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!

The Diversity and Housing Issues Connection – Part 1 of 2

Throughout this summer, I seemed to be involved, read information or met people who are connected with housing issues. And then I realized that there is a very strong connection between diversity work and housing.

Where a person or family lives is one of the most critical aspects of their lives and could determine access to jobs, training and needed services. Centrally located affordable housing offered without discriminatory practices near available transportation can be the single determining factor for someone to better their lives and advance out of joblessness or poverty.

In April, I was privileged to attend the annual Fair Housing Conference cohosted by the City of Raleigh, NC Fair Housing Hearing Board. Some of the key points presented by various speakers and panelists included:
• One successful model is non-profit corporations teaming with municipalities and neighborhoods to build and manage affordable housing that positively impacts neighborhoods. One such example is CASA in North Carolina. Some of their recent projects have targeted veterans and people with disabilities.

This beautiful CASA property is reserved with individuals and families with disabilities

This beautiful CASA property is reserved with individuals and families with disabilities

• Another best practices is when city or town governments work creatively across departments (like community affairs and transportation) to come up with solutions for city residents.
• There are certain populations that have an extra hard time find housing. These include ex-prisoners trying to productively re-enter society to start a new life, and immigrants who could face language barriers in filling out the paperwork and understanding lease agreements.
• Blatant discrimination against particular groups is still a reality in the United States. This poignant and shocking video (link) about discrimination against Muslims by an apartment complex in Texas was shown to conference attendees.
• There are a number of passionate and very knowledgeable groups and leaders who are working tirelessly to address the housing issue. One who was honored at the event was national housing leader and consultant Stella Adams. See also the NC Justice Center’s Consumer Protection and Housing Project.

The closing speaker for the conference was Bryan Greene, the US General Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. He highlighted some of the excellent work being coordinated out of the US Federal Government. Some of his key points included:
• There are still many issues around fair housing that HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development) needs to continue to address into the future. This work is nowhere near over.
• The area of disabilities accounts for the largest number of complaints filed with HUD (45% of the total.) The most common issues are lack of accommodation (e.g. parking, assistance animals, etc.) and allowing modifications to units.
• Other hot areas of housing discrimination include familial (especially against single parents with children) and religious (especially against Muslims)
• Segregated communities are harmful for our country whereas fully integrated diverse communities will build a stronger nation.

In Part 2 coming next week I will expand into the connections between housing issues and my core area of diversity expertise – the LGBT – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender – community, including Bryan Greene’s comments about this area.