Three of Four: Common Responses to Poverty

The call to adventure to address poverty typically comes in one of these four ways:

    1. Provide private, limited charity to deserving, needy people as prescribed by my faith.
    2. Mentor someone poor who wants to learn how to not be poor anymore.
    3. Directly hire the poor.
    4. Support any policy that would eliminate subsidies that ultimately enable the poor to stay poor.

What’s wrong with solution No. 3: Directly hiring the poor?

Nothing, as long as employers have at least a higher-than-normal poverty IQ. We often hear, I gave them a job, and they didn’t show up on time, in uniform, with a smile, ready to work. They were ungrateful, unreliable, and my business suffered for trying to be helpful. Again, the Drama Triangle is in play. We are giving people what they want and need, but they are blowing it.

There are a couple of new economic realities that make strategy No. 3 something that employers must undertake if they are to sustain and grow their businesses. In the book When the Boomers Bail, my friend and colleague Mark Lautman shows clearly how the massive exodus of aging baby boomers from the workforce now forces employers to mine the talents of their “unqualified workforce” to fill jobs. When there were plenty of job candidates, communities and their employers could manage a consistent level of poverty because there were plenty of others to hire, and the economy could handle the costs of carrying a percent of dependents without much burden on the tax base.

In communities that now suffer from slowing economic development efforts through which they are unable to bring many new jobs to town, there is enormous pressure to increase the number of qualified workers and to reduce the tax burden of dependents in poverty. This forced call to adventure is a great opportunity for communities to finally see that solving poverty is not just a humanitarian effort—it has become an economic development imperative.

Stanford University published a case study about Cascade Engineering, a business in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that found success with an innovative approach to hiring people from welfare. I had the opportunity to visit them and speak with owner Fred Keller about his insights into what it takes to successfully employ, retain, and advance the poor:

    1. An accepting organizational culture.
    2. Education, not only of new employees but also of existing employees, about what it means to be in poverty.
    3. A strong system of support for people moving from poverty into careers.

The results? Keller and his company improved their welfare-to-work program results from a 29% retention rate per year to over 90%.

Fred is now one of the investors of our Circles USA chapter in Grand Rapids. He sees the value of building long-term relationships between those who need jobs and those who can support people in finding, keeping, and advancing in those jobs over time.

A final post will walk through the 4th common response to poverty next time.

Learn more: Transformational Leadership: A Framework to End Poverty ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.