The Vicious Cycle of Poverty
(Or Why Jessie Won’t Go to College)

Blog Action Day - Poverty

This post is my contribution to Blog Action Day, joining thousands of other bloggers to write about one topic for a single day. This year’s topic is poverty.

It’s not yet dawn as Jessie prepares breakfast for her younger brother and sister. Her father has already left for work, so it’s up to her to feed her siblings and see them off to school.

Jessie then attends a full day of high school before returning home to prepare dinner and put her brother and sister to bed. Then she does her homework.

Jessie’s father works 12-15 hour days as a truck driver. Despite his hard work, day in and day out, his paycheck doesn’t quite cover all the bills.

Jessie hopes to attend college, so she works hard to keep her grades up despite being the teenage caretaker of the family. While her classmates choose between universities, Jessie must often choose between food and her father’s prescription medication.

High fat, processed foods are staples of a low-income diet when your monthly food budget is only $120 for a family of four. This antagonizes her father’s heart problems and struggle with obesity, which leads to even more medical expenses for a family that can only dream of health insurance.

So it’s not just about money. If Jessie’s father becomes too ill to work, she’ll no doubt stick around to care for him, and welfare will be the only option. By continuing to do the right thing for her family, Jessie will abandon her dreams and fail to break the cycle.

I wish this story was a work of fiction, but it’s not. Jessie’s tale has been well documented, and that may be the only reason she makes it out.

The bigger problem is that there are 13 million kids like Jessie in the United States alone. And you can forget the typical stereotypes.

The Hidden Face of Poverty

Poverty in America has many faces. But the story of Jessie’s family is way more common than many more fortunate people care to realize.

They are not drug addicts.

They are not mentally ill.

They are not lazy.

What they are is one bad break from being out on the streets.

Even worse, they can’t break the cycle.

Consider this: Jessie has more responsibility and works harder as a teen than many twice her age. And Jessie’s father puts in more hours at work than most people in this country.

Hard work is clearly not the issue. If hard work is all it takes, why do so many kids end up stuck in the same vicious cycle as their exceptionally hard-working parents and grandparents?

There’s clearly something missing.

It’s Up to Us to Break the Cycle

What’s missing is you.

Many are uncomfortable with the “Welfare State” and the government taking tax dollars to help those less fortunate. If that’s the way you feel, no problem… because that puts the responsibility squarely on our individual shoulders—mine, yours, and everyone else who actually believes in the American Dream.

So what can you do to make a difference?

You can get involved with Save the Children by donating your time, your money, or both. Save the Children helps impoverished kids worldwide, but they can connect you with well-deserving poor families in your own area.

There’s a lot of financial uncertainty these days, but the reality is that even though we feel poorer, most of will never experience true poverty. If you want to calm your fears about financial matters, try gaining perspective by giving to those who have much less and yet much more to fear.

After all, as Winston Churchill eloquently put it, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

What will you give today?

Tell you what… I’ll donate $25 to Save the Children for every pledge of $10 or more from each of you out there. Just drop me a note in the comments with your pledge, and go here to make your donation.

If there are companies out there that would like to make a more substantial donation, I’ll be more than happy to recognize you for it in a follow-up post. Send me email with the details.

Thanks for your time and attention.

About the Author: Brian Clark is the founding editor of Copyblogger, and co-founder of DIY Themes and Lateral Action. Get more from Brian on Twitter.

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Google+ or Twitter to join the conversation right now!

Comments

  1. I find it so tragic that the US is so wealthy, but has such a problem with working poor. Is that really the truth – that many Americans think social security is a bad thing?

    In Australia, we do have a widening gap between the haves and the have nots these days, but the majority of the population are still middle class We also have some free healthcare, education and social benefits. These services are not what they once were, but they exist and it appears most Australians think that’s fair.

    I also think a reasonable minimum wage is a crucial part of Australia’s high standard of living and I wonder if many of our citizens realise how lucky they are when you consider the Jessica’s of the world. To hold down a job and be barely able to feed your kids is horrible. Just depressing.

    You can count me in for a $10 pledge. Every kid deserves an equal chance at a bright future.

    Off to donate now, so open that wallet up Brian.

    Kelly@SHE-POWER :)

  2. Brian,

    You have such a gift for the written word. I think instead of donating money, you should just write free copy for Save the Children.

    I actually met with a representative for Teach of America today about the possibility of participating in their program to help the education inequality in this country. Because, I am potentially getting a great opportunity (job-wise) I can’t turn down, I likely won’t participate in that program.

