Living and working in the land of plenty
By LAURA QUIGLEY
When I was growing up, my parents believed that hard work would lead to prosperity. To a degree this was true as they worked their way out of the city and bought a home in the suburbs. However, even with my Dads three jobs and my Moms job, they struggled to pay the mortgage, buy food and keep the creditors quiet. They were what are now called the working poor.
There is something inherently wrong with that phrase. If you work, you should not be poor. No one ever said it was easy, but it could be easier for a lot of our fellow citizens.
Poverty in the United States may be viewed as middle class or even wealthy in some countries, but that does not diminish the struggle of our citizens to move up and out of poverty. For many, the promise that if you work hard you can prosper has not been realized. There are many obstacles for the poor to overcome so that they can fully benefit from the land of plenty. Issues of childcare, transportation, a livable wage, safe affordable housing, and lack of skills and education can be overwhelming. The people who bag our groceries, check us out at retail stores, fill our fast food orders and clean our hotel rooms have found that the uphill climb out of poverty has become an unattainable goal.
We have a 13 percent poverty rate in Sullivan County. This does not count those folks who are living just above the government poverty level. Approximately 21 percent of our citizens over the age of 18 are functionally illiterate. A study conducted by Boston Literacy demonstrates that for every increase in literacy levels, there is a corresponding 11 percent increase in productivity. This translates to approximately 12,000 Sullivan County people are not realizing their potential because of illiteracy.
Sullivan Countys future is bright. We need everyone to participate for us to thrive and grow. We have a window of opportunity to develop systemic solutions to barriers so everyone can take full advantage and enjoy a good life here in our county. Some areas of focus need to be:
1. A countywide strategy to eliminate illiteracy.
2. Support for the expansion of services to people for whom English is not their first language.
3. A countywide transportation plan that includes non-traditional solutions.
4. Instruction for people on how to access food stamps, income tax credits and other supports to meet immediate needs.
5. Creation of a workforce that can drive economic growth and improve prosperity for all residents where worker training is a key component.
6. Non-traditional delivery methods of skill development for workers.
7. Support for the Partnership for Economic Developments efforts to recruit businesses that pay a living wage.
8. Increase in the development of career ladders within businesses and across sectors.
9. Creation of a countywide strategy to ensure that our youth are prepared for the workforce and have the necessary skills for success.
We face serious challenges. I believe strongly that we have the talent and creativity to address them and succeed. It requires all sectors: government, business, non profit, education, and individuals to commit to look at things differently, to change, to break out and try new approaches.
In the words of Gandhi, Be the change you wish to see in the world.
[Laura Quigley is director of the Sullivan County Workforce Development Board and the Center for Workforce Development.]