Posts Tagged ‘culture of poverty’

The Growing Culture of Poverty in the USA

Toward the end of last month, I published a blog (link) about my representing the North Carolina Council of Churches in a meeting of 13 American “faith leaders” with the United States Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to discuss providing greater economic opportunities for all, especially those living in poverty. I promised to write a follow up blog discussing the unfortunate growing culture of poverty in the United States and what business leaders can do to address it.

Sheila Forte-Trammell provided the inspiration and much of the information in this blog.

Sheila Forte-Trammell provided the inspiration and much of the information in this blog.


I thank my long time IBM colleague internationally respected diversity and workplace engagement leader and author Sheila Forte-Trammell for much of the inspiration and content for this short blog (see byline about Sheila at the bottom on the blog.)

An unfortunate cyclical circumstance within the US is a growing distinct culture of poverty, which tends to trap multiple generations from the same families and areas. Statistics show that the number of people officially living in poverty in the US continues to grow, even as we tout ourselves as “the land of plenty.” Some statistical facts:
• The 2010 US Census declared that 15.1% (over 46 million people!) of Americans were living in poverty.
• That Blacks and Hispanics were disproportionately represented in the poverty numbers (Over 28% of Blacks and 26% of Hispanics.)
• The poverty rate for women single head of households was 5 times the poverty rate of families with two parents.

Many people in poverty in the USA live on the streets or in their cars like this man in his 1998 station wagon.

Many people in poverty in the USA live on the streets or in their cars like this man in his 1998 station wagon.


Now add to that some sociological discussion:
• The cycle of poverty continues to perpetuate itself since children raised in poverty have less access to quality education.
• That growing up in poverty often leads to low self esteem, lack of role models, culture of crime, etc.
• That poverty often nurtures the mentality of immediate / short term gratification over delayed /long term gratification and investment in the future.

What are ways corporate America can help lower the poverty rate and help build a country where all citizens have better economic opportunity?
• Specifically open plants and facilities in high poverty areas where the jobs are needed most, keeping in mind that many in poverty do not have the transportation access to locations in the suburbs.
• Contribute corporate philanthropic money to initiatives that improves educational access to those living in poverty. This also helps build a national pipeline of better trained diverse talent.
• Educate your employees about the plights of poverty and what can be done. Perhaps offer opportunities for community service and mentoring programs on company time.

It is absolutely the right thing as a nation to not ignore the poverty here in “our land of plenty,” but instead take action to raise the living standards and occupational readiness of our entire nation.

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Much of the content of this blog was provided by Sheila Forte-Trammell, Total HR Services, LLC. Sheila was recognized in 2014 with a Triangle Business Journal “Leader in Diversity – Role Model” award (link) and has co-authored two books: “Agile Career Development: Lessons and Approached from IBM,” and “Intelligent Mentoring: How IBM Creates Value through People, Knowledge and Relationships.” Link to Sheila’s LinkedIn profile.

My Meeting with US Cabinet Member Labor Secretary Thomas Perez

This blog is loaded with links to useful resources – please explore and use them (bold underlined)

US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez (right) making a point in the meeting coordinated by Center for Faith-Based Partnerships Rev. Phil Tom (left)

US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez (right) making a point in the meeting coordinated by Center for Faith-Based Partnerships Rev. Phil Tom (left)


On Tuesday, September 16th, I had the special privilege of representing the North Carolina Council of Churches in a meeting of 13 American “faith leaders” with the United States Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.

The meeting, coordinated by the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, was to discuss what the US government administration and Department of Labor are doing to protect workers and provide greater economic opportunities for all. This was my first time meeting with someone so senior level in the US government. And I also viewed the discussion through my lens of being a diversity and career management consultant.

I was extremely impressed with Secretary Perez’s heartfelt commitment to addressing poverty and increasing job opportunities in the USA. And he listened with deep intent to all the participants and demonstrated he heard all of our comments when he synthesized the key issues we discussed.

I shared that the NC Council of Churches has a long history of advocating for social justice including economic justice. My points:
• We have provided educational materials and advocacy around “living wage” since minimum wage is far below what people, especially working single parents, need to live.
• That we tie economic discussions to racial justice since it is minorities that are often the hardest hit with economic difficulties
• That given that NC has a large agricultural economic component, I detailed the various projects we have done around farm workers and immigrant rights.
I also noted that I was elected NC Council of Churches President as an out gay man, that the LGBT community often suffers economic hardship and workplace discrimination in states that do not offer legal protection, and that there are a huge number of people of faith who believe LGBT protections are the right thing to do.

Blog author Stan Kimer (background) listens as Rev Sekinah Hamlin (foreground), another NC Council of Churches former President and now with the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative, shares some points.

Blog author Stan Kimer (background) listens as Rev Sekinah Hamlin (foreground), another NC Council of Churches former President and now with the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative, shares some points.


Secretary Perez listened intently and took a lot of notes as each of the 13 faith leaders spoke. He consolidated all that he heard and offered the following summary remarks: (a few of these items are from his opening remarks too)
• It is important to provide vocation training for inmates nearing the end of their sentences, providing them a second chance and assisting them of becoming productive members of society instead of returning to prison
• We need to increasing opportunities for women, noting that the USA is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not legislate paid leave for new mothers. In addition, lack of subsidized child care for low income working mothers often force them to make hard choices.
• Need to continue to work on raising minimum wage (link to a blog by meeting attendee Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block) to provide a living income
• Faith organizations can start “job clubs” for helpful networking and leverage the 2500 American Job Centers across the country. Some of these are even located in prison locations to assist with re-entry.
• There are grants available to faith organizations to assist with skills development, inmate re-entry programs, etc.
• One important role of faith groups are to be a voice for those with no voice and those unable to speak out
• He does understand the LGBT employment issue and supports having a national ENDA (Employment non-discrimination act.) Protection for LGBT people based upon what state they live in is not fair.
• Immigration reform has a strong impact on economic issues, and is one area that all faith groups from conservative to progressive support.

In closing, Secretary Perez asked that we do not leave the meeting as pessimists, that the facts are on our side and we can continue to work for positive progression in these issues. Civil rights is about persistence and we need to diligently persist in these areas. And he expressed deep gratitude for all our work.

In mid-October, I will write a follow on blog to discuss the unfortunate growing culture of poverty in the United States, and what business leaders can do to address it.

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