    In any event, after learning more about it, I’m certainly an advocate for others to do it, and to make a difference.

    While it’s certainly not on the same level, I will happily contribute $10 to the Save Your Children foundation (in fact it’s already done).

    Thanks for this post Brian.

  3. I love how you have a specific call to action and how you approached poverty not from an “extreme poverty” perspective but from a “relative poverty” perspective.
    Stories like Jesse’s happen everyday around us and we dont even realise.

    That is why I want to get rich through my entrepreneurs blog and other online ventures….so I can help people less fortunate than me

  4. Plenty of people have worked themselves out of poverty. Painting them all as victims accomplishes nothing.

    A truck driver should be able to earn enough to make ends meet. Perhaps he should have thought twice about having kids if he can’t support them.

    There is no such thing as free health care- all government can do is take money from those who produce and give it to those who do not.

  5. @Chris – My LAST intention is to take away from this post OR get into a war of words. That’s not what this is about, but let me just say this…

    I’m about as FAR right conservative as it gets, and maybe Jesse’s dad could’ve/should’ve worked his way out of poverty, but regardless of that fact. Is any of it her fault?

  6. Thank you, Brian. This event is all about making a difference to the Jessies. I hope someone reading this changes for the better, the more generous, the less selfish, permanently.

  7. And yes – I pledge $10.

  8. Hey Brian,

    In the next few days, I’ll be making a donation to Save the Children of over $2,000. It will be part of a special operation I am doing with them. Here’s a YouTube video that explains it all:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTP6CtSGzik

    I’ll be transferring the funds directly to the specific country office of SC I’ve teamed up with. Is it still possible for me to count this towards your matching promise?

    If you need to get in touch with me to discuss this – please don’t hesitate to email me. Oh, and I hope you do check out my other YouTube videos. I’ve pretty much dedicated the past year of my life to fighting poverty. In fact, in a few of my videos I specifically address the fact that the poor aren’t lazy:

  9. I must congratulate you on getting this post out so quick. I have still yet to write my blog :P

  10. Kudos to you Brian for your support of Save The Children. The work that Save The Children does in our own country is remarkable. They are also rated highly for the percentage of funds given out. It seems to be more acceptable to talk about the disappearing Middle Class than actually speak the truth about the poor in our own country. If I needed more reasons to read your Blog, this would be one.

  11. As a social worker in Texas, I see daily how easily it is for working people to be thrown into poverty by a health issue. While I’m all for pulling yourselves up by your own bootstaps, I think it is overly optimistic to suggest that everyone can accomplish that feat. I’ve made my donation, Brian. Thank you.

  12. Thank you Brian for sharing a story of one girl. It is so easy to discuss “issues” (especially in our current political environment) and forget about the people who live the reality of those issues every day. I do not know the answer to the complicated problem of poverty, but I do know 2 things:

    a) Give to Receive: Giving of your time, energy, love and yes, financial support will bring you the greatest riches you can ever imagine! I made my donation to Save the Children – thank you Brian for matching it! I’ve also shared the challenge with my online community on Twitter and Facebook! If anyone out there feels scared in this current economic environment, I encourage you to give $10 to Save the Children today!! You will feel better!!

    b) Support the Creation of Opportunity: I read comment #4 from Chris above. Yes, many people have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. But no one does it alone. I had the support of great teachers in high school, and a kind, safe community where I grew up in NJ. I also took out student loans to pay for college and graduate school. The political solutions I support are not about government taking from the haves to give to the have nots – but rather creating the greatest amount of opportunity so that as many citizens as possible have the chance to help themselves. More affordable health care, more accessible after-school programs, increased pay for teachers, safer communities and a higher minimum wage are just a few examples of public policies that might give Jessie a fighting chance.

    Hang in there Jessie. I’m sending you a huge karmic hug! (which helps too)!

  13. Thanks for the post Brian. It is great to know there are people out there who are compassionate.

    For those of you who think it’s possible for every one to work themselves out of poverty, I just have to say maybe you should teach rather than judge. If everyone was rich, no one would be rich. Children vfrom wealthy families have a greater tendency to be wealth than those from poor families. Yes there are exceptions. But then there are exceptions to everything. It is God’s way of keeping us humble.

  14. Brian,

    I’m donating $25, instead of $10, just because that post was at least 2.5 times as good as it had to be to get the job done.

    Thanks for participating and for sharing your space to help those who need it more than many others who get way more attention.

