I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I heard Paul Ryan complain that SNAP benefit expenditures have almost doubled in the last 5 years. This isn’t a political post about polarized opinions. It’s a question: What did we expect?
Expectations are an important part of examining social paradigms and moving in the direction of plausible change. Recent reports of economic recovery and job growth might lead a person to believe that things in this country are getting better. But the reality is (confirmed by economists around the world) that job growth has been largely in part time work and low paying positions.
72% of SNAP recipients are working families. And I can testify, straight from the mouths of the young people MAP works with every day, that theses families are working hard. Long hours, low pay, practically nonexistent benefits and securities.
It’s an old, yet pervasive idea that the poor have some power (that they seemingly refuse to use) over their economic circumstances. That welfare and food stamp recipients don’t want to work. Statistics show that this is simply not the case. Data reveals that there’s an incredibly uneven growth of high vs. low paying jobs in this country. And every one of us pays for that, and will continue paying for that for as long as we pat ourselves on the back for creating these jobs.
Perhaps we should not waste time complaining about this. It does little good to vex about the behavior of corporations or the dysfunction of the government. Rather, what NPOs and socially responsible organizations and businesses need to think about is how we can take the current generation of young people in our schools, rural areas and inner cities and transform their expectations about what they can do with their lives. Then we have to obsessively create and transform their access to opportunities to do these things.
Children are most influenced (in subtle but powerful ways) by what they see and experience on a regular basis. When I start working with kids in my programs and I ask them what they think they’ll do when they grow up, they rattle off the common answers: I want to go to Harvard, I want to be a lawyer, I want to be a doctor. Sometimes they’ll cite engineering as a future goal.
But what they see every day are communities (their communities) full of people more likely to go to prison then to go to college. More likely to work at Walmart than start a business. More likely to clean houses than to own one. And this doesn’t bode well for their future. In fact, it begins to etch in small , regular and significant ways, the permanent idea within them of what is possible for them.
I used to dream of a day when part time lower paying jobs in retail stores and the food industry could be reserved for kids, high school kids, looking for a little pocket money to spend on clothes and shoes and nail polish. I feel almost embarrassed to have thought at one time that what I was doing was about filling their closets with clothes, their pockets with change.
Because as MAP has worked to begin to shape our mission and our objectives, what I have realized is how little I actually knew about these kids.
They all want work.
They all want to earn money.
And it’s not for shoes.
It’s to feed little brothers and sisters, to contribute to households on the verge of economic collapse. This is about their survival. That’s painful to look at sometimes. But it also has the ability to predict outcomes, because when human beings are driven by survival, they are often quite powerful.
MAP is neither alone in its quest to shape the future for youth nor is it enough.
As educators, service providers, industry leaders, community leaders, each one of us should be reading the writing on the wall. And we should be teaching young people to read the writing on the wall. The future of financial independence isn’t in working for someone else. The future of independence, especially for the youth we work with, is entrepreneurial. It’s in gaining skill after skill after skill, one skill at a time, and learning the way to package and market these skills into a deliverable. If youth can achieve this, they can achieve economic mobility and freedom. And if youth can achieve economic mobility and freedom, all of us will have less to complain about in the future.
I think the most incredible thing MAP has the power to do is to take a child who has never had a chance to bring a vision of something to life and to give that child the tools to do that. When kids work on meaningful projects where they have the opportunity to discover talents, skills and abilities, something incredible happens for them. They begin to experience that they can do something more. MAP also provides the incredible experience of teaching kids how to tell a story. And storytelling, is by all accounts, one of the most critical skills of the future.
Please support MAP programs. There are many ways to do this. Let us make your organizations’ video. We do OUTSTANDING work. Sponsor a program in one of our schools, or in our juvenile halls. Have a business? Consider making a one year commitment to one of our kids – take one kid for one year and give them a paid position to come in and work side by side with you and learn, hands on, what it takes to run a business. You’ll thank yourself later. I promise.
Nina Medeiros; Creative Director