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Category Archives: Ending Poverty

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.

The Four Faces of a Clock Tower and our Economy

John W. Miller

John W. Miller

This past January, my friend Chris and I flew to my brother’s home in Florida to pick up a family heirloom and drive it back to my home in Albuquerque. It is a five-foot model of a clock tower built meticulously by hand by my great-grandfather, John W. Miller, in 1893. 

Clock towers typically have four faces so that anyone in the community can see what time it is. It serves everyone equally regardless of who and where they are. Imagine an economy that has the same purpose as a clock tower—to serve everyone regardless of where they are located in a community. Right now, if you are born in poverty, the economy will not serve you at the same level as someone who is born into wealth. This can change. Like a clock tower, the economy is a tool invented by humans to serve human beings. The condition of poverty is an unnecessary characteristic of the US economy. An economy that generates so much poverty as ours is like a clock tower that has only one or two faces rather than all four.

To restore the economy to its original purpose—a tool for all citizens to use in their pursuit of happiness—leaders in each sector of society must embark on a transformational adventure:

The business community, which currently wields the most influence of all sectors, needs to adopt the triple bottom line approach–measuring its success and implementing policy decisions based on the question, “is it good for profit, people, and the planet?” This maturational step is essential for sustaining human life on Earth. No longer can the simple pursuit of a profit be what drives the business community. It’s too dangerous.

The government sector must evolve from its motivation to serve to the lower realms of political and bureaucratic goals to the higher road of service to its citizenry. The primary question is, “are we expanding the capacity of our citizens to thrive?” Politicians must learn to take the high road, follow their conscience and their constituencies, and let the chips fall where they fall. Everyone will be better off for it in the long run.

Philanthropy must invest in innovation. To end poverty, it must invest in creating poverty reduction systems as an alternative to poverty management systems.

Education must understand where the emerging economy is heading and provide students with the tools, skills, and awareness to thrive within the emerging economy, not the economy that is disappearing from us .

Faith organizations must stay out of politics if they are going to compromise their spiritual principles and values for political gains. They must remain focused on raising consciousness, deepening the spirituality of its members, and building loving and caring communities.

Leadership development and support are essential to shift each sector to a higher plane of functioning which is where I am investing the majority of my time and energy going forward.

We must recognize the purpose of the economy is to serve us all, not just some of us. Regardless of which sector you work in, there is a need for your leadership in building alternative systems to replace existing ones. To have four faces of the clock for all citizens to see, we must notice that there are at least two faces missing, and it is our responsibility to put them onto the clock, so everyone has an opportunity to prosper.

Love as the most practical pursuit

Most Americans spend the first 2/3rds of their life earning enough income to build up an arsenal of stuff, only to spend the last 1/3rd getting rid of it.  All that stuff temporarily stays in our homes and then works its way to the overfilled landfills, the rivers, the oceans, or wherever else it goes. Meanwhile, some lucky people don’t do that. Call them the really privileged ones. Because of their global circumstances, culture, family, or simply an early moment of radical clarity, they decide that loving others is what is worth spending their time and talents doing. Gathering stuff is mostly seen as a distraction.

For these privileged ones, life is slower, richer, happier, deeper, and better. How do I know this?  I have found this privilege in myself—not as strongly as I wish it were, but still there as the quiet voice within. I have also met people who gave up stuff and tuned in.  They report how much better it all gets.  They chase love rather than things. They take the time to feel life rather than numb out. They choose to learn how to love others unconditionally. How sweet can one’s life experience get?  Chocolate syrup with marshmallows sweet.

 

 

Dorothy, Circles, and The Hero’s Journey

Circles USA Founder & CEO, Scott C. Miller speaking at the Circles USA International Conference, “This is your call to adventure!”

 

Sometimes the worst time of our life sets us up for the best time of our life. By looking at mythological stories from around the world and throughout history, Joseph Campbell mapped out the universal story that all humans live and called it the Hero’s Journey. The Wizard of Oz is an iconic Hero’s Journey.

The journey begins with the call to adventure. Dorothy decides to leave home. She then refuses the call—after being fooled by the soon-to-be-wizard– to go back home. But as life would have it, she is tossed into the air by an unexpected tornado, her familiar world now completely upside down. She is dropped into the unknown world of munchkins, witches, and a yellow brick road.

With no seeming ability to return home anytime soon, she receives guidance from Glinda, the witch of the north. Dorothy sets off on the yellow brick road. She soon meets her circle of allies—scarecrow, tin man, and lion. Metaphorically, they are brains, heart, and brawn. But doubt lessens each of them as Dorothy and her allies make their way to see the wizard to claim their brains, heart, brawn and the way back home.

We all know how the story ends. Dorothy meets the wizard only to see that he was not the way home she thought he was to be. Instead, her guide the good witch Glinda shows up to tell her she always had the power inside herself to return home.

The Wizard of Oz contains all of these main chapters of the Hero’s Journey: Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Assistance to Accept the Call, Trials and Tribulations (as in the wicked witch of the west), Guidance, The Emotional Reward (treasuring home and family in the case of Dorothy), and Returning Home with more wisdom and a desire to share the lessons learned with others.

As people’s homes come spinning down into our Circles’ communities, they are often very distressed, disoriented, and reluctant to walk on the new road. As they continue to walk into the unknown, their allies show up, guidance is given, and the emotional reward that can only come from taking up the adventure makes the experience worth it all. Sometimes the worst of life can become the beginning of the best of life. So it is for everyday heroes.

Scott Miller

 

When Elders Get into the Hooch

On the second evening of our international Circles Conference in Pittsburgh, I was having dinner with Vince, Sarah, Gena, and Courtney. All of us were saturated from the busyness of the day, and with nothing better on our minds, Vince, Sarah, and I decided to clarify some random historical facts. For starters, there have just been six Presidents with really long terms and a series of stand-ins: Lincoln, Washington, JFK, Lewis and Clark, and Vince. Vince remains President today but keeps a very low profile by staying off both Facebook and The View. His current stand-in provides daily “air cover” so Vince can quietly negotiate world peace, sustainability, and increasing the kind quotient of human beings everywhere without the media catching wind of any of it and spoiling his 2019 surprise about saving humanity.

We then concurred that yes indeed it was true that Pittsburgh had been relocated 400 miles east when the steel mills closed down and the beach was in walking distance. If the group would get off their rear ends and walk with us, we could be out of the snow and onto a balmy boardwalk in 10 minutes. No takers. The intoxicating power of making stuff up grows stronger and stronger. We are emboldened, feeling confident—cocky even. Who knew that “alternative facts” were so empowering and liberating?

This was when Gena leaned over to the young Courtney and said, “This is what happens when elders get into the hooch.”

Later on, I asked Courtney, who is 22, if she knew some of my favorite bands from the 60’s and 70’s—I gave her my list. Nope, nothing rings a bell. I then asked her about Led Zeppelin. YES! She knew Led Zeppelin’s music because of her sister.

“Really, how old is your sister?”

“21.”

Guess I was expecting her sister to be 60. Sarah points out that it probably wasn’t someone’s mother who had passed it onto her sister; it was most likely someone’s grandmother. This is when I reminded everyone how young I was, having been born in ‘87. The hair loss was of course from that chemistry experiment gone awry that almost killed my lab partner Danny Devito (looked at what happened to him). I also reminded everyone, again, that I had been a child prodigy community organizer and had started my career at the age of 3 working next to Obama. The idea of Circles came to me when I was eating a box of Cheerios at daycare.

President Vince laughed and reminded everyone that this could not be possible because I had been his ace campaign manager back in ‘52 when he beat Ike. That would make me at least 39.

And so it went until we finally left the establishment and found our way to a pub on the balmy boardwalk to have a nightcap with our good old friend George Washington.

Truth is so yesterday. Alternative facts are so lit—did I say that right?

WHO CARES?!!!!

– Scott C. Miller

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