Tag Archives: Books-Miller

Relational Strategy for Poverty Reduction

A Poverty Reduction System will need to include a powerful relational strategy in order for people to take full advantage of transactional programs. Relational strategies strengthen the social capital of people who want to move out of poverty and into economic stability.

  • Bridging capital builds relationships across socioeconomic class lines, which is important for helping people understand the middle-class rules for success in education, networking, employment, financial management, and career advancement.
  • Bonding capital builds peer-to-peer relationships that provide motivation, support, and important information in achieving economic stability.
  • Linking capital builds relationships between community service programs and individuals who want to use them effectively.

All three types of social capital are necessary in moving out of poverty. At Circles USA, we have found over the past 20 years that social capital is essential not only to establish personal and economic stability but also to maintain that stability over time. Fostering intentional relationships that create social capital is a high impact strategy to end poverty.

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

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

Poverty Reduction System Linked to Job Creation System

E > P*

Your vision for a sustainable community must include the formula E > P, meaning your community’s economy must grow faster than your community’s dependent population (those too young, too old, or too unqualified to work).

What does sustainable mean?

1. Jobs and careers that pay enough income to meet household needs and then some

2. Careers that are relevant in America’s emerging economy

3. Employment that contributes to a sustainable environment

4. A commitment to live within one’s means

5. A community culture of doing what is best both for the community and for the individual

Once you have a clear assessment of a sustainable economic future, you need a strong plan for how you are going to prepare your community for it. Follow the TAPUMA* steps:

Think: Get a coherent understanding of your poverty reduction and job creation systems.

Assess: How many sustainable jobs do you need in order to have full employment? What are the system barriers and service and programs gaps that you need to address to get to full employment?

Plan: How do you proceed?

Underwrite: Who pays for your plan?

Manage: How do you manage your progress in achieving your vision?

Account: How do you meet the expectations of your underwriters and other stakeholders?

*Courtesy of our colleagues at Community Economics Lab; visit: thecelab.org.

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

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

A Comprehensive Approach to Poverty

Our nation’s economy was designed by settlers who came from countries with economic systems that included plutocracies, castes, feudal systems, and slavery. They all had in common a belief that a few deserve to be wealthy and that almost everyone else should be poor.

In the United States today, 30% of our citizens live in poverty or near poverty levels. We need to change our economic system. Poverty is abusive and Americans must see it as intolerable and unnecessary. That some should be extremely wealthy while others are extremely poor remains an indefensible result of the norms we inherited from our mixed heritages.

My wife, Jan, was in line at Walgreens recently, and the woman ahead of her was told her bill for a 90-day supply of medicine would be $500. She obviously did not have insurance, which means she was much less able to take care of herself than somebody who could afford insurance. This country’s hardened attitude and myopic bent to reward the winners and kick the losers in our economy are morally corrupt. All of this has to change.

A recent proposal to slash the safety net by $1.7 trillion before increasing jobs and addressing the systemic problems causing poverty will only delay solutions and increase poverty and suffering.

We need a comprehensive plan that includes:

● adopting state-of-the-art economic development practices so that communities can adjust to new economic realities and develop better-paying jobs;

● investing more heavily in both soft skills and hard skills so that people can find new work as their previous jobs become automated or outsourced;

● updating our educational approaches so that children have the critical thinking skills to adapt to the rapidly changing economy;

● pro-rating the safety net programs so that when people do earn more money, they are not worse off for doing so; and,

● increasing investments in mental health and drug abuse treatment to help more people address these barriers to entering the workforce.

Poverty is complicated, and numerous other local, state and national strategies must be deployed in concert to reduce poverty rates. Even with all of the best ideas, the current economy might be inadequate and require massive changes in order to reduce poverty rates. At this moment in time, slashing the safety net in hopes that it will stimulate the economy and reduce poverty rates on its own will not work. That would be akin to burning down the hospital because there is an epidemic. Let’s focus on solutions that address the complexity of poverty.

