RT @hopescholarship: We have to educate ourselves on our issues before we become victims. #RemakingAmerica

On January 12, 2012, an all-star panel of prominent voices on various social issues convened in Washington, DC to discuss the issue of poverty for Tavis Smiley’s “Remaking America: From Poverty to Prosperity” forum. Panelists included: Cornel West, Princeton University professor and author; Suze Orman, America’s leading authority on personal finance; Michael Moore, Academy Award®-winning filmmaker; Barbara Ehrenreich, prolific author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in AmericaMajora Carter, Urban Revitalization Strategist; and Vicki B. Escarra, President and CEO of Feeding America, and Roger A. Clay, Jr., President, Insight Center for Community Economic Development.

The question I pondered throughout the night as I heard each insightful comment and Live-Tweeted the event via @JumpstartHR and @JVPsaid was this:

Do we have a choice when it comes to remaking America?

And the answer is an unresounding YES. Here’s what we can do to help stave off and move closer to an eradication of poverty:

Families. All good (and bad) habits start at home. We need to have open conversations about our financial decisions and how they impact not only our current socioeconomic condition but also our future condition as well. Life is built through a succession of “now” moments. Commit yourself to learn the importance of investing and saving. Learn simple financial terms like APR, Interest Rate, CD, IRA, 401k and more. If each family commits to sound financial decision making, the impact can have a serious ripple effect. Families must move from a posture of “acceptance of defeat in a broken system” to understanding that every day gives you the power to make change.

Communities. Commit to pride and care of your community. Not just the people but the environment as well. Sweep streets, help old ladies cross the street, parents and adults, spend time with your children outside and on the corner and pour into them. I mentioned previously that poverty is a result of a lack of leadership but it is also a result of a lack of care. Lack of care leads to lack of support. Lack of support leads to resentment and resentment turns into a hardened heart towards others. We cannot condemn those whom we do not support and encourage. Communities must hold one another accountable not only to themselves but to the care and upkeep of their environment and natural resources.

Human Resources. I engaged the #HR twitter community yesterday about making positive change in our employment practices but I do understand that we are tied to the decisions of C-Level management. However I do believe we can implement some of the following practical changes:

  • Hire the unemployed. People can become unemployed for reasons that are out of their control. Remember that we all live in an at-will working environment (a few states are exceptions) and job security is a myth. Invest in our unemployed and show a commitment to hire talent based on the ability to do the job, not their current employment status.
  • Inform our employees. Ask the average HR professional and they’re probably not well-equipped to give sound counsel on tax forms and health care benefit programs. This leads to employees making tax decisions that result in too much or not enough taxes being taken out of their check each month and trouble with the IRS in the future. It also leads to over-paying for insurance packages that go unused. Take the extra step to inform or provide resources to employees so that unnecessary monetary resources are not diverted from their paychecks each pay period.
  • Extend benefits to Part-Time employees. I understand that this is probably a stretch and very impractical. However, I do believe that every American should have access to health care. Find programs that your PT employees can sign up for even if they are outside of your benefit package – Education is power.
  • Revisit leniency for the previously incarcerated and individuals with poor financial history. This is another stretch but the idea of impacting poverty is to assist those who need help from poverty. I would suggest maybe implementing a conditional employment policy for individuals with incarceration/criminal records and poor financial history. We implement 90 day conditional employment anyway so why not offer more employment to these populations? Consider the alternative to not being able to get a job… *pause* exactly. Implement conditional employment policies that allow the previously incarcerated and individuals with poor financial history a chance to prove their value to your organization.

Generation Y. I saved the best for last. We are the population that has the greatest ability to spearhead change. Generation Y doesn’t even need to “unify” as a body but we do need to unify in our ideals and commitment in the following things:

  • Understand that your future is yet to be written. Every day you have the ability to set the course of your fate. No socioeconomic status, debt, “generational curse,” or other factor is greater than your internal ability to commit to change and rise above. Living the life that someone else wrote for you has never been in style! Commit today to set yourself up for the life that you want to live in the future – it doesn’t just happen overnight.
  • Hold one another accountable. Keep your peers accountable to themselves and one another. Educate yourselves on sound financial teaching and commit to positive social change. We must join together in this fight because there is no running away from it. Ask yourself and your friends on a regular basis “what am I doing to make my situation and the situation of others around me better?”
  • Understand the serious urgency of now. I tell my friends all the time that our generation will be responsible for carrying three generations on our back: Our aging and medically-dependent parents who lack retirement savings but “expect” a certain level of comfort, ourselves and our spouses and our children. Consider the life you are leading and the salary you can expect to have. Can you afford to split $60,000 a year three ways?  How about $50,000 or $40,000? Probably not. And that means you’ll be where? In poverty. We don’t have a choice, we have to pick up the slack for our parents who were ill-informed on sound financial judgement and we must provide for our children as well.
  • Get Married (!!!). For the life of me I can’t understand why we are so excited about single life. It’s terrible (lol). Find someone you love and start building a life together. Two heads are better than one and two incomes create a sounder and more stable future for yourselves and your future generations. I’m sure there are statistics to support marriage and it’s impact on socioeconomic status. A dual-income family that can cover one another’s financial woes is a lot better than being stuck to fend for yourself.  Find someone you love, build with them and make positive strides in your family and yourselves!
These are just a few modest (and some reach) goals that I’d like to see us all commit to doing to help combat poverty. Notice these don’t revolve around holding politicians accountable or staging rallies/protest (although I do believe there is a place for those things in a grander plan). I just want people to feel empowered to make change right where they are. I will. Will you?
You have a choice.