Category Archives: Policy and Advocacy

General thought pieces, book announcements

A Tipping Point to End Poverty

During more than 20 years of speaking to communities throughout the United States and Canada, I have been making the statement that we can and should end poverty. I have never encountered any resistance to the idea that we should end poverty. It’s the “we can end poverty” that causes people to bring up their objections with statements such as, “We have been fighting the War on Poverty over 50 years, and it’s only gotten worse.” But have we really been fighting all these years? I would say no; we haven’t had a national goal to eliminate poverty.

First, the war in Vietnam increasingly distracted the Johnson administration’s focus from the War on Poverty. Some safety nets were implemented, such as the Food Stamp Act of 1964, the Social Security Act of 1965 that created Medicare and Medicaid. However, these safety nets created an array of allopathic remedies. Some would argue these remedies make people too busy with paperwork, getting their basic needs met and lessening the urgency of finding a job. This is a poverty management system.

Furthermore, there are no financial incentives from federal agencies for long-term results of supporting people out of poverty and increasing economic stability. The baby boomers provided such a substantial labor pool that local economies did not need to worry about qualifying those in poverty for the workforce. Without pressure from business, poverty management continues in government and with community-based organizations addressing various needs of small target populations.

My strong belief is that human beings can eradicate the condition of poverty. The challenge is not if we have enough resources to do it – because we have enough. It is not if we know how to make the necessary systemic changes – because we know enough. First and foremost, the challenge is aligning the conviction that we can and should end it.

Because society could be easily overwhelmed by the massive task of ending poverty in the face of realities described above, I have found value in an article by scientists on tipping points. They discovered that when just 10% of a network’s population holds an unshakable belief, the majority of that network of people will adopt that belief. As Boleslaw Szymanski at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has elaborated:

“When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10%, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority. Once that number grows above 10%, the idea spreads like flame.”

We have all seen in our time social movements that reached a tipping point and fundamentally changed society. How can we intentionally lead in a manner that causes a tipping point in our society? Achieving a tipping point is the goal that focuses Circles USA’s work to inspire and equip leaders to build Poverty Reduction Labs and Circles Chapters to support 10% of households in their communities to climb out of poverty. The theoretical potential of a tipping point is that once 10% is reached, momentum will take over, and the process of reducing poverty will become easier as more people embrace the effort.

Meeting resistance from within our own minds, as well as from those in our communities, we will need to align our intention to be transformational leaders. We need to follow our conviction about ending poverty, no matter what we confront along the way. Otherwise, we will be vulnerable to conforming to the status quo and colluding with a poverty management system that maintains poverty.

The guiding principle for the Transformational Leadership Program is to “become the change you want to see happen.” (“Be the change that you wish to see in the world” has been attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, although Wikiquote attributes the principle to Arleen Lorrance, at the Teleos Institute.) We are each hard-wired to want to make a difference in the world. If you assert the belief that we can support 10% of children out of poverty, you will eventually find others to join you. Together, you can build your own momentum toward a tipping point of people who will mobilize a new poverty reduction system around that goal in your community.

Warm regards,

Scott. C. Miller, Founder and CEO, Circles USA

The content for this Blog Series is drawn from the Poverty Reduction Lab program, a collaboration with CQIU. The program’s focus includes:

  • Dismantling the poverty management system,
  • Leading your community through the four stages of change, and
  • Creating a pathway to end poverty.

To stay tuned, sign-up for The Big View Newsletter, our monthly bulletin about poverty research and policy change.

Amazon’s Raise of Minimum Wage is ALMOST Good News

Amazon’s raise of full and part-time minimum wage to $15/hour is ALMOST good news. But businesses and policymakers on both sides of the aisle don’t fully understand how work subsidy programs like Medicaid, childcare assistance, food stamps, and cash assistance are prematurely cut before people earn enough to replace them.

I founded Circles USA in the mid 90’s to support families out of poverty. In 2014, I asked the Circles growing network of over 70 communities across 20 states, “What’s the biggest barrier to getting out of poverty?” The answer, unequivocally, was the Cliff Effect. When working families lose public support benefits faster than they can earn income to replace the lost resources, it feels like falling off a cliff.

For example, Circles supported a single Dad with three children in childcare. He got promoted at work with a $3/hour wage increase. The raise was just enough to reach the next category of eligibility for childcare assistance and to lose all of it. The net difference was a loss of $500/month! He did exactly what we hope everyone does—get a good job and increase earned income—but he suffered immediate consequences. This particular story had a happy ending: his employer was outraged by the system and so gave the additional $500/month needed to permanently let go of governmental childcare assistance. But don’t count on that being a universal response.

Subsidy programs are necessary to support people unable to earn a livable wage. The federal and state agencies must pro-rate the exit ramps so people can safely leave these programs. If one earns an extra dollar per hour, then give them a dollar less in subsidies, not four of five dollars less. The Cliff Effect creates a massive phantom workforce in which millions of people who want to work, could work, and should work, cannot afford to take the new job, accept the raise, or increase their hours.

