10 Million Men. Not marching, not working. The Council of Economic Advisers says of the men ages 25-54 who are not currently employed, 83% haven’t had a job in at least a year. That’s only the men. Forbes.com states that in 2016, more than 25% of jobs posted online in the US remain unfilled for over two months. In 2014, Fortune.com reported that unfilled jobs cost the US $160 billion per year.
Helping the poor is not only about being good Samaritans. If we do it right, we keep our companies staffed and in business, so the rest of us can continue working. We shift support to the retiring Baby Boomers who’ve supported us. We reduce violence as people discover their true power. Circles USA recognizes that we can’t leave nearly 68 million Americans dependent on assistance. We need qualified workers, and our people need to know their own worth.
In his Ted Talk, Circles USA CEO Scott Miller laughs about his search for effective ways to help. Early on, his team discovered that the most effective way for someone in poverty to double their household income was to get married. Though it was tempting to run with the data, they chose not to start a dating service. More research proved useful. During the recession in 2008-2009, when the average US income dropped 3%, Circles families were increasing their income up to 88%.
Previously, I mentioned that each Circles USA chapter is formed of up to 25 small circles. Each small circle has a Leader, someone who wants to make their way out of poverty to financial freedom. Completing the circle are Allies, individuals with middle or upper incomes and stable finances, who help the circle Leader think about issues that will need to be overcome in order to meet his or her personal goals.
For every $1 that goes into the process of walking alongside a Circles leader, $2 in welfare savings are returned to the community and at least $4 in income are earned.
With 5.9 million job openings as of July 31, 2016, why are so many Americans jobless or earning too little? I’ve had people tell me about trying to help someone in poverty who seemed unmotivated or refused to take advice. That’s frustrating. How do you help people? The other day, I listened to a Freakonomics interview with two economists who had done massive amounts of research. They both came to the same conclusion:
Yep, that was the answer given by two experts. They’re right. It is complicated, but thankfully it’s not rocket science.
If you’re reading this blog, you probably have a few ideas of your own. Let me see if I can guess them:
Higher Minimum Wage
I believe that some, though not all, of those solutions can help. Scott says that for every 100 families struggling with poverty, there are only 31 affordable houses. Stacy Mitchell, the Ally who gave the interview which generated this blog series, says there are areas of her town where the school buses don’t pick up high schoolers. Forbes says the job market is changing, and the people most in need of employment are unqualified for the best positions. Handing someone keys to a car and house and signing them up for classes don’t seem to be enough, based on the current statistics.
Circles USA leverages diversity, collaboration and commitment to help people transition from, “Nothing ever works out,” to “I love my life!”
It takes trust. People who feel trapped in the cycles of poverty fear judgment or unrealistic expectations. Trust develops slowly, and often people who can’t hold a job or budget properly have emotional or relational skills to acquire. In her multi-video interview, a former Leader who is now a coach at a Circles USA chapter says that when she came to Circles, she was afraid of being seen as a bad mother. “You have to wait,” Rebecca says, “it takes time. Trust is a big deal. You have to wait and let things happen. Be careful of goal pushing, because people under pressure start to justify how bad things are.” The authentic, respectful dialogue that goes on at meal time and during the sessions is good for both Leaders and Allies. Struggles are shared and strengths are celebrated. Successful companies know that when different cultures talk on a regular basis, we build a more flexible economy.
It takes time. Once someone decides to be a Leader, he or she commits to reaching the 200% mark, even if it takes a few years. The goal of every Leader is to end up earning at least 200% of the income of someone at poverty level. Many reach this and continue rising, eventually becoming Allies themselves. Allies stick by their Leaders, helping them discover talents, prepare for the Cliff Effect and deal with crises. Perhaps an Ally’s most important job is to give respect, patient encouragement, a listening ear, and friendship to the Leader. Former Leader Crystal said, “If you’re always around like-minded individuals, you have nothing to strive for. No one can give you different experiences.” In her terrific video, she recalls how hard she used to work, but her hard work was never enough to make ends meet. After completing the program, she states, “I no longer wake up with, ‘Oh, I can’t do this, it’s so rough.’ I wake up with, ‘I can, and I am, and I’m doing, and it’s goooood!’”
It takes a city. Circles volunteers examine the needs of their chapter’s Leaders and build a network of resources in the community. In one spread-out city, lack of transportation was a major hindrance to getting and keeping good jobs. The chapter’s Big View team recognized the need and created a plan. A couple of Allies reached out to mechanics for free pre-purchase inspections, others visited the courthouse to learn how a title could be transferred directly from a donor to a recipient without the expense of going through the chapter. Other Allies located mechanics who would provide inexpensive repairs when needed. One volunteer sent Leaders’ stories periodically to the local media. During the first four years, 168 cars were donated. People pitch in when they see change happening.
It changes the city. Recognizing that those who’ve lived in poverty know its challenges best, Big View teams often invite government and business representatives to attend meetings. In one chapter, they helped six Leaders prepare one-minute speeches. Each told a personal story relating to a specific issue, such as the Cliff Effect, child care or other issues. The group worked with the speakers for several weeks and then hosted an open house. They invited people who were running for office or leading in the community to come and explain how they would address the issues. First, these guests were asked to listen to these six one-minute presentations. The night went so well that the Leaders were given the opportunity to earn $50 by speaking to the state legislature.
There is intelligence, talent, creativity, loyalty, resilience and drive hidden in your town. If you don’t believe me, scroll back up and listen to Rebecca or Crystal. These two former Leaders are well-spoken, money-making businesswomen, and Circles helps men as well. There are Circles USA chapters in 19 states and in Canada, but many more are needed. Visit their website or spend 15 minutes on the Circles USA channel, where Scott will tell you what it takes to start a Circles USA chapter in your community.
5.9 million job openings. We can change this. We can keep our businesses running smoothly, increase our consumer base, reduce our deficit and be good neighbors. We might notice a few new businesses popping up. Once a person starts achieving dreams, why stop?