To dis­rupt poverty, give be­yond hol­i­days

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Teva Sienicki Teva Sienicki is pres­i­dent and CEO of Grow­ing Home.

Ev­ery year around the hol­i­days, non­prof­its’ phones light up with peo­ple want­ing to do­nate a turkey. The im­pulse is a nice one. In this sea­son of giv­ing, peo­ple con­sider their good for­tune and want to share.

It feels good to give a turkey, or toy, or to par­tic­i­pate in a food drive. Those of us work­ing in char­i­ties wel­come these gifts be­cause the fam­i­lies we serve ap­pre­ci­ate the help in cre­at­ing a more fes­tive hol­i­day.

The trou­ble is, this rit­ual sym­bol­izes some core fail­ings in our cur­rent ap­proach to poverty. Ev­ery­one feels good, but no one stops to think about how we got here. Or how to get out. The next morn­ing, all any­one has to show for the ef­fort is left­overs.

Wouldn’t there be more dig­nity in this equa­tion if fam­i­lies could just af­ford to buy their own turkey? If we struc­tured our eco­nomic sys­tem so that work­ing par­ents had enough to put food on the ta­ble for the hol­i­days and ev­ery day?

A sea­sonal im­pulse to share is not go­ing to undo the per­va­sive prob­lem of poverty.

It may help a fam­ily or two, but poverty is not an in­di­vid­ual prob­lem. Poverty is not the fail­ing or mis­for­tune of one per­son or one fam­ily; it is the fail­ure of wages to keep pace with the cost of liv­ing, the re­sult of an un­af­ford­able and un­der-re­sourced child care sys­tem, the legacy of ra­cial dis­crim­i­na­tion, and count­less sys­tems and poli­cies that cre­ate im­mense chal­lenges for those in the bot­tom 20 per­cent.

Since the 1970s, wages have not kept pace with the cost of liv­ing in the United States. In­equal­ity has grown and so­cial mo­bil­ity has de­creased. Our sys­tems are woe­fully in­ad­e­quate, and while that hol­i­day turkey may help fill a gap in the mean­time, we can­not stop there. Poverty isn’t sim­ple or sea­sonal; our re­sponse shouldn’t be ei­ther.

Colorado’s re­cent vote to in­crease the min­i­mum wage is a start. But even at $12 per hour, the av­er­age sin­gle par­ent would need to work more than 80 hours a week just to make rent, put food on the ta­ble, and cover ba­sics.

Right now, 190,000 chil­dren in Colorado are liv­ing in poverty. With­out significant changes, you’ll prob­a­bly be do­nat­ing a turkey to them and their kids some­day.

So go ahead and make that year-end gift, but get in­volved be­yond the hol­i­days. Join the con­ver­sa­tion, and in­vest your time and money in the ap­proaches, or­ga­ni­za­tions, and peo­ple try­ing to ac­tu­ally dis­rupt the cy­cle of poverty all year long.

While do­nat­ing to char­ity dur­ing the hol­i­days feels good, more aid is needed year-round in or­der to help peo­ple break the cy­cle of poverty.

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