Generational Poverty Bob Johannessen

Bob Johannessen reflects on a poverty workshop held at FUMC in January 2023.

Understanding the Dynamics of Poverty workshop shows how generational poverty impacts our community

 “Growing up in middle-class New Orleans, I learned from my family and others that people were poor because they didn’t work hard, didn’t go to school, and made bad choices,” recalled one participant after a recent workshop held by First United Methodist Church group, Methodist for Social Justice. “This belief changed as I started my career, and your workshop was important in showing why poverty exists and the barriers that keep people in this condition.”

On a Saturday morning in late January, 30 people gathered at FUMC to join the workshop led by HOPE Ministries’ CEO Janet Simmons and COO David Tidwell. HOPE is a local nonprofit organization that aims to prevent homelessness and promote self-sufficiency and dignity. FUMC has been a long-time supporter of this community ministry.

The workshop addressed the causes of poverty, misconceptions about people in poverty, quality of life indicators, effects of language on poverty, challenges of budgeting, and learned behaviors.  Participants were given exercises that challