Think of the people you know who live paycheck to paycheck. Whether they see themselves as teetering on the edge or doing OK, they’re vulnerable to what comes next. If the wheels stay on the bus, the household keeps it together. When one comes off—due to illness or job loss or increases in expenses like child care—those who have emergency savings or family to rely on can get back on track. Those who don’t can easily slide deeper into instability and poverty. In the short term this means missed mortgage payments, missed days at work, or deteriorating health. In the long term, it can have devastating effects on individuals, families and communities. Wealth, defined even in its most modest terms, is what helps individuals and families ride out the inevitable uncertainties of life.
Purely based on the numbers, if you live in the United States, there’s a strong chance that you or those close to you struggle for financial security. While the official poverty rate is 15% overall, about 100 million people, a full third of Americans, are poor or “near poor.” This group is defined as having incomes less than 50 percent above the poverty line as measured by the supplemental poverty index.
In the wake of the Great Recession, building financial security has become an even steeper upward climb, particularly for this third of the US population. Poverty, income inequality, and wealth inequality all continue to rise. Moreover, poverty and inequality are more entrenched in certain communities and neighborhoods than others.
The thousands of nonprofits, government agencies, and funders focused on alleviating and disrupting poverty in America see both the crisis and the opportunity as they strive to provide services and help individuals and families build financial security. Taken together, the vision that motivates these organizations echoes the American dream—a belief in the potential of the triumphant individual and the role of a benevolent community. But program approaches often work either at the individual level or at the community level. What does it look like to marry the two in your work, to come together in ways that serve individuals and strengthen the opportunities present in a community?
Disrupting Poverty: Coming Together to Build Financial Security for Individuals and Communities, a new publication by The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and FSG highlights encouraging examples of multi-sector, collaborative work designed to create greater economic opportunity and build wealth for both individuals and communities.
The examples focus on programs that are making markets work for entrepreneurs, envisioning housing as more than a single step on the path to financial security, and structuring economic development in a way that has clear wealth-building benefits for residents. In learning about these efforts, we were inspired. Each is working to support individuals and changing the equation of economic opportunity at the community and tribal levels. Along the way, they have engaged their communities and partners in defining priorities, crossed traditional boundaries, and made use of new connections across sectors.
For those of you working in the community philanthropy, community development, asset building, and financial empowerment fields, we hope this publication helps you reflect on your current efforts, and come together to work more intentionally, nimbly, collaboratively, and for the long haul—to disrupt the cycle of poverty for individuals and communities.