  15. @Brian – thank you! Poverty in America is a serious problem. These days I’d almost wish for a serious depression to make the “I have and so I don’t care’s” remember what it’s like to stick together or depend on the kindness of others…

  16. Great idea. I just donated $10. Even though my paycheck has shrunk, my expenses have skyrocketed and my savings have evaporated, I still have more than Jessie or the millions like her. I hope my $10 (plus your $25) can make a difference.

  17. 1. College is Useless: get craft skills.

    Poor education throughout the K-12 schooling system continues through college (with some exceptions.) College is a life-delaying mechanism filled with unusable or weak information surrounded by time-sucking morons. By and large, it is over-priced, politically loaded fluff.

    During economic depressions and booms, there are more income opportunities for the skilled (trained and qualified,) than BA and BS graduates. Sometimes, the difference is a large difference.

    However, personally, I am encouraging my teens to get their BA while still in high school; they will graduate with a BA at the time they graduate high school. The cost is about $7,000 total per child; has little more time to study than regularly required homework, and enhances their learning by self-study discipline.

    Why would I encourage the Bachelor of Arts achievement, once declaring College is Useless? Mainly, because it is a ‘marker’ for employment in medium and large organizations. It can also be a basis for additional studies for advancement. For most people, college is truly a waste of time, unless used in this way.

    2. Charity triangulation is strangulation.

    If you really want to help, solving this perceived problem then donate to the individual directly; counsel the boy or girl, find the real objective; only then, give money for the process and measure the outcome.

    Mentor, if you can or, find another that will do the counseling best.

    Third party charity, by and large is a waste of time and money, benefiting someone other than the one needing help. And, how can you possibly know that you have really done good, unless you are part of the process.

    Connect direct.

  18. I’ll make a $25 donation on my own behalf, and bump it up to $50 for Chris’s sake. Just because I’m annoying that way.

    @McKenna, not only does your $10 make a difference (esp. with the multiplier), but it makes a difference in your own thinking. Helping someone out makes you realize you’re not poor after all, you’re just going through a tricky patch. That’s what it does for me, anyway.

  19. Nice way to help, Brian. I did not give money for the cause, but I did my share by submitting a relevant post.

    Being me a Filipino living in a third world country, I think there are tons of children here who have worst situation like Jessie’s and I was not exempted.

    I start earning a living at the age of 10, and stopped high school for three consecutive years.

    Having said that, I am quite sure it is the family that hold the key to fight poverty.

    Thanks!

  20. Undoubtedly well-intentioned, but man, this reads like an afterschool special from the 80s or a whiny Sally Struthers appeal. The condescension and smarm was laid on waaaay too thick, and the attempt to personalize through “Jessie” transparently phony.

  21. Thanks Aaron, you’re a sweetheart.

  22. Just posted an article about this on my Twitter referencing how this “problem” was supposed to have been eradicated by the 1980s…this was the prevailing thought in the 60s!!!
    How far we have’t come in this area.

  23. I just made a $10 donation…because of you!

  24. (This isn’t directed towards anyone in particular. Just some thoughts I have on the issue that the article and comments sparked.)

    My family has gone from “relative” poverty with health-costs exceeding our yearly income to owning our own business.

    Over 20 hour days, obsessive dedication, giving up TV, social life, etc — we pulled ourselves out of it because we decided to do what it takes. I’ve /never/ met another poor family who did the same.

    Want to end poverty? Encourage basic financial literacy and encourage entrepreneurship and money obsession. Sound painful? No one said success is easy.

    It’s not just about working hard, it’s about working /damn/ hard — and not just hard; you have to work smart.

    Don’t get me wrong. I go to church, donate to charities (for women and the handicapped), but I won’t give money to anyone who can actually get up if they really wanted. This means that I give on a personal basis, not to an actual organization filled with “selfless” bureaucracy. That wastes money and doesn’t change lives nearly as well as possible.

    If you really are interested in changing lives, don’t be afraid to look into changing lives on an individual basis. Go find someone willing to do whatever it takes. Encourage them, help them and educate them in terms of money and business. Guide them through establishing their own.

    This doesn’t just give some easy “I Feel Good About Myself” money — it’s tougher than that. But it makes a lasting change, and impacts more people. Sometimes the best charity is the hardest, and it’s not the politically correct kind.

  25. @keely Unfortunately I think you are correct about a college education. I recently heard a woman on one of the call in shows cry that she was college educated and studied in Italy to boot but could only find a job paying $8.50 per hour. There are many people here in Cincinnati, OH working for wages that are a fraction of what they earned a few years back. Many of them college educated.