From the book: Enough Money, Meaning & Friends ~ By Scott C. Miller

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

Shifting the Mindset on Poverty: Part 3 of 3

Three more bullet points to finish off the previous blog post, “So, at the risk of sounding overly simplistic about how to fix a problem that we have spent trillions of dollars not solving since the War on Poverty was launched 50-plus years ago, let me break it down in this way…”

● Insist that all government benefit programs be coordinated for a user-friendly experience with one intake, with one simple process of determining eligibility, and with a simple pro-rated exit ramp as people earn more income. Currently, there are too many agencies running benefit programs that have built-in disincentives that punish people for making too much income. For example, if you make an extra dollar per hour you may lose all of your childcare assistance and/or Medicaid. This is a lazy public policy designed for administrative convenience and is a complete waste of tax dollars. Even worse, such a policy makes people squander valuable time navigating complex programs instead of using their time to become self-sufficient. Current benefit programs cause people to avoid new jobs and salary increases, and, as designed, they guarantee a steady level of poverty in America.

● Appreciate that if people are going to move out of generational poverty, they are going to need jobs they can handle; peer support from others who are succeeding; networking opportunities from volunteers with middle-income and upper-income means; and a powerful game plan to overcome their personal barriers to getting, keeping, and advancing in a good-paying job. A program such as Circles USA provides all of these supports. Without a complementary community-building strategy, typical programs do not have the staying power to interrupt generational poverty.

● Finally, if you want to increase your poverty IQ and make an effective contribution to the cause, you must find a way to form a relationship with someone who has experienced poverty. Without this, your ideas are likely to be just off enough to have the unintended consequence of delaying the real solution to eradicating poverty in our communities.

Yes, we all must take responsibility for ensuring our economic stability. And yes, we must design systems that incentivize people to do the right thing. Solving poverty is a “both-and” approach rather than an “either-or” choice. As my co-author, Denise Rhoades, and I argue in our book, Bootstraps and Benefits, we need to have more meaningful community dialogue that results in strategies that effectively address poverty and allow more people to thrive.

From the book: Enough Money, Meaning & Friends ~ By Scott C. Miller

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

Shifting the Mindset on Poverty: Part 2 of 3

So, at the risk of sounding overly simplistic about how to fix a problem that we have spent trillions of dollars not solving since the War on Poverty was launched 50-plus years ago, let me break it down in this way:

● Get over the idea that “the poor will always be with us.” My theological colleagues have assured me that our society takes this biblical quote out of context, using it as an excuse for not committing to the moral imperative of ending poverty within our lifetime.

● Let go of addressing poverty as simply a humanitarian cause. Poverty is a major economic development problem. It must be solved in order to sustain and grow our local economies. The greater the number of qualified workers in our community, the abler we are to attract and grow businesses. The more good jobs, the less poverty burden we carry as taxpayers. The economic development strategies in most communities are antiquated and must be updated to meet a rapidly changing economy. If your community does not have a robust and well-staffed economic development program, your community’s poverty will rise without question. The more poverty you have, the less able you are to achieve new economic growth.

● Realize that those of us who were raised in middle-income and upper-income backgrounds typically have a poverty IQ that is too low to create effective policy. We are not qualified to run anti-poverty programs on our own. We must have the input, guidance, and poverty IQ of those who have experienced poverty. That is why Circles USA programs have been co-designed by people who found ways out of poverty.

● Know that providing charity in isolation without long-term problem solving is typically counterproductive. The safety net must be tightly coupled to long-term goal setting, support, and career development. Do you ever wonder why the food pantries need more money every year? Ask them if they are referring people to programs that provide long-term supports and pathways out of poverty. But understand, too, that in many communities there are no programs to refer people to which focus on supporting people out of poverty.

From the book: Enough Money, Meaning & Friends ~ By Scott C. Miller

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

Shifting the Mindset on Poverty: Part 1 of 3

The United States has the largest GDP on earth, estimated at $18 trillion. For perspective, China is the second-largest at about $11 trillion; Russia has an estimated GDP less than the state of Texas, and North Korea’s economy is smaller than Vermont’s. As Warren Buffet recently said about America’s high poverty rate, “You expect unequal results in a market economy, very unequal. But you really shouldn’t have an economy with over $50,000 in GDP per person and have lots of people living in poverty who are willing to work. I mean, that does not make sense.”

We have been conditioned to believe poverty is an unavoidable problem in society. What if that’s not true? What if we have normalized an abusive condition that we could actually  solve? That seems to be what Buffet is suggesting.

One could say that the United States has a 70% success rate in generating prosperity for its citizens. More than 15% of our households live at less than 100% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, which means that a family of three makes less than $20,008 a year in income. If you double that rate to 30%, which is $40,016 a year for a family of three, you come closer to estimating just how many households do not earn enough income to meet their basic needs and to set something aside for the future.

The 70% rate is not bad if you put our nation’s history in the proper context. We came from a European feudal system in which most people were poor. The United States was founded on the high ideals of democracy and meritocracy, even though much of our political, legal, cultural, and social structures continue to create disparity. Nonetheless, these fundamental principles run deep in our psyches and remain intact due to our belief that everything in life is possible if you work for it. I own this amazing optimism, so much so that I have built my career around the idea that our nation “can and should end its poverty in our lifetime.”

For many of us, getting over our initial refusal to become emotionally committed to the journey of ending poverty requires a better sense of how it might be accomplished. People want clear direction as well as proof that these ideas can work. The strategies to ending poverty in the United States, while somewhat complex, are not rocket science as “experts” would have us believe. We have made it far too complicated to motivate people to take necessary actions. And we have allowed ourselves to be distracted by arguments that mostly protect our cherished ideals, values, principles, mythology, and beliefs. What the United States needs is a straightforward agenda to end poverty.

From the book: Enough Money, Meaning & Friends ~ By Scott C. Miller

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

The Call to End Poverty is Complicated in the United States

Colin Woodard wrote a beautiful book titled American Nations, a History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. He answers the question, “Why do Americans have such a difficult time agreeing on basic issues like the meaning of freedom, the role of religion in public life, or what it means to be an American?” His primary answer is that we were settled by 11 separate nations, giving each of these diverse regions of the country their own distinguishing ideals. Colin’s book is a brilliant page turner, and I am not going to spend much time reiterating what he says. What I want to point out is this: To reduce poverty rates in America, we must understand the distinct beliefs of each region.

I was raised in what Colin calls the Midland region, which, he says, is arguably the most “American” of the 11 nations. The region was founded by the English Quakers around the values of pluralism and organized around the middle class. “. . . government has been seen as an unwelcomed intrusion and political opinion has been moderate, even apathetic . . .,” he writes.

The Midlands region stretches from its roots in the Delaware Bay throughout Middle America and the Heartland, comprising Pennsylvania, Maryland, southern New Jersey, northern Delaware, central Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, northern Missouri, most of Iowa, and the eastern halves of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas. It includes the cities of Chicago and St. Louis. People in this region largely believe society should be organized to benefit ordinary people; are skeptical of top-down government intervention; and are considered to hold the standard American political viewpoint, containing the key “swing vote” in every national debate. The Midlands functions as a powerful mediating force, agreeing with only some of its neighbors’ more extreme views.

I am very much a Midlander, having lived in Pennsylvania from the ages of 4 to 9. We then moved to Rochester, N.Y., the region that Colin calls Yankeedom. This region was founded in Massachusetts Bay as a religious utopia in the New England wilderness. The emphasis was on education, local political control, and the pursuit of the greater good of the community. Yankees believe, more than any other region, that government can improve lives and galvanize their resistance to aristocrats, corporations, and any other outside power. Also, very much me.  Yankeedom stretches across upper New York State, northern strips of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, parts of the eastern Dakotas, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

Hopefully, this brief summary has whetted your appetite to look at Colin’s book and identify your own region’s roots. He argues that it is very difficult to change the belief system of a region. In fact, people tend to migrate to regions where they feel an affinity. He has mapped out the regional identity of all of the 3007 U.S. counties, which on the one hand is helpful although overall his ideas pose a challenge to reducing poverty rates.

