I read with interest the recent guest column co-authored by Kate Marshall and Elliott Parker regarding the ongoing effort in this country to combat poverty. One of their assertions was that, “We need to make it easier for the poor to get the education and skills they need to get jobs that pay a decent wage.” Certainly, most people would agree with this conclusion. However, for those living in generational poverty, the answer is more complex. Securing a job is just one part of the equation — holding on to that job is another important component that can be more challenging than many people realize.
In “Bridges Out of Poverty, penned by Ruby Payne, Phil DeVol, and Terie Smith, the authors, dispel the notion that poverty is merely caused by a lack of financial resources. Based on their years of experience and professional expertise, the ability of the poor to elevate themselves out of poverty is more dependent on other factors such as the ability to abandon old behaviors, to access and process information, to develop a feeling of self-worth, to maintain proper eating and grooming habits as a vehicle to good health and physical stamina, to identify reliable support systems and role models, to be able to cope and, last, but not least, the ability to understand the “hidden rules of class.” According to Payne and her co-authors, hidden rules exist in every ethnic group and class of people. “Hidden rules are about the unspoken understandings that cue the members of a group that this individual does or does not fit.”
Statistically, Americans are among the most generous people on Earth but, when it comes to addressing poverty, this country’s tenancy to throw money at the problem without addressing its underlying causes is akin to baling water out of a sinking boat without first mending the hole in its hull.
In a study by the Cato Institute, it was disclosed that in 35 states, a recipient of benefits from each of the seven most common welfare programs could receive an amount in excess of what they could earn from a minimum wage job, effectively eliminating any incentive to work. Is the answer merely to increase the minimum wage for those in generational poverty? Perhaps, but those who receive these wages need to learn good spending habits, a greater sense of self-reliance, and an inherent belief in their ability to succeed. Otherwise, the likelihood of them sustaining their improved standard of living will be problematic.
Building on the “myth-shattering” work of Payne and her colleagues, the Capital City Circles initiative was born as a community based initiative to address the systemic problems of poverty not just its overt symptoms. In my next column, I will discuss how this Initiative works to fundamentally change the lives of its participants who, as “Champions for Change”, are the quintessential heroes in their own life stories.
Shelly Aldean is a former member of the Carson City Board of Supervisors and president of the Capital City Circles Initiative.