  26. Hi brian, that was a wonderful post. this really helps me put things in perspective. i think many of us here lead blessed lives but always complain about our quality of life and seek to gain even more material benefits, and we forget that there are many others around us who need our help. thank you for sharing, it was a great read.

  27. I am donating $10 — your offer is fantastically generous.

    And I posted on the word poverty at my word blog: http://wordwacky.com.

  28. OK, I made it $100 to cover some other countering voices. Thanks, Brian.

  29. awesome post brian! i wish i had something to contribute as i do think it’s a very worthy cause. there is also one called angel food ministry. it is not free but certainly doubles what you could get from a grocery store. we do it every month and it has saved us so much. plus we are eating better.

    http://www.angelfoodministries.com/hosts.asp

    is the link to find out if there is one in your area and

    http://www.angelfoodministries.com/menu_0810en.asp

    that link goes to a page where you can see a sample menu for the month. you can purchase as much as you can afford each month. you usually go in on a friday or saturday and place your order and then the next week go pick it up.

  30. Brian, I’ve been a Save the Children donor for the past 15 years, but you’ve convinced me that I can do more. I’m letting them know I’m going to bump my donation by $10 a month.

    Fellow commenters: Tough times are when we should be writing checks to the future. If Save the Children isn’t your thing, lend your support to a school.

  31. I have to say that if Jessie’s father is pulling 12 hour shifts driving a truck, that family is not in poverty. Truck drivers are not lightly paid. Maybe that family cannot afford everything they want, and maybe they have difficulties but they are not in poverty.

    You use this poor example of poverty as an foundation of your call to action and that’s a shame because your call is a noble one.

  32. Jay, I’m the adopted son of a truck driver, so I’m well familiar with the pay… and there’s quite a dramatic range involved. Depending on the context, it could be very “lightly paid,” and if there’s only $120 a month for food to feed 4, my guess is he’s doing low-paying local driving for minimum wage.

    Jessie’s story has been featured by the United Nations and Showtime as an example of poverty that people like you tend to discount, so if it’s a bad example, I guess I’m in good company.

    Follow the link in the post for more info. Oh wait, you would have done that before sharing an uninformed opinion, right?

  33. jumping on the bandwagon and donated to Save the Children. Transaction ID: 35979589
    Date: October 15, 2008
    Amount: $10.00

  34. Wonderfully written piece about poverty. Too often we remove ourselves from the issue and act as though there is nothing we can do.

  35. interesting post and comments. yet another comment from someone in the philippines. it seems to me that save the children is a great organization, and if you’re looking to make your life better by engaging in an act of giving, then it’s a pretty good way to go.

    i commend you for pledging that donation, and it’s heartening to see so many of these comments mention that they too want to give.

    hopefully, once i find work, i too will be able to start giving, probably to kiva at first, and then maybe sponsor a child.

    there’s a lot of poverty in the world, different kinds, different degrees. but whether it’s poverty in the united states or here in the philippines, notwithstanding the very different experiences, there are quite real similarities in terms of pain, despair, feelings of helplessness.

    for my part, since i’m unable to donate directly, i turn to sites like freerice (rice donation), kiva (microfinance), and goodsearch (donation per search), as ways to help alleviate poverty online. i also put up their banners on my blog.

    it’s great that you’re participating in blog action day. :)

  36. I have to agree with Keely’s and Shaun Connell’s views on higher education, hard work and charity.

    In addition, I feel that the welfare state concept is a two-edged sword. Here in Asia, many people consider it to be a way for lazy people to avoid work. The Australian example is commonly cited: The people who work are highly taxed so that the lazy people can spend their time surfing and swimming at the beach. Is this true? Only the Australians really know.

    On the other hand, a country like Singapore which does not have welfare lacks innovation. The citizens avoid risk like the plague because there is no fallback plan. No local inventions, and no real local entrepreneurship. Most R&D is done by imported scientists, and most small businesses are started by immigrants from their Malaysian and Indonesian neighbors.

    I think America needs to find some kind of balanced middle ground and get back to the roots which made it great. Right now, American inventiveness seems to be aimed at political and financial shenanigans. At least it seems that way in the news. I don’t see anything noteworthy in the scientific realm anymore. What has happened to the people who made so many great inventions in the 20th century?

  37. I have such strong feelings and emotions on poverty having grown up in the 60′s to a single mom of 8 children – need I say more? My Blog Action Day post was a personal story.

    Chris, it never occurred to me that I could blame my mother for having so many children? Oh and Jay, my mom was working two jobs so we must have been rolling in the dough.

    Jessie’s story is the forgotten face of poverty.

    Thank you Brian.

  38. ooo, thanks for reminding me of the free rice thing. i used to religiously do it everyday, but haven’t in awhile. i’ll get back to it pronto :)

    also for the person that said because jesse’s dad is a truck driver they aren’t really poor. people just don’t realize that not all truck drivers make great money. the thing is that with any job that requires driving for a living that there are many, many out of pocket expenses that go along with the job. Here’s a link to a trucker’s forum that will give you some idea or things truckers are responsible for on their own :

    http://www.truckersforum.net/forum/f4/t2260/

    when I was a courier we had to provide our own vehicle… a major expense in itself. plus gas was not reimbursed. meals you had to get creative with. as a cab driver, the vehicle was provided at a cost of 40-60% per day. + gas. You could spend 24 straight hours driving a cab and not bring home enough to pay for gas the next day. driving for a living is one of the greatest ripoffs in the employment industry IMHO in this country. Sure there are some that do well but I bet even those who were doing well have taken a big hit over the past year.

  39. Brian, thank you for reblogging Jessie’s story. It reminds me that long ago I was a teen like her helping with my brother in the mornings and evenings while my mom drove to and from work an hour away, getting up at 4 am every morning to work 8 hours and coming home without any energy to cook or clean.

    I’d be happy to donate to help children like Jessie see a better future and again, thank you.

  40. It’s people like Jessie that motivate my PTA to advocate against the 4×4 requirement in Texas. 4×4 requires high school students to take:

    4 yrs of math
    4 yrs of English
    4 yrs of science

    While many do that on their own — forcing EVERY student to do this will undoubtedly increase the drop out rate. People like Jessie need classes to help them with life after school and being tied to a 4×4 plan restricts them from electives that can give them better life skills.

  41. Not to point fingers here, but “condescension and smarm?” “Attempt to personalize?”

    What is poverty if not personal?

    It’s too easy to dismiss it as “too big” to do anything about UNLESS we see the Jessie’s, see the Abadou’s of this world. (See my Blog Action Day post about Abadou.)

    As the former Manager of Writing Services for World Vision, I want to say to Brian: You have done a fine job here. We CAN do something, one child at at time. Oh, sorry. Is that too smarmy?

  42. Keely, great articulatin of education problem, and nice way to focus on the real value of BS.

  43. Hello, Do something to help those hungry people in Africa and India,
    I added this blog about that subject:
    at http://tinyurl.com/6kv7fu

  44. A well written article on the cycle of poverty.
    I just didn t agree on the writer s suggestion of raising money to combat the effects. To me it is treating the symptom rather than the disease.
    It has been my long held view that it is the social order of producing goods and services with a view to raising a profit that is the cause of poverty, not just in the US but worldwide. The only cure I can see is for this is the complete aboltion of the wages system and the establishment of a social structure based on human need rather than profit.

  45. Well WP Although greed is part of the problem, it seems like what you are talking about is Communism and it was tried. It didn’t work because most people need an incentive to work harder and/or smarter.

    Sorry, I wasn’t around in the day when it was more common for people to help their neighbors and community when the need arose.

  46. Compassion, empathy and hope are the gifts of the human spirit that we have to share with one another. They are our most uniquely human gifts. It’s about people, children, and infants in need and suffering. Not a mental construct. Nor is it mutually exclusive to lend a helping hand at the same time we work to fix the root causes.

  47. We hear stories similar to this a lot from customers inquiring about title loans. It is extremely frustrating to deal with on a daily basis. Some people can work so hard, but get no where. Others can be so naive about financial matters and look for the easy way out. And my advice to from hearing one sad story after another is ‘knowledge is power’ & ‘knowledge comes from wisdom’. People need to understand their situation before they make a decisions that can greatly affected their life.

  48. spencer black :

    Just wanted to say I’m really proud of everything you’re doing.
    Here is the video I did for the young lions competition in hopes of encouraging people to add their names and help Oxfam by joining the movement to encourage world leaders to vote for change at the summit in Copenhagen in December.
    Hope you enjoy!

  49. Thank you, Brian. This event is all about making a difference to the Jessies. I hope someone reading this changes for the better, the more generous, the less selfish, permanently.