The Call to Adventure to address poverty has to be messaged with different talking points, depending on regional belief systems. While it would be so much simpler to characterize the conflict between red and blue states, it is obviously nuanced by regions and then within individual states in those regions. In fact, from community to community along the borders of Colin’s map of the nation, ideologies can be vastly opposed to one another.

We are unlikely to change our world views easily, but working with people who hold diverse political and religious beliefs for a common goal of supporting people out of poverty is a good starting place for maturing our narrative regarding the ultimate roles and responsibilities from each of the major sectors of community life.

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

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

Core Beliefs about Poverty

The call to adventure is influenced by one’s belief system about how the world operates. In early 2001, a national poll conducted by National Public Radio (NPR), the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University’s Kennedy School asked nearly 2,000 Americans 18 or older, “Which is the bigger cause of poverty today: that people are not doing enough to help themselves out of poverty, or that circumstances beyond their control cause them to be poor?” Respondents were roughly divided equally between “people not doing enough” (48%) and “circumstances” (45%).

Additionally, a 2016 poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times and the conservative think tank American Enterprise showed similar results in terms of who or what is responsible for poverty — but with interesting nuances. For example, White blue-collar workers were more likely to blame the poor for their situation than Whites with college educations. When it comes to solutions, the study showed that more Blacks than Whites believed that government programs put people back on their feet and allowed them to get jobs and out of poverty. A majority of Whites believed that government programs create dependency and encourage people to stay poor. People in poverty believe that government programs fail primarily because not enough money has been put into them. More affluent people than working-class people believe that government programs are badly designed.

When people first get involved in Circles USA, they usually have a strong set of opinions about why someone is in poverty …

When people first get involved in Circles USA, they usually have a strong set of opinions about why someone is in poverty and what help is needed to get them out. Because of their experience with Circles, they often change their opinions over time toward the middle ground. Many people discover that it is the combination of self-responsibility and planning skills coupled with better jobs, new support systems and better designed private and public programs that can best help people escape poverty.

For example, people in Circles have said:

“I was broke, broken, and homeless with three kids. Now, I have a home, money in the bank, attend school, and most of all, I have a purpose. Circles was like a rescue team that came into my life while I was dying. They revived me, and I’m grateful.”

—LeAundrea Robinson, Circles USA Leader

“Circles has exposed me to economic and social circumstances which I knew existed, but I didn’t really understand all the personal implications…”

—Bill Mitchell, Ally

… the beginning of the end of poverty must start with understanding our current beliefs.

Since people do not change their belief systems easily, and because our beliefs ultimately drive what we do as an individual, community, and nation about poverty, the beginning of the end of poverty must start with understanding our current beliefs. While Circles USA has books and training programs that can increase people’s awareness of their beliefs, the most important strategy of Circles USA is the opportunity to build healthy and effective relationships across socioeconomic class lines. We want people in poverty to get to know people of middle-income and upper-income means and vice versa. It is through these relationships that people challenge their assumptions and arrive at more informed views of poverty.

From the book: Enough Money, Meaning & Friends ~ By Scott C. Miller

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

The Call to End Poverty – The Business and Education Sectors

Flexicurity is a term first used in 1995 to describe a partnership between business and government to support the citizenry as the economy continues to morph and destabilize current jobs.

Just as there was no stopping the Industrial Revolution, there is no stopping what is happening next with automation, globalization, and artificial intelligence. The composition of jobs in our economy is never going back to the way it used to be, and this fact has major ramifications for poverty rates. The top of the “food chain” in our communities is, for better or worse, the business sector. It wields the most influence on all other sectors. This was not always the case in U.S. history, but it is now.

