Saturday, June 21, 2014

Working Together Towards the Day When No One is Hungry or Homeless

The efforts to increase the minimum wages in Sea-Tac and Seattle shed light on a problem that most communities have been experiencing in recent years. For many on the low end of the income scale, wages are not keeping up with costs, forcing hard-working families to work longer hours and more jobs, yet still finding themselves falling behind. 

An increasing number of families are having to face the painful reality that, even though they are working those long hours and making many sacrifices, their budget numbers are just not adding up. Increasing costs of living are not being compensated for in their paychecks. Each month, there is less discretionary income and less room for unexpected bills. 

This problem of diminishing buying power becomes stark and real when you take a moment to do the math. Even a dollar or two above minimum wage will bring in just enough to pay prevailing rental costs for the least expensive of our housing options. By the time you add the cost of utilities, gasoline and health care insurance, the only course of action is to find another job. Winter utility bills, the cost of day care and the increasing cost of food can't be covered without extra income. 

We hear these stories of survival from our clients every day. After all the necessary bills are paid, there is just not enough money to buy food. Eligibility for SNAP food stamp benefits excludes most working families because their meager incomes are above the maximum requirement to qualify. So having access to nutritious food at Fishline is, for some, life saving. Their shelves would be empty without it. But also concerning is the relentless pressure that so many families feel - as one client recently put it, "I just want to have a life when not every week is a financial struggle." 

At Fishline, we work hard to keep families safe and secure during a life crisis while also offering regular access to nutrition for those living in persistent poverty. We can help stretch a family's budget, at least temporarily, easing the daily tensions. But is there more we can do? 

Addressing a grave concern that 42% of children raised in poverty will live adult lives in poverty, more organizations like Fishline are shifting their focus from crisis intervention to crisis avoidance and long-term potential by offering those who are in need options before the crisis occurs, increasing avenues for opportunity and education and supporting those who wish to further their own security by going to school or learning a new trade. 

Access to living-wage jobs is the most important key to breaking the cycle of poverty, but the reality is that there are not enough of these jobs for everyone. The number of applicants for any decent job is poignant proof of that. Perhaps the more revolutionary approach would be to make all jobs living-wage jobs, certainly one of the motivating factors behind the push to increase the minimum wage in Seattle. 

Until that day comes, we must find other ways to offer opportunity and financial stability for all citizens. This age-old problem is not unsolvable, but like most perplexing problems, it is best approached gradually. To buck macroeconomics, and take control locally to create a different and more just economic dynamic, won't be easy. That shouldn't stop us from trying. 

Voltaire once said, "No problem can stand the assault of sustained thinking." Keeping the thinking going, and drawing out the good ideas of our neighbors then gathering support to move them forward, is the inspiration behind our free community viewing of "A Place at the Table". It is a compelling documentary that highlights the struggles of three families, while "showing how the issue could be solved forever, once the American public decides—as they have in the past—that ending hunger is in the best interests of us all." Join us on June 29 from 3 to 5 o'clock at North Point Church, watch the movie, and join us for the community discussion that will follow. 

It might just be that the economy of the future will change from the grassroots, organically driven by inventive, inspired local communities creating the world they want for their children. That kind of power is available to all of us and can move mountains. Creating a future where no one is hungry or homeless is surely worth the effort.

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