There are no online calculators to help people understand the full impact of the Cliff Effect, so Circles USA and a team at Mass Mutual are collaborating to build a new tool. We are also working with foundations in Michigan and New Mexico to provide state policy makers with research on efforts to mitigate the Cliff Effect. Our goal is to provide states across the country and federal policy makers with resources that will estimate all the cost savings for eliminating the Cliff Effect. You can view our latest reports at CirclesUSA.org.

Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is a positive step to help hard-working Americans earn enough money for the basic needs of life. The other half of the solution is to eliminate the Cliff Effect that will unleash an enormous untapped workforce and save billions of dollars in taxes used for subsidies. Otherwise, positive increases in wages might be just enough income to put people in harm’s way.

 

 

 

Work requirement and the “Safety Net.”

President Donald Trump signed an executive order that aims to add work requirements for Medicaid and other welfare programs.  Will this help to reduce poverty or make it worse? 

The US has a “poverty management” system, rather than a poverty reduction system.  If you follow the money from the federal government to state to local entities, you will see it comes down in silos, for specific programs, creating a kaleidoscope of complicated, fragmented services.

Progressives want more subsidies in the absence of robust livable-wage job creation. Conservatives want fewer subsidies and increased personal accountability. Work requirements are intended to increase personal accountability. But, if economic development programs, workforce programs, and safety net programs are not held accountable to providing enough good jobs and coordinated services that move people out of poverty, individual responsibility policy fixes have little to offer. They might sound good politically, but they often make life more difficult for those who are having the most problems in our economy.

To reduce poverty, we must:

create poverty reduction systems that are financed to support people out of poverty, as in 200% or more of the federal poverty level; eliminate the cliff effect built into safety net programs that financially penalize people for taking more hours, higher pay, and new jobs; create more jobs with better and more up-to-date economic development strategies.

There are solutions to poverty. Many conservatives believe the solution lies in people accepting more personal responsibility, and many liberals believe we need to provide more benefits and better jobs. What is the answer? All of the above.

For more information on our Circles USA solutions, please read my latest book, co-authored with my conservative friend, Denise Rhoades, “Bootstraps and Benefits: What the Right and Left Understand about Poverty and How We Can Work Together for Lasting Solutions.”

Together, we can begin the end of poverty in our lifetime. Join the conversation at CirclesUSA.org

Evaluating Paul Ryan’s Plan “A Better Way”

Paul Ryan's "A Better Way Plan"

Dear All,

It is obvious that the poverty and economic pain felt, especially in rural communities, influenced the results of the election, much to everyone’s surprise (especially in the pollster business).

Now that we have the results, it is imperative for each of us to understand Paul Ryan’s poverty plan, a Better Way. As one of our board members, Jim Masters, commented this morning, this is probably the plan that Trump will defer to, given there are no other plans on the table yet. Please download and read,A Better Way“.

If we want to the government to support an approach like Circles it will need to be framed first in terms of “bootstraps.” Benefit programs will be seen as a necessary evil if they remain temporary while people chase work.

Cliff EffectEliminating the Cliff Effect is a nonpartisan, no-brainer. And I believe, the timing is good to bring that problem forward to Ryan’s team to solve without dismantling the subsidies in the process.

I believe that strategies like Circles will continue to be popular with this administration because it is “community driven”, taps volunteers to improve the results of formal community and government programs, and is focused on moving people permanently out of poverty. We should continue to talk about the bootstraps and benefits package(s) necessary for more households to increase their earned income. Of course, unless there is MORE AND BETTER economic development throughout the country, the human development side of the equation can only go so far in reducing poverty rates. Automation, artificial intelligence and globalization are going to continue, regardless of what policies are in place. We must advocate for stronger economic development programs. Again the lack of good jobs drove these election results. People need better jobs.

Poverty LegislationHere is Trump’s position on infrastructure which may lend insight to where new investments will be made that offer jobs for those we serve.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts

Scott Miller - End Poverty

 

 

 

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Standing Room Only to Hear “What Employers Wish You Knew”

Career Success Begins and Ends With Meeting Employer Expectations

Denver, CO, July 1, 2015 – JobLingo founder and CEO, Jan McCormick, Ed.D., recently delivered a “memorable, manageable and actionable” coaching strategy to 150+ attendees of the National Career Development Association (NCDA) at the Hyatt Regency Downtown, Denver. Highlighted as a Feature Presentation, Dr McCormick showcased JobLingo’s “7 Proven Techniques” for helping job seekers become job winners to a standing-room only crowd of global career development professionals. Known for her direct approach, audience feedback summarized McCormick’s impassioned presentation as “spot-on” training that everyone needs if they want to be successful.

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Contact Information: Website: www.joblingo.com, Email: drjan@joblingo.com, LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/drjanjoblingo

Using a performance-based coaching model, Dr. McCormick targets the most critical job-ready skills for winning jobs. Leveraged on a workbook and short video series, the web-based, checklist-driven program provides a scalable process suitable for any size organization, school or non-profit.

Understanding the “Cliff Effects”

Dr. Kevin M. Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., a University of Arkansas professor prepared a summary on the “Cliff Effects.” The full report can be found in Basecamp for all Circles USA Chapters/Sites. To view the report please click here.