By Guest Blogger, Corey Mosesly, Director, Family Stability Initiatives, United Way of Pierce County
Poverty is often described as an individual experience or personal challenge. For example, someone not having enough money to meet basic needs including food, clothing and shelter. It can also be associated with being sick and not being able to see a doctor or pay for medications; not having access to educational opportunities; lack of social support networks; and a quality of life below the living standard for the area.
We also know that sometimes a job is not enough. Many American households can’t afford the basics of housing, food, health care, child care, and transportation, despite working hard. Even among those who are employed and often have more than one job, they struggle with monthly expenses that exceed their income. They are fighting an uphill financial battle that, without room to build savings, grows more unsustainable.
The experience of poverty and financial instability area also fluid as households move back and forth from financial crisis to stability depending on their income, assets and expenses. That’s the reality facing millions of underemployed residents who are walking a financial tightrope.
The best way I’d like to describe the complexity of persistent poverty, low-wage stagnation and financial instability is to identify the all of the core factors that help provide economic stability. Many organizations have created versions of a “self-sufficiency matrix” that takes a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach to fostering economic mobility.
EMPath’s Bridge to Self-Sufficiency® is one notable theory of change that describes a person’s advancement from poverty to economic self-sufficiency as a journey across a bridge supported by five critical pillars—family stability, well-being, education and training, financial management, and employment and career management.
For families experiencing financial instability, the range of possible areas to consider working on are broad. I've created a modified version of the bridge to help quickly assess where households are on a scale from crisis to thriving. The assessment includes eight core areas of financial stability: housing, mobility, family, health, social network, debts, savings, education, and career.
Often individual goals can be in multiple areas at the same time, so sometimes you need to step back, have a conversation with the client about the big picture for their lives, and then determine what areas to really focus on. Over time people can review their progress where they are now to when they started tracking. This also broadens what success looks like based on the individual’s goals, rather than one set income metric.
Poverty and financial instability are complicated. People’s lives are complicated and they are the experts. Moving toward economic stability should be based on individual goals and hopefully they live in a community that can support their efforts. That why United Way is here. That's why our staff and thousands of volunteers take up the call to Live United.