Addressing Poverty – Corporately, Personally, Politically

Many politicians refuse to admit that mass poverty exists in their own prosperous nation. Photo from

One of the major diversity issues within the United States is the continual increase of people living in poverty, and this is an issue that truly is critical to me as a diversity consultant. Part of including all people in the fabric of society means addressing systemic issues that hold people back from reaching their maximum capabilities.

In October 2014, I wrote about the culture of poverty within the United States (link) where I share some sobering statistics about the demographics of people living in poverty. These stats 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.” In that blog, I also share three ways that corporate America can address this issue.

But in addition to corporate America, we can each personally strive to do our part, including at the ballot box when we vote each November, to address the growing poverty in our communities, states and country. Here are 10 questions that you can ask politicians running for office, and that you can use to evaluate what candidates are committed to bettering the economic plight of all Americans. These questions were developed by the NC Justice Center for North Carolina, and I edited them to be applicable for our entire nation:

The poverty rate among Black Americans is nearly double the general population, and particularly impacts women and children.

1. In almost all states, it takes at least $16 an hour for a family to afford the basics. Will you support raising your state’s or the nation’s minimum wage?

2. What will you do to ensure that all at-risk children can participate in quality early childhood programs?

3. Will you work to ensure that our public schools, where over 80 percent of our children are enrolled, are fully funded?

4. Will you stop tax-cutting initiatives that most often strip vital services from those that need them most?

5. In many places, middle and low-income citizens pay a greater share of their incomes than the wealthy. What will you do to fix the tax code to ensure that everyone pays their fair share and those struggling don’t carry a heavier tax load than millionaires?

6. How would you improve connections for jobless workers to secure good jobs?

7. Do you think it is acceptable to have a sub-standard unemployment insurance system that reduces benefits to those who have lost their job through no fault of their own?

8. Will you work toward ensuring that your locale, state or the nation pursues full employment for all of its citizens? What are the tools that you would use?

9. How will you ensure that businesses that have been historically excluded from opportunity are able to access public contracts and grow?

10. What does a thriving community look like to you? How will you pursue public policies that realize that vision?

When our citizens, elected public leaders, non-profits and corporate leaders truly work together to provide opportunities for the economically disadvantaged among us, it does indeed help all of us!

National Disability Employment Awareness Month – an amazing man leading an amazing organization, Part 2

78% of LC Industry’s employees are blind or visually impaired.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and this is the second part of a two-part blog featuring John Samuel, and the organization he is helping transform, LC Industries. On September 6, I visited John at his office on the LC Industries manufacturing campus, and then was given a quick tour of the facility. Originally, I was only going to write about the organization, but John’s story is so compelling, I needed to make this a two-part blog. So, read part one, which is John’s personal story (link) and here is part two, about LC Industries.

STAN: Let us start with the basics. What is the mission of LC Industries?

JOHN: LC Industries’ sole mission is to provide meaningful employment for people who are blind and/or visually impaired. As one of the nation’s largest employers of the blind, our mission is to offer opportunities, skills and training to the blind and visually impaired (abbreviated BVI) to help them cultivate a job into a rewarding career. This is a critical issue since only 30% of the BVI community is gainfully employed.

One unique offering from LC Industries is their stores on US military bases.

STAN: How long has LC Industries been around?

JOHN: Over 80 years, long before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed! Our non-profit was started by a local civic group here in Durham, and since that time, has grown to two distribution centers, four e-commerce websites, six manufacturing facilities and over 35 retail stores on military bases.

STAN: Wow – what is unique about your relationship with the military bases?

JOHN: Having retail stores on the bases saves our military personnel lots of time. They can find exactly what they need close by, without having to go into town to hunt down and find various supplies. In addition, we are known for our excellent quality, which is crucial to supplying our armed services personnel in combat.

STAN: What kind of products are you manufacturing?

JOHN: A wide range and you will see many of them when I take you through the manufacturing plant. Some of the products are specifically for the military, and others are for the public and can be ordered through our e-commerce site: You will get to see a wide range of products that we make on the tour, including mattresses, file folders, and locks. Not to mention, you will get to see our team assembling medical kits, which is one of our newest and fastest growing businesses.

Locks are one of the quality products assembled at LC Industries.

STAN: I am interested in what percentage of the people working in this facility are blind or visually impaired.

JOHN: Our goal is that every position in our organization is accessible, and could be filled by a person who is blind or visually impaired. Our target is for our manufacturing workforce to consist of at least 75% of employees who are blind or visually impaired. Right now, we are around 78%, exceeding our target.

STAN: And what do you see for LC Industries’ future?

JOHN: This is what I am excited about. We really want to evolve and create jobs that lead to upward mobility for the BVI community, so we are launching a Workforce Innovation Center (WIC). The high-tech and services industries are the fastest growing areas, and we see the WIC playing a pivotal role in providing training to people to fill positions in digital accessibility and contact center services. For example, we are now working with organizations to update their websites, including their career pages, to ensure they are accessible to everyone. By focusing on digital accessibility services, it enables us to remove one of the major barriers that have hindered this community from entering the workforce, which I think is going to be game changing.

STAN: I love that you are looking to the future, especially as the shortage of technical skills continue to grow. Where can people learn more about LC Industries?

JOHN: On our website, You can read more about our history, access our e-commerce site, and see what jobs we currently have available.

* * * * *

My previous blogs for National Disability Employment Awareness Month:

2014: Bridge II Sports – a cool organization engaging people with disabilities through various sports.

2013: Support via a wonderful organization, Enable America.

And also: A theater organization supporting performers with disabilities, Theater Breaking Through Barriers.