Responding to ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed)

By Larry Gebhardt

News item in ISJ: ALICE report says 45.5 percent of Idaho households are in a perpetual state of financial insecurity. What could or should be done? Mikhail Prokhorov has said “When you have gained a certain amount of experience, you find that a desire to help all people arises in you.”

There are three general approaches to complex problems and issues. The most common is to simply accept the status quo, the way things are, and live with the mess we are in. A second is renewal, incremental change or improvement that fixes bits and pieces. A third approach is disruptive change, renaissance or rebirth that takes on major systemic revolution. Our governor, Legislature and presidential candidates argue for these methods. Do you have motivation to help?

Those who personally know people and families in financial insecurity often go through a four-step process. First we are alert enough to observe the problem or issue. Then we feel sympathy for the other’s need or hurt. Third we can walk in the other’s shoes in empathy so we feel some of the pain the others are experiencing. Then we can go beyond thinking, feeling and talking about people in need to actually doing something about it — which is compassion or love in action.

Most everyone is somewhat observant to actual needs and hurts of people and families in financial insecurity. In our extended families, churches, and neighborhoods are people who lack enough income to pay all ‘normal’ living expenses along with unexpected health, transportation, home repair, legal or other problems. Most of us feel sympathy for those with problems and many of us are empathetic because we’ve been there too. Taking the step to compassionate action is harder, yet the news celebrates immediate heroic action to help others and long-term regular good deeds.

Compassionate love in action about humanitarian concerns is usually in three forms. A first is upstream action to fix underlying causes of an incomplete healthcare or education system, or inadequate affordable housing or repair government and business policies that keep wages too low. Compassionate action can be advocacy letters and testimony, running for public office, speaking out to corporations in which we own shares.

Much humanitarian compassion is poured out to meet immediate needs. Rural farm and ranch families help each other all the time. Urban people donate to Idaho Foodbank, work on Habitat for Humanity houses, serve at a soup kitchen, become foster parents. A third humanitarian compassion action form is to sustain the improved state of a temporarily fed family, short-term job or sheltered child.

Here are some thoughts about compassionate love in action for Idaho households that are in a perpetual state of financial insecurity.

Upstream action can be around policy so that full-time minimum wage earners move beyond poverty. Hint: raise minimum wage. Upstream action can advocate for more and better education that takes people beyond low-skill, low-wage jobs. Will our legislators help? Upstream action can recognize that a healthy workforce and families add more value to employers and communities. Closing the healthcare coverage gap makes sense. Are tax cuts for the rich and a $10 grocery credit appropriate upstream action for financial insecurity?

Compassionate love in action motivates us to support local charities that serve individuals and families affected by financial insecurity. We can move past being judgmental about what bad decisions were made to recognize that there but for the grace of God (or luck) I would be. If our family or business is comfortable in financial security then we can share a bit by trickling down some of our accumulated wealth to create a new job, expand part-time work and pay our part-time workers better. We can sponsor a startup entrepreneur. We can teach and help others toward self-sufficiency. We can buy local to send fewer of our Pocatello dollars out of the state.

If you are motivated to help a person move toward and sustain financial security you can volunteer in many ways. SEICAA, the Pocatello Women’s Correction Center and parole system, Idaho Health and Welfare, most of our churches, and others have pathways for us to learn, to connect with individuals or families in need and actually help.

When you have gained a certain amount of experience, you find that a desire to help all people arises in you.

Larry Gebhardt is president of the Pocatello Centennial Rotary Club and is a retired Navy captain.