In October 2011, I did a TedX talk. In that speech I said that poverty should be understood as an economic development problem, not just as a humanitarian problem to be fixed by nonprofits. The emerging economy is not just one of many factors affecting poverty rates; it is perhaps going to have the biggest impact of all potential factors. By 2030, half of all jobs could very well be entrepreneurial in nature. The opportunity to be on someone’s payroll in a traditional w-2 job is rapidly diminishing. Companies can generate wealth with far fewer people than ever before. For example, according to the Brookings Institute, in 2014 Google was valued at $370 billion with only 55,000 employees, a tenth the size of AT&T’s workforce in the 1960s.

The key characteristic to possess in order for anyone to survive, let alone thrive, in the emerging economy could be the ability to be nimble. While there are arguments about whether automation and artificial intelligence will displace millions or will generate new jobs to employ the displaced or will have very little impact on employment rates, there is significant concern about where things are heading with our economy and what we should do about it.

Flexicurity is a term first used in 1995 to describe a partnership between business and government to support the citizenry as the economy continues to morph and destabilize current jobs. If it is possible for the majority of goods and services to be delivered (droned, even) to our homes through a handful of super corporations such as Amazon, who buys the goods and services with what money from what jobs? A closed system must be kept intact between makers and consumers. A pure-market system economy could very likely create this closed system with fewer people, leaving a significant portion of the population on their own to survive. Taken to extremes, a Darwinian order sorts out the weak from the strong.

Fortunately, the United States is already using a hybrid economic system that mixes big multinational corporations with big government deterrents and incentives with an independent sector of for-profit and nonprofit organizations, as well as black marketplaces that provide every imaginable good and service. Our economic sector is a complex system of forces that regulates infinite variables that result in how we personally experience economic freedom and security. Because the complexity is mind-boggling, the desire to over-simplify solutions to sell to the mass public for political and financial reasons is strong. The desire to repeal and replace Obamacare, for example, affects one-sixth of this massive economy. As I write this, Congress is finding it increasingly difficult to find the votes to repeal it and replace it with something else that can be presented in a sound bite to the American public as a better alternative.

The Call to Adventure for the economic and education sectors is to look around the globe and learn. It is time for us to let go of the arrogant notion that we are the best nation on Earth, and therefore we should be mentoring everybody else, end of story. Far from it. As I suggested, the new global metrics of happiness, low crime, low poverty rates, and high life satisfaction tell us that we are losing ground to nations that are getting smarter about their economies and educational systems.

Paul Poler, CEO of the massive multinational corporation Unilever, wrote an editorial that was featured in the Huffington Post in July 2014. I have excerpted portions of this radical and optimistic call to adventure to the business community. It is worth reading the entire editorial. The following excerpts reinforce my assumptions about what the true call is for the economic sector:

“It was Winston Churchill who famously said that ‘democracy was the worst form of government apart from all the others that had been tried.’ Much the same can be said for capitalism, particularly the form of capitalism that has been practiced over the past 20 years. . .. “

“. . . capitalism, with all its faults, is the only game in town. The task confronting the present generation of leaders is to improve on it, to build on its strengths and eradicate its weaknesses. . .. “

“. . . Addressing the weaknesses of capitalism will require us, above all, to do two things: first, to take a long-term perspective; and second, to re-set the priorities of business. . .. “

“. . . The requirement to report back to investors every ninety days distorts behavior and priorities. It is absurd for complex multinational companies to have to invest huge amounts of time preparing detailed income and margin statements every quarter. . .. “

“. . . It is nothing less than a new business model. One that focuses on the long term. One that sees business as part of society, not separate from it. One where companies seek to address the big social and environmental issues that threaten social stability. One where the needs of citizens and communities carry the same weight as the demands of shareholders. . ..”

The bottom line cannot just be quarter-to-quarter gains. The B-Corps movement in the United States is gaining traction with the formal adoption of a triple-bottom line: profits, people, and planet. From the B-Corps website: Collectively, B Corps leads a growing global movement of people using business as a force for good. Through the power of their collective voice, one day all companies will compete to be best for the world, and society will enjoy a more shared and durable prosperity for all. When it comes to reducing poverty rates, my bets are on the influence of this and similar movements.

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

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