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cycle of poverty

TED Talk stage
Steve Jurvetson / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

More than 45 million Americans – nearly 16 million of them children – live below the poverty line.

And poverty isn't just a U.S. issue. It's a global problem, affecting nearly half of the world's population, according to DoSomething.org.

parking ticket on car
kdingo / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Traffic tickets are an inconvenient expense. And if they aren't paid within a certain amount of time, you incur costly fees that only make the ticket harder to pay off.

But if you're poor, a ticket can be nearly impossible to pay. And unpaid violations can result in a suspended license or jail time, which means you can't go to work to pay your bills – including the ticket – digging you further into poverty.

user Hans Poldoja / Flickr

If you don’t have a network, it can be very difficult to advance socially or in your career. One non-profit leader I spoke to called it a “crisis of relationships.” 

That’s exactly the kind of crisis Deondr’e Austin faced five years ago. He says as far as finding a legal job, it was hard. "As far as find anything else that was bad in the world, the network can find a lot of bad things."

user DarkGuru / creative commons

Pay now or pay later? I feel like that could be the unofficial tag line for our State of Opportunity project.  

The "pay now or pay later" question comes up time and again when we talk about programs aimed at helping kids climb out of poverty. For example: Do we spend the money up front for high-quality preschool for low-income kids, or do we wait until they're falling behind to try and step in to help? Do we offer preventive medical care for low-income kids, or do we wait to treat them until they've developed asthma or heart disease later in life?  

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Let's face it, a lot of people take graduation for granted. It's just one of the many steps on the path to a career. But for some, it’s not that easy. I've been following one young mom for the last couple years as she tried – and failed – to complete a jobs training program. But as you're about to read, the young mom finally did it.

Sarah Alvarez / Michigan Radio

At 3:30 p.m on a recent week day, I showed up to the College and Career Access Center in Jackson Crossing. It’s a strip mall, where right next to an army recruitment office sits what amounts to a storefront guidance counselor’s office. It’s accessible to anyone in the community, of any age.

Each of the county’s 13 school districts made a tough choice to give up their discretionary funds to pay for it, and hire a few college and career advisors they could share to help them reach their goal of getting 60 percent of Jackson’s residents to have a college degree or career credential by 2025.

When I showed up there were 16 people waiting for me, from the Superintendent of the Intermediate School District to the County Commissioner to the editor of Jackson’s newspaper. They were all there to tell me about what’s going on in Jackson.

“We roll deep in Jackson!” Kriss Giannetti explains. Gianetti is one of the founders of a group called Jackson 2020. Over the last three years they’ve been working together to tackle some of Jackson’s toughest problems.

While we talked, a steady stream of people walked into the center to talk to the college and career advisors or use a computer bank to our left. They were getting help with things like financial aid questions and career training. Recent high school graduate Courtney Reese was one of them. Reese is moving to Washington State this month to go to community college there, but she says she won’t stay too long.

“I’m definitely coming back here,” she says emphatically.  “We have a lot of self-pride. There’s people with "517" tattoos on them and they’re showing Jackson pride. And I just think that’s really cool. Especially with the reputation we have.”

The cavalry isn't coming

Jackson does have a reputation as a city with plenty of issues, or, as I heard said more than once “truths.” It’s not unlike most, if not all, Michigan cities trying to resurrect themselves from decades of economic depression.

Where our gap watch begins: with babies

Mar 14, 2014

One of our most popular, and saddest, posts is about the challenges kids face later on in life if they're born to parents who are living in poverty. The disadvantage begins before a child actually enters the world and starts with a lack of prenatal care. Jennifer Guerra and Dustin Dwyer revisit, "The problem with growing up poor" and how it contributes to further inequality gaps later in life.

user penywise / morgueFILE

The blogosphere has been abuzz the last week or so about What Poor People Do (Or Don't Do). The topic of savings often comes up in discussions about the poor, and with those conversations come lots of misconceptions.

I interviewed the Blackman family a couple weeks ago for a piece on climbing out of poverty. Tiffany Blackman has been trying to climb out of the poverty she inherited from her parents, grandparents and great grandparents. Together with her husband, Rodrico, and their four kids, they've managed to climb up one rung on the income ladder, thanks to lots of hard work, education and savings.

In our conversation, we talked about savings and kids. Specifically: Does she talk to her kids about how to save money? Her answer was an emphatic yes.

Here how she does it:


Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

What if we told you there was a man in Harlem who thinks he's figured out how to break the cycle of poverty?

You'd probably want to meet him, right? We sure did.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

What would it take so that all kids in Michigan have the chance to reach their full potential?

To help us find some answers, we're doing things a little bit differently.

Sure, we're talking to national experts and researchers about what does and does not work when it comes to overcoming poverty. But we're also spending time with real people who are struggling to get ahead.

Our goal is to follow several kids and families over the course of the three-year project to better understand what challenges they face, what resources are available, and where the gaps are. 

Here's a preview of one of the families we've been spending time with: