Is it possible to overcome a hard-knock life if it’s all you’ve ever known? This is the question that often holds the key to breaking through the debilitating cycle of generational poverty. And while the road can be tough, the answer is ultimately yes.
Unlike temporary or short-term difficulty paying bills, generational poverty is usually defined when at least two generations of a family are below the poverty line. And statistics show that children who grow up in poverty have a much higher likelihood of raising their children in poverty as well – creating an often debilitating cycle that has a negative impact on both children and entire communities.
To start, it’s very common for children who are raised in poverty to adopt the same struggles or patterns of their parents or caregivers as learned behavior. Perhaps they see adults habitually spending beyond their means or putting money toward frivolous purchases. Perhaps they have heard a parent who can’t seem to get out from under say something like, “I’m working as many hours as I can get, but there’s still not enough for rent. If I can’t pay my bills, why bother even trying?” Maybe they have learned to max-out multiple credit cards with high-interest rates. Or maybe, to avoid a mountain of debt they choose not to even have a credit card, which in turn means they have no credit, which in turn means they are often turned down from landlord after landlord. On the extreme, perhaps they’ve even seen a caregiver endure an abusive relationship, or shoplift merchandise or food. These types of learned behaviors can not only repeat themselves, but can also contribute to an overall lack of optimism. It’s in these types of seemingly insurmountable situations that folks not only struggle to keep their heads above water, but keep sinking deeper.
I’m reminded of a lyric from the Broadway musical, Hamilton, that goes, “…the moments when you're in so deep it feels easier to just swim down.” And more often than not, children and young adults ‘just swim down’ by giving in to the only lifestyle that they’ve known, even when it’s negative and damaging. But why? Although a lack of financial resources can be the main challenge, the damaging effects of educational, parental, and spiritual poverty can create a profound sense of hopelessness. It’s the presence of hopelessness that can be an overriding factor in keeping generation after generation stuck in the cycle. Without hope and the belief that life can and will get better, and without a vision or picture of how to live life a different way, the motivation, energy, and resources needed to break it are very low. But, with a deep desire and commitment to live a better life, every cycle can be broken. The path out of poverty can be an uphill climb – but is entirely possible and begins with small steps.
• First, believe in the ability to change
o While poverty may have been a constant in your life up to this point – it’s not a life sentence, and there is a path out of it.
• Find a positive community environment
o Whether it’s through your school, a church or synagogue, a resource center, a recreational sports team, a center for the arts, or an after-school or religious program – take active steps to find positive, productive experiences or free classes where you can be part of a group or team. Creating these meaningful social ties will not only benefit you as a person, but will also expand your network.
• Seek learning and skill-building opportunities
o There are many different programs and services that exist for both children and adults, from Head Start, to soft skills training, to courses on financial literacy focused on getting out of debt, budgeting, and investing. Make it your mission to search for and participate in free educational experiences that can serve as the building blocks to a better future.
• Don’t be afraid to ask for help
o It can often be difficult to find the financial resources and guidance you need. Beyond financial and educational counselors, you can identify trusted co-workers or friends who have a strong grasp of finances; see if they would be willing to help mentor you and gut-check your process and progress. A mentor helps to create accountability and the small steps needed for you to start building wealth that you can pass down.
• Take advantage of workforce training and development
o Family Promise HCR has a partnership with United Way as a case management site for the Road to Success Program. This program helps both the unemployed and underemployed with workforce development skills. The goal is to help folks obtain jobs where they can earn a steady, living wage and build a path to financial independence. It also provides comprehensive support services through the first year of employment, including soft skills training and help with transportation and child care.
• Take a look at your support system
o Who are you surrounding yourself with? Are they elevating you, or keeping your head submerged below the waterline? Sometimes blood is not thicker than water, and parents or family members are simply unfit to be strong and supportive models. Instead, try to form healthy and productive relationships with friends, neighbors, coaches, teachers, resource center employees, church members, and more.
No matter what steps you take first, the key is to get started! The cycle can be broken, and you can be the one to do it. In time, and with discipline and effort, you will feel the ebb of the undertow and the current will begin to flow in your favor.
Individuals who may be interested in participating in the Road to Success program can call FPHCR at 717-737-1100 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to obtain an application.
To volunteer or donate, please visit https://www.familypromisehcr.org/get-involved