A popular axiom is that if you are unlucky economically, all you need to do is cheer yourself up. The implication is that his economic fortunes are entirely in his control. If this were true, we would have almost no poverty.
The truth is more nuanced and complicated. Yes, personal responsibility and hard work are essential ingredients to move up the socio-economic ladder. But the same is true of externalities beyond our control. It is extremely difficult to escape the clutches of poverty because those under its grip have limited tools, resources and mentors to lead the way.
Therapists might call it âgenetic memoryâ – if your parents or grandparents are in pain, you will tend to suffer in the same way.
I have experienced these challenges in my life. My mother became the sole breadwinner when my father left our family. I was 3 years old and my mother was pregnant at the time. She did not want to accept help from the state or the federal government and insisted on forging her own path.
She became a nurse and did all she could to take care of us, but there was never enough to make ends meet, even with our meager lifestyle. I remember her saying “I’m in the hole in my checkbook” all the time. She lacked neither effort nor desire. She simply lacked the tools, resources and mentors to find long-term stability.
As an adult, I found myself following in my mother’s footsteps. I am a single parent and the primary provider of my family. Early in my career in real estate, which offers uncapped income potential, I steadily capped at the salary my mom was making year after year. It was as if I was replaying the story I had grown up seeing every day as a kid in my own adult life.
Fortunately, an interested and knowledgeable mentor took me under his wing. It helped me expand my toolset, acquire the resources I needed to navigate the industry, and change my mindset from a mindset of scarcity to a mindset of abundance.
My whole life has changed. I became a real estate broker and started to expand my business footprint. I went from commissions that kept me in the “hard way” lifestyle I grew up in to eclipse the income my mom typically earned in the first semester of each year. I am on the road to financial independence and hope to break the cycle of poverty in my family.
My work ethic and resourcefulness play a role in my life story, but I could not have changed my situation without the tools, resources and mental models I acquired from my mentor. Most poor families never find such a person to help them out of the slippery pit.
In Utah, we must galvanize our efforts to bring tools, resources and mentors into the lives of families trying to escape poverty. Nationally, social benefits have a converted monetary value of approximately $ 43,000 per family per year for programs that recipients typically need indefinitely. Compare that to the efforts of an organization like Circles Salt Lake (I sit on the board of directors), which uses a community support model to help families achieve financial stability for about $ 10,000 per family per year. Circles Salt Lake can leverage a large group of community volunteers, which helps keep organizational operating costs well below what is typically spent by government agencies.
We need social security needs. We also need more investment and community involvement in community programs that show impoverished families the path to a better and more sustainable economic future.
Altruistic motives should suffice, but they are not the only justification. Utah’s sustained economic success is directly linked to high socio-economic mobility, according to research by Natalie Gochnour, director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah. The more we can help families escape poverty, the better the performance of our global economy will be.
No one is an island. Poverty is dragging us all down, and the only way out is through community efforts. Let’s work together to give struggling families the tools, resources and mentors they desperately need.
Angelina Pena is a Utah Real Estate Broker and President Elect of Salt lake circles, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing poverty through community support and mentoring of individuals and families in difficulty.