Broader Thinking on Family Economic Security

After having the privilege of being part of several meetings with leaders in the field of economic security for families, I learned that this work has many viewpoints and challenges. This summary attempts to capture the breadth of opportunity for broadening the conversation of family economic security. 

Overall, the key components that encompass family economic security (FES) are identified as fulfillment of primary needs such as food and shelter, access to a health care system that serves both one’s self and family, ability to enter and navigate in a variety of markets (financial, employment, social capital) and opportunity for career advancement/education that is relevant to workforce success. 

Generally speaking, family economic security seems to have a qualitative texture for impacted individuals and practitioners working directly with them, and a more quantitative and numerically positioned flavor when policy people define it. Framing the conversation in poverty language versus economics language or referring to families versus systems also may bring forth differing perspectives. 

In a qualitative sense, FES success would be defined by a family staying together (children not placed in foster care), free from violence and addiction, and living with dignity and respect. True success would be a break in the generational transference of low‐income standing. Assessing success could also hinge on an individual’s having social capital and networks that offer varying choices and opportunities for work and learning opportunities. Finally, success could be seeing fewer disparities around income and education when looking across class, gender or race. 

Quantitatively, the metrics rely on index tools that have been developed to look at either what it takes to get and stay in the middle class on a continuum based on five economic factors, or measuring and benchmarking expenses based on a self sufficiency standard in their state (see Wider Opportunities for Women). These measures may or may not be universally acceptable as there seems to be a divide as to whether self sufficiency would be determined with or without public supports. Regardless of how it is measured, there is considerable demand for better government data to analyze. 

Sustained security is founded in the tools of early education and ‘talent development,’ literacy, relevant career training for ‘entry level’ workers, lifelong education around financial decisions and markets, and access to quality jobs that offer standards such as health care, paid sick leave, retirement, etc. Most people working in FES policy and/or programmatic delivery of any of these tools agree that we need to take a holistic approach (versus staying in silos), and that this alone will allow for a faster ‘movement’ towards the self‐sufficiency of low‐income families. 

Addressing the issues surrounding “asset‐based poverty” and debt is critical for FES success. Campaigns focused on predatory lending need to be offset with elevating the visibility of free opportunities for moving towards financial independence that are often provided by community based organizations. Providing practical learning experiences focused on financial decision‐making is happening in various Community Development Financial Institutions. Identifying, and elevating the role of entrepreneurs is also important as people often need ’to see it to be it.’

Eight Principles for Systemic Change

Philanthropists and leaders take on issues that they want to change.  Using our time, talent and treasure, we want to make a positive impact on people’s lives and society.   We have witnessed the years  it often takes to better the world whether it is to addressing the trafficking of children, lifting up the economic power of women,  building a culture that accepts women athletes, allowing anyone who loves another to marry who they choose, etc.  These victories (albeit some of them still a work in progress) are stellar to witness done well.   Serious change happens for the good when people focus on these key principles. 

1.     Be persistent and passionate.  Find as many ways to restore and renew your passion as possible.  Energy for the long game is a necessary ingredient. 

2.     Remove the ego and attack the issue.   Focus on the issue and not about any one organization claiming the victory.  

3.     Use the legal system.  Oftentimes it is the laws and policies that are written and/or enforced that need to be upheld that will have the broadest impact on the highest number of people.  Investing in advocacy and policy work is a game changer for most issues.. 

4.     Collaborate and play team.  Find likely and unlikely partners who will share in the work and are willing to keep the focus on the change you all seek to make. 

5.     Hire top level experts.  When necessary, outside researchers, policy leaders or spokespeople can shape and craft messages and garner new audiences. 

6.     Gather hard data to share.  By using quality research and facts that can’t be dismissed, the emotion about the issue can be dampened.  Let the numbers tell the story and now with infographics, the images can bring the data to life. 

7.     Leverage every outlet for storytelling.  Social media gives ample opportunity to showcase the ‘stories’ and people who make the issue you are addressing come to life.

8.     Use your wealth and “clout”.  Be willing to invest for the long term and find funders who understand this.