In 2018, I read Peter Temin’s book The Vanishing Middle Class. He got a lot of press coverage when the book was released, in large part because of his thesis that households who are working to escape poverty really need about 20 years without catastrophe. He theorized that on an individual level, it is sometimes possible to plan, educate, strategize, and work without stopping- and the end result may be a level of financial comfort. Of course, that is without a devastating medical diagnosis, unexpected loss, financial abuse, or (likely) a global public health crisis. I think about that research often as I approach policy solutions to ending poverty. It seems clear to me, our communities need to make the experience of poverty easier, not more difficult. If a household need 20 years without a catastrophe to lift themselves out of poverty, assistance needs to be accessible and adjustable.
The experience of living in poverty affects every part of a person’s life in complicated and connected ways. When people go to bed hungry, that impacts their ability to show up for work or school on time the next day. Without a consistent address, job hunting to increase your income is difficult. Lingering medical bills decrease the households ability to invest in secondary education, even with financial assistance. Sleeping in a car may protect you from the elements, but most people don’t ever feel really safe enough to get that deep rest their body needs. Our neighbors need us to see the whole picture of their struggles, and not just one aspect of poverty in a silo. This year’s Anti-Poverty Advocates Summit aims to break down those silos, and address the experience of poverty and financial struggle as a system.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of need shows that basic human needs must be met before individuals can work toward achieving their highest goals. It should be the goal of all who work in policy that everyone who lives in our state has the ability to reach their highest goals. No person in poverty is just hungry. It is unrealistic to expect that if we fed them one good meal they’d immediately be able to meet their full potential. Instead, that person is hungry and also struggling in other ways. Every aspect of our lives influence other characteristics of our lives. I am driven to end homelessness, but ending homelessness alone won’t eradicate poverty (though it certainly would improve the lives of our neighbors).
This is especially true for our neighbors with criminal records. When employers use past records as they decide who to hire, what type of advancements to offer, and to determine wages, it can trap individuals in a lifetime of poverty. Formerly incarcerated people are nearly 10 times more likely than the general public to experience homelessness. A study at Villanova University estimated that without mass incarceration and the collateral consequences of a criminal record that limit employment, educational, and housing opportunities, the nation’s poverty rate would have dropped by 20% between 1980 and 2004. It’s clear that folks with records might need more than 20 years to stabilize.
The Summit will feature a heavy focus on Clean Slate, a process to automatically expunge past non-violent crimes. Empower Missouri is working to make automatic expungement of eligible records the law in Missouri. These past convictions often have nothing to do with the type of neighbor, employee, or volunteer someone may be today. As we consider the impact of poverty on someone’s life, we have to acknowledge the disproportionate impact of justice involvement.
We hope you’ll attend our 2022 Anti-Poverty Advocates Summit this November. We will focus on remembering that each of our neighbors are full people with a variety of experiences and needs, and together we’ll work towards policy solutions that are similarly diverse. Please join us.
Tickets for the Summit are on sale at a special Early Bird Rate of $99 until this Saturday, October 1st, and then will increase to $149.