For some, poverty and unemployment is a cycle that is vicious and hard to break. According to Scientific American, the economy is rigged. Rigged, meaning that we have greater inequity economically here in the U.S. than in most of the other Westernized nation.
Sadly, our political system perpetuates this inequality by allowing those with the highest amount of money to be able to influence politicians and laws so that inequality continues and gets worse. It is incumbent upon all of us to find the answers to break this cycle because it is swallowing up our middle class.
In order to find solutions to the problems of poverty and unemployment that are so pernicious in our country, we spoke to Candice V Cunningham. Cunningham is the founder of a non-profit organization that is helping students aged 16 to 19 design and run online stores in order to create their own wealth streams. Cunningham is uniquely positioned to help students break the poverty cycle because she is an e-commerce consultant with years of experience.
What Factors Make the Economy Rigged?
In order to understand how to change the situation, we must first identify where the problems come from that leave citizens stuck in cycles of poverty and unemployment.
According to Scientific American, these are some of the major reasons for economic inequity in the U.S.:
- Our country shifted from union-based jobs in the manufacturing sector to a service sector economy where employees are not unionized and have lower wages and less security if their jobs will be there tomorrow.
- Vote suppression, dark money, other large political campaign contributions and redistricting all keep voters from being able to protect their economic interests at the polls.
- Weakened laws on excesses by corporations allow executives to pay themselves wages that are hundreds of times that of their workers.
- Many corporations buy out others and create monopolies, as they fire workers and charge exorbitant amounts of money for their products and services.
- Credit card issuers are allowed to charge excessive interest rates, keeping borrowers in a cycle of indebtedness.
- Banks continue to be allowed to take homes from borrowers, often by turning aside timely offered loan modification payments, getting free homes and placing more people on the streets.
- The cost of college and higher education has increased so rapidly that many are simply priced out of a higher education.
- Discrimination of minorities is still a part of life in the U.S. and has shown signs of increase in recent years.
Steps to Break the Cycle
1. Governmental and Systemic Changes
From the above, it is clear that the problems are systemic and perpetuated by those who benefit. Thus, the obvious solutions to these problems – such as stronger enforcement of anti-discrimination legislation; more protection of voting rights; free public higher education for all and firm laws that regulate banks, credit card issuers and corporations – rely upon change from a government that seems more disposed to help those with the highest percentage of wealth of our country than the rest of us. This is not to say that we should not fight long and hard for such changes in our society.
2. Whole Family Approaches
There are also research-based solutions to generational cycles of poverty that can be implemented locally. According to the Aspen Institute, one local solution is to work towards whole family approaches to ending unemployment and poverty. They advocate simultaneously helping children and their parents with supports to create economic security, family health and wellness and educational achievement.
Educationally, this involves both early childhood education and supports that allow parents to attend either higher education or occupational training programs. For example, The Atlantic Magazine spoke of an innovative program in the Atlanta area that allows children to attend school – not childcare or daycare – from their infant through pre-K years, while their parents are provided a panoply of career guidance, training and education.
The Aspen Institute stresses that not any one group can provide all services that parents and children suffering in poverty need, but this idea of helping the parents and the children simultaneously is very promising. This approach helps to create an atmosphere of support and encouragement by empowering the whole family to be involved in their mutual self-improvement.
3. Entrepreneurial Approaches
Another equally promising idea is to provide students and/or adults the skills to be their own boss. This is the idea that Candice V Cunningham is pursuing. Cunningham has an organization in Chicago called the Black Ecosystem that teaches groups of students aged 16 to 19 the skills that will help them build their own online business. The teacher and her pupils work together to create and support a line of t-shirts with empowering phrases and sayings. Students are able to design shirts for sale and keep 30 percent of the sales profit.
Other programs sponsored by Cunningham’s group for the benefit of youth in Chicago to help them rise above poverty and unemployment include consumer financial literacy workshops, personal development and communication skills workshops and visual and creative arts courses.
There is also a back-to-school drive sponsored by Cunningham’s organization that supplies free book bags, school supplies, clothing, uniforms and haircuts to school-aged children in the community. They also have a book drive twice a year to get self-help and motivational books in the hands of community members.
It is clear that a multi-pronged approach needs to be implemented to help U.S. citizens avoid the trap and cycle of unemployment and poverty. Since it is systemic, solutions must change the way our government works as well as provide local solutions, such as parent and child support and empowerment and training in entrepreneurship. The latter, such as advocated by Cunningham, supports the entire community.