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In my professional experience, I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with people from all walks of life – from politicians and business owners to the homeless and underemployed. I have also sat at discussion tables with many groups where we were able to discuss community concerns and issues regarding public assistance, transportation, the potential increase in minimum wage, job search, entrepreneurship, and education. Most of the time, I remained silent – since that is the way you absorb the most information. I would often times wait for the right moment to provide my input. I like to listen to others about their concerns before offering a point of view or possible solution. There are plenty of opportunities to do so within the Social Service and Workforce industries if you look hard enough.
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After much conversation regarding what’s wrong with our society, no matter who I was speaking with, we often came to an Us vs. Them scenario. Most people feel comfortable with me and trust my judgment since I took the time to actually listen to what they had to say – I took the time to try to understand their side. This is ironic because it would not matter from what side of the tracks they were from, they wanted to be heard and their experience valued…and then they often times wanted me to pick a side! Personally, I would NEVER stand on one side of the fence or the other when it comes to community issues because we ALL can learn from each other! Our financial status often separate us into the privileged and underprivileged but we have more in common than we often think.
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The privileged often seem to feel as though certain circumstances cannot touch them. They are intelligent and hardworking. They have expectations of their community and do not consider themselves privileged but realistic. Not sure if this is you? Two parent home, at least $65,000 coming into the home annually, college educated, two vehicles, family vacations, etc. Should you be ashamed of your status? Not at all! But recognize that just because your experiences in life are different, doesn’t make you better than those who are less fortunate. Be thankful not prideful. What can we learn from them? Higher expectation and optimism. We can learn to expect more from authority figures who are supposed to serve and protect us, expect from teachers who are to teach are children certain subject matters, get involved with our churches and community leaders to learn what we can do to make a difference and also to make sure our concerns are being considered. Learn to want more out of life because there is a life outside of your neighborhood. Be more optimistic about our future and our children’s future while seeking information about how we can excel.
Those that are living paycheck-to-paycheck are often inside single parent homes where there is limited education and income. The opportunities seem extremely limiting and my client who fit into this category were seeking assistance with choosing a career path and learning the potential careers available in our small town – or at least the companies that would hire with a decent hourly wage and/or benefits. The upbringing of these individuals often times included abuse, neglect, and a lack of experience with success, entrepreneurship, or stability. When you never see it, how do you know to duplicate? Our upbringing is very important to the way we see the world. I once had a business owner tell me that there was no need for food stamps or a high minimum wage – that people should just use the food pantries and find another job that pays higher – as if it were a simple thing to do. But in his experience it was that simple. However, when you have limited education and access to resources, you have limited expectations and options. What can we learn from those who are not as privileged in our society? That there are systems in place that keep valuable opportunity and resources from those who are less fortunate. We can learn that there is work to do in our communities that will require all of our participation. We can also learn that no one is immune to devastation, poverty, or unemployment. We can learn to treat each other better and remain humble.
Because the privileged work hard and make it, they assume the ones less privileged must not work hard, care as much, or invest enough time into their family and future. Because those less privileged seem to constantly work hard and stress over their situation in life, they assume that the privileged must be born into their circumstances and therefore not need to work for what they have. It all seems so unfair for both circumstances! When will we be able to come together at a meeting of the minds?!? Many people suffer in this economy. What I saw in my experience in social services and workforce, were the two groups coming for services believing they deserved more than the other group. I would have a person who worked 15+ years at the same employer, owned a home, raised a family and because of the change in employment they were sitting in front of me asking for assistance in upgrading their skills by going back to school or assistance with their job search toolbox – resume, cover letter, job search techniques, etc. I would then have a meeting with someone who was never able to complete school because of lack of funds but worked for minimum wage most of their life receiving public assistance and dreaming about a career, not just a job. My job was to assist them in discovering their strengths and assist them with the financial means to pursue their goals. Each has a slightly different story but wanting the same for their family…but would not even speak to each other in the lobby because of preconceived notions.
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We have to do better! If everyone had the opportunity to obtain the finances to pay their bills, feed their children, obtain education, and learn a trade/business for future success, savings, and investments, we would have a better society, right? But I am sure that we can all agree that having finances is not enough, we need to know what to do with them. Having good credit, an emergency fund, a general savings, and distinct discipline in our stewardship over our money would have us at least in the same playing field. If you are living paycheck-to-paycheck OR living comfortably, we can learn from each other and we can make our money grow to work for us. Let’s grow together!~