Category Archives: Poverty

Happiness vs. the 5 P’s of Thriving

So why don't I give a frack?

Since the gist of Oliver Segovia’s Harvard Business Journal article “To Find Happiness, Forget About Passion” conflicts with my beliefs on thriving, I was interested in this brainiac’s (HBS ’10) ideas.  He argues we have to be solutionists – find a problem and solve it in order to be happy.

Putting problems at the center of our decision-making changes everything. It’s not about the self anymore. It’s about what you can do and how you can be a valuable contributor. People working on the biggest problems are compensated in the biggest ways. I don’t mean this in a strict financial sense, but in a deeply human sense.

What he fails to mention is that we aren’t going to be effective or even enjoy solving problems that we aren’t passionate about.  I’ll use myself as an example.  Fracking is a big deal right now in El Paso County.  It’s has been linked to water pollution and earthquakes.  But it offers opportunity to reduce unemployment and increase school budgets.   According to Segovia, I should be eager to get educated on the local issue of fracking since it deals with two areas I care about:  the environment and economic opportunity. So why doesn’t fracking push my happiness button? 

Grant Crowell answers my question in his comment, “Segovia is short-sighted when he says for happiness, we should not rely on passion and instead focus on solving problems.” Crowell instead offers 5 P’s to focus our efforts in thriving:

1) Passion: the emotional drive and sense of self
2) Purpose: our need to be connected to something bigger than ourselves
3) Profit: because we need reward for motivation
4) People: because our network and relationship skills make us truly powerful
5) Push: giving as much as we have even when no one but us is paying attention

How Do You Thrive?

Fracking issues don’t fulfill the Ps for me: I’m ambivalent because I don’t see tangible or intangible reward to finding solutions – I have neither the network nor skill set to effect positive change. Thus, I can’t push myself to get going on the solutions.  To thrive, I must focus in areas where I have the 5P’s.

What about you? Does your work fulfill the 5P’s?

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A Roadmap for Social Change

"All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual." Albert Einstein

Since a perk of my work is learning what amazing non-profits are doing to help families survive these difficult economic times, I was thrilled to talk to Crittenton Women’s Union, an .org located in Boston, MA.  CWU provides direct services, conducts research, and advocates for public policy to better support low-income women in their journey to economic self-sufficiency.

The foundation of CWU’s work is a theory of change for what moves a family from poverty to self-sufficiency, Bridge to Self-Sufficiency.  This model not only provides strategy and internal structure for developing programs and measuring outcomes, it gives the CWU clients a tangible set of goals to strive for in the difficult journey from poverty to economic independence.

CWU has a keen focus on specific, relevant data such as their Economic Independence Calculator that determines the actual costs of living depending on family size and location. A single mom in Boston with an infant and school-aged child knows she’ll need earn almost $60K/yr (about $28/hr) to achieve economic independence.  This data is linked to Hot Jobs, “careers that require two years or less of post-secondary education or training, meet the Massachusetts Economic Independence Index income level for a single-parent family with two children, and currently post high-vacancy rates.”  CWU is giving a woman clear, meaningful data to develop a career path that offers opportunity for advancement and breaks the cycle of poverty for her children.

To see what your community’s livable wage is, visit the National Center for Childhood Poverty’s Basic Needs Budget Calculator.

What is your community doing to support upward economic mobility of disadvantaged families?  I’d love to share your story!

Should Occupiers Take a Stand or Keep Marching Along?

"Make Jobs Not War!"

First, let me say I support the #Occupy movement.  This country was established to be a fair and just society and it’s clear for 99% of us it is ceasing to be so.  As Nobel prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz pointed out,

“We have a social problem, not only an economic problem. We have this strange situation of a country where we have increasing numbers of homeless people and increasing numbers of vacant houses.”

Watching city parks across the US fill up with occupiers intent on tweeting grievances but no concrete ideas, I’m wondering if protesters have read the  American Jobs Act?

The AJA has several initiatives that would positively impact our economy.  Two in particular would provide relief to the unemployed: 1) Reauthorization of unemployment benefits set to expire at the end of the year; and, 2) Establishing the “Pathways Back to Work Fund” to create jobs for low-income and unemployed youth.  The former is a given, or 6 million people might lose whatever economic stability they have left.  The latter is a proven success in states as diverse as Mississippi and Michigan.

So, occupiers, while you’re marching for jobs can you take the opportunity to help create some?

Make funny signs AND jobs!

Justice Restored?

Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last night, Georgia death-row inmate Troy Davis exhausted all appeals for clemency. At 11:08pm EST he was put to death for the 1989 murder of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail.

Troy Davis

While CNN switched between the jail where Davis supporters congregated and live interviews with the victim’s mother, Anneliese MacPhail, legal pundits commented on the convoluted Davis case which polarized people into two camps, those desperate to save a life versus those determined to see it ended. At the heart of both arguments was the idea of justice; or, “a scheme or system of law in which every person receives his/her/its due from the system, including all rights, both natural and legal”.

Is the death penalty just? Does it protect society? An overwhelming majority of the country’s top academic criminology experts reject the idea that there is “any deterrent effect from the death penalty.”

Perhaps Davis’ case will highlight the need for restorative justice. Restorative justice differs from our current system in that it views a criminal act more holistically; instead of defining crime as “breaking the law”, it recognizes that offenders harm victims, communities and even themselves. It recognizes that the criminal justice system is not effective in reducing crime; rather than rehabilitating or deterring criminals, prisons make offenders less likely to reintegrate successfully into society. Studies show a majority of felons released were rearrested within 3 years. Importantly, restorative justice acknowledges victims’ dissatisfaction with their treatment by the criminal justice system.

Looking at “justice” not by how much punishment is inflicted but by how much harm is repaired or prevented means we try to get a head of the problem rather than constantly react to it.

What do you think? Is it time for a change? Is our current system of justice working for us?

How Earning More Keeps You Poor

191,000 kids live in poverty in Colorado


Why can’t poor people just “get a job”?  Hell, they get food stamps, free child care, tax credits, welfare checks…what else could they need?

I’ve heard variations of this question; truthfully,  I used to ask it myself.  What I failed to recognize (and now try to increase awareness of) is the unintentional negative affect of the 1996 welfare reform laws: the Cliff Effect.  Consider the real-life scenario of Shari (not her real name):

Shari began working at McDonald’s 15 months ago.  She is eligible for a raise, yet she refuses to ask for one or accept any promotions that McDonald’s may offer. If Shari got even a 75-cents-per-hour raise, it would trigger a cut in food stamps, childcare assistance, and medical assistance. She cannot afford to earn a little more. In order to escape poverty, Shari must earn considerably more. Like others in poverty, Shari is often stuck in survival mode, unable to imagine a better future and trapped without the support systems that families who are middle or upper class take for granted. It feels impossible for Shari to plan for the future or make long-term decisions because she is dealing with today’s crises.

Shari’s work supports are supposed to provide her family a means for climbing out of poverty.  These include the minimum wage, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the child tax credit,  food stamps, health insurance, and child care.  But as Shari’s earnings increase, she begins to lose these benefits, negating any increases in income. The result? Hard-working individuals climbing to reach the American Dream of prosperity end up falling off the cliff…back into poverty.

Just another Shari

We’ve all seen Shari:  at the Wal-Mart checkout counter, at the bus stop, waiting on us at McDonalds.  And we think, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”  Is that it?  Do we stop there?  Or, do we wonder, “Is there anything I can do?”

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” ~ Mother Teresa.

Schools as a Brand

Just this week I noticed an interesting Next!: urban charter school start-ups leveraging a well-known brand, in these cases, famous athletes.

This leaves me wondering: Will schools be marketed to kids like cereal?  In their efforts to attract students will charter schools, already serving a disproportionate number of low-income students, fall into a de facto means of school segregation?

Medicaid pediatric hospice fails dying children

The Denver Post reported an audit of Colorado’s Health Care Policy and Financing Department found it egregiously failed to comfort dying children and their families by denying services, failing to provide access to providers and delivering shoddy case management.  Included in the audit findings were the following:

  • More than 25% of the kids enrolled in the “pediatric hospice” program received no services during a 16-month audit period.
  • Only 9 of the 130 kids who needed palliative care (pain management) got services.
  • Case mangers failed to document care plans.
  • There’s no record of bereavement services provided.

HCPF launched this program in 2008 and since then has spent $240,000 on services.  So where did this money go? More importantly, what is HCPF doing now to make sure vulnerable families with dying children get the hospice care they need?

The Other 99% of US

After reading Joseph Stiglitz’s article on America’s social inequality (in Vanity Fair, just under the hyperlink to the International Best-Dressed List) I wondered what is it that allows us to maintain this idea of America as the land of opportunity?  Are we truly a nation that believes in equality and the American Dream?  Or is it an ideal we clutch on to like a worn-out teddy bear to give us a semblance of  comfort while equity vanishes from our homes, our jobs are shipped to other countries and our kids’ academic performance continues to decline?  Are we a nation of equal opportunity or a society functions on survival of the fittest?

“While the law [of competition] may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it insures the survival of the fittest in every department. We accept and welcome, therefore, as conditions to which we must accommodate ourselves, great inequality of environment, the concentration of business, industrial and commercial, in the hands of a few, and the law of competition between these, as being not only beneficial, but essential for the future progress of the race.” Andrew Carnegie, “Wealth,” in the North American Review, June 1889

Andrew Carnegie

And if social darwinism is the driving force for opportunity that concentrates our country’s wealth into the hands of a few, what does that mean for the well-being of the other 99% of us?

A sign of things to come?


Repairing Our Opportunity Society

In a video excerpt discussing their 2009 book, Creating an Opportunity Society, Brookings Institute Fellows Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill propose that poor public policy, a broken education system and “the behavior” of the poor themselves sustain our vicious cycle of poverty in America.

While I hate the “blame the victim” argument, they highlights critical points: a) Americans believe in an opportunity society where everyone deserves a chance to realize their full potential; b) Some kids are born with distinct disadvantages; c) Low-income kids attending sub-par schools are at risk for poor academic outcomes unless they benefit from positive educational intervention; d) Our education system needs higher quality programs and teachers especially with respect to Head Start.

While reading the research I though of my work with adults who grew up in poverty, did not complete high school now struggling to get a job providing a livable wage.  Clearly there’s some truth to the quote by Frederick Douglass, “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

During his State of the Union Address, Obama says, “If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child — become a teacher.  Your country needs you.”  I’m afraid it will take more than that.