Work is the Best Charity

Though too often unused, work is the best remedy for those in poverty, especially the homeless, as this article from Philanthropy Magazine reports.

An excerpt.

The U.S. is the richest nation in history. To see members of our society languishing in poverty, therefore, is distressing. Many of our official responses to low income, unfortunately, offer only short-term help—and even make problems worse in the long run. Government offers checks and food stamps. Charity offers hot meals and shelter and donated goods. These efforts meet temporary needs. But they seldom lead to lasting improvements in the lives of strugglers, and short-term aid can become a trap.

What if we’re looking in the wrong place for cures to poverty? If we search out what it is that banishes need and fills wants for most people, the answer is obvious: Work. That is the poverty solution that happens all around us, every day. That’s why The Philanthropy ­Roundtable has just created a guidebook to help charitable providers lead people who are currently living at the economic margins into mainstream success and happiness through work.

Of course, work is much more than just a mechanism for reducing poverty. More than any other nation on Earth, the United States has a rich tradition of insisting that hard work is ennobling. In our country, even the most mundane occupations have been viewed as bringing honor to the laborer. And this wholehearted embrace of work has helped every succeeding generation of Americans enjoy a brighter economic future than the one before it.

These twin benefits of the American work ethic—material betterment and a sense of personal value—have sometimes been lost sight of in recent years and are no longer experienced by all of our citizens. Amid new ideas of entitlement, guaranteed outcomes, and expanded notions of retirement and disability, there are large and growing pockets where the virtues of work are no longer understood or appreciated, or where residents have become entangled in dribbling payment programs that make active employment almost impossible. Moreover, specific jobs used as steppingstones by many people in the past have disappeared because of technological change or economic globalism. There are spatial mismatches, skill gaps, and missing habits, attitudes, and experiences that separate workers from work.

Of the 26 million persons of working age (18-64) who fell below the poverty line in 2013, nearly two thirds didn’t hold a job for even one week during the year. So simply going to work is the first step they (and their dependents) most need. Among the 11 million prime-age persons who were poor though they did work, some lacked the requisite skills to support themselves, but most put in too few hours to sustain a household.

Diligent work is not something innately wired into human beings. It must be taught, cultivated, and practiced. It is a skill set, like any other, that must be pursued. Offering employment tools and productive attitudes toward work and self-support is a fertile field for donors.

Good charitable organizations do a better job at linking the disadvantaged with careers than government agencies. They are more personal and less bureaucratic. They have no guaranteed budgets and only survive if they produce results. They often look far beyond initial job offers to seek ways of life that will be durable for the people they help.

Unlike government agencies, private civil-society groups are free to address issues of character, personal behavior, virtue, and habit without risking a lawsuit. Many of these organizations bring moral insights to their job training as well as community values and faith angles, knowing that they have no coercive powers over clients who voluntarily choose to participate. Their offerings are often about a renewed life, a second chance, days of purpose—not just a job.

Retrieved September 12, 2015 from http://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/topic/economic_opportunity/why_work_is_the_best_charity_for_the_poor

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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