into sustainable actions to help their neighbors or themselves. In other words, we cannot catalyze change by making people feel bad about their understanding of poverty or diminishing the efforts of those who are trying to overcome it. We can, however, create change through compassion. Common solutions are created from compassion and the recognition that we all have some control over our destiny and the ability to mobilize and act on shared interests.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to poverty alleviation. But there are some tactics that just plain make sense. If we shift our thinking and work differently, we can help more people change their lives and change the course of a generation. I absolutely believe that if we sharpen our understanding, we can inspire hope and align the people and systems designed to help on the things that matter.
I don’t purport to have all of the answers, but I believe that more people need to enter the conversation and actively engage. I hope you will join me. Thank you for your support of our collective work.