What do we mean by extending opportunities for the poor?
People in all of these circumstances can benefit from opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty. But what kinds of opportunities are necessary or most beneficial? The answer to this question is complicated by the fact that the causes of poverty may be very different from its effects. Poverty itself is an economic condition: the poor simply don't have enough money to get by. The reasons for that, however, as we've been discussing, may have to do with their world view, their psychology, their backgrounds, or with circumstances beyond their control. As a result, while some of the opportunities we'll consider focus directly on the economic, others address the internal barriers that tend to keep poor people poor.
1. Employment. The obvious solution to poverty is to make sure that everyone has a job that pays enough to support her family. In many cases, it's actually that simple, and the task is to provide opportunities for employment. In other cases, however, as implied above, people simply aren't ready for the kind of job they need. They may lack the skills to perform it, or they may lack the skills to hold any job reliably. If so, they need the opportunity to gain those skills. Equally important, they should have the opportunity to look at work life as a long-term process, and to try to plan for a career.
Thus, depending on the individual's needs, the opportunities here might include actual employment, employment training or retraining (learning a trade or specific job-related skills), job skills training (learning how to get and keep a job), and career planning.
2. Education. There are really three ways education can act as an opportunity for the poor. The first is to counter a lack of basic skills or majority-language ability. The second is to prepare people for white-collar or professional jobs through post-secondary education. The third, and perhaps most important, is the educational opportunity that can be offered to children, through the improvement of public schools in low-income neighborhoods and the offer of educational alternatives.
3. Life skills. Managing money, keeping healthy, and participating in the community are only some of the areas that many poor people have difficulty with. Helping them learn these and other skills that will improve their lives can contribute greatly to their self-sufficiency.
4. Survival. Creating opportunities for the poor to improve their situations is all fine and good, but their basic survival needs still must be met while they gain skills and seek employment. Addressing hunger, through food banks, Food Stamps, and other programs; providing shelters, food, and other survival services to the homeless; and establishing programs where people can find decent used clothing, furniture for a recently-acquired apartment, protection from domestic abuse, free health services, child care, referrals to other services, and relief from isolation are all necessary even - or especially - while people are taking advantage of other opportunities to change their lives.
Poverty is a relative concept. People see themselves, and the society sees them, as poor in relation to those in the society who are well off. In developed countries, that usually means the difference between being able to provide only for basic needs and being able to afford at least a few luxuries. Poor neighborhoods are often dangerous and unhealthy, but statistics say that most of their residents have jobs and own cars and TV sets. In most cases, only those who are at rock bottom - homeless, jobless, and without prospects - are in danger of dying from poverty itself.
In developing countries, the poor may be a majority of the society, and their lives may be threatened daily by hunger, the elements, illness, violence, or environmental poisoning. Most poor people in countries like the U.S., Canada, and Denmark would be considered well off in sub-Saharan Africa or south Asia. There, survival can mean finding food that day, rather than finding the money to pay the rent.
5. Social connection. Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone and other works about social capital, has found that social connectedness is a better predictor than income of health, longevity, employment, and several other positive factors of life. Creating opportunities for the poor to expand social connections can improve their prospects of employment, support them through crises, and raise the general quality of their lives.
Social connection can come about through programs and initiatives that are run or sponsored by government agencies or community-based organizations, and they can also be generated by grass roots community groups of all kinds. Volunteer mentors, service clubs, businesses, even recreation and social organizations - all can contribute to forming the kinds of relationships that people need in order to feel supported and move economically and socially.
Opportunities for the poor don't just pop up out of nowhere. They exist because of policy, funding, and the in-the-trenches gruntwork of community-based organizations, activists, and advocates. Much of the real work of providing opportunities for the poor comes from advocacy, using relationships with legislators and local officials, with businesses, with government agency personnel, with funders, and with the media. The emphasis in this section is on the types of programs that provide opportunities and how they can be used. But without advocacy, no matter how well they're planned, many won't exist. (See Chapter 30: Principles of Advocacy; Chapter 31: Conducting Advocacy Research; Chapter 32: Providing Encouragement and Education; Chapter 33: Conducting a Direct Action Campaign; and Chapter 34: Media Advocacy.)
Andre's purpose is to reconnect people to their Dignity and Honor in Being Human.