Hard work and education are not enough to lift people out of poverty

Pamela Capalad
Jan 11 · 3 min read

“It’s gonna take a radical solution. We know that programming, education, income alone is not going to…. close the racial wealth divide.” Leon Garnett, COO of Byrd Barr Place and member of the Seattle Community of Practice of the AAFCI

We’ve been thinking about “hard work” and “working hard” a lot lately and what it really means.

One of the running themes in our podcast interviews with African American Financial Capability Initiative (AAFCI) is that hard work and education have not been enough to lift these communities out of poverty.

A lot of people will look at these stats and communities and say they must not be working hard enough, they’re getting handouts, they spend their money instead of saving. I invite you to put yourselves in their shoes.

Many of these families are still working 2–3 jobs and still qualifying for welfare. This means:

  1. They haven’t been able to find consistent full time work
  2. The jobs that are available to them pay so little that they still get government services. For a family of 3, you need to be making less than $26,600 to qualify for government benefits. After taxes, that means you’re taking home $775 every two weeks, IF you are able to work all the hours you need.
  3. The average rent in Seattle for a one bedroom apartment is $2,000

This story isn’t limited to Seattle. It’s happening in cities and towns across the country.

How much harder can you work?

How much more can you save? How much more education can you get and when do you have the time and energy to get it? There is literally no way to make these numbers work if this is the system we’re working in.

So does this mean you shouldn’t work hard? That you shouldn’t keep learning? We know it’s not easy to hear that hard work isn’t enough, that sometimes, no matter how hard you work, there are forces outside of your control that might be working against you. As a country that believes we should pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and make our own luck, this feels a little demoralizing, doesn’t it?

Except if you think of it this way, you can stop spinning your wheels, stop wondering why it feels like you’re doing the most and can’t seem to get two steps ahead.

How to create luck

Oprah once said, “I believe luck is preparation meets opportunity. If you hadn’t been prepared when the opportunity came along, you wouldn’t have been lucky.” Oprah asks you to focus on the preparation, the hard work, the part you can control, but we know you already do that.

What we don’t pay attention to enough is the opportunity part of the equation, the part that can often feel like we don’t have control. Also, the reality is, some of us have more opportunity come our way than others for a multitude of reasons that involve privilege, relationships, and timing.

But what about instead of thinking of opportunities as something you receive, we also thought about opportunities as something we can create for others?

We’re going to ask a lot of you this week, this month, this life. If you’ve found success in your hard work, we want you think about all the opportunities you received to get where you are today. Then we want you to think about how you can create opportunities for the community around you so their hard work and preparation can meet opportunity too.

We can make our own luck when we do it together.

Pamela Capalad

Written by

Brunch & Budget | Pockets Change | Dead Day Job Army | Financial independence and generational wealth for People of Color

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