We Are Better Than This•
A recent study analyzing the 2009 US Census shows that 30% – nearly 1 in 3 Americans – fell below the “low-income threshold,” which is total earnings of $43,512 for a family of four. A Gallup poll showed that Americans believe that the minimum a family of four needs to earn just to get by is $52,087. These numbers don’t include those who are unemployed and looking for work. Combined, these data points challenges a basic value that all of us share: in America, if you work, you should not be poor.
I just returned from a focus group in South Central Los Angeles where residents at Community Coalition – spanning in ages from 15 to 91 years old – spoke about the lack of opportunity in their lives, and their profound desire to be given a chance to succeed. They spoke about neighborhood schools with absurdly low expectations, about neighborhoods where there were more liquor stores and smoke shops than grocery stores, about no YMCAs or after-school programs for their children. They weren’t looking for a government handout – they were looking for the chance to put their talents to work on the back of a decent education and job opportunities they could compete for.
Billy Shore, founder of Share Our Strength, recently published a piece on the Huffington Post where he points to lack of opportunity as one of the largest challenges facing our society today. As he argues:
The toughest problems to solve are always those that affect people so voiceless there are no markets for solving them. Nonprofit and philanthropic institutions can bridge the gap, but any success they may have can only be sustained by purposefully and simultaneously building political will to scale and sustain the most effective solutions. Social entrepreneurship without political will and improved public policy simply pushes a boulder up a hill that is destined to slide down again.
Companies, communities, nonprofit organizations, and yes, the government, have a role to play in ensuring that all of us have a shot at the American Dream. But first, we need to acknowledge that these challenges are about “us”, and not charity for “them”. We will all be better off if less than two-thirds of our working families aren’t earning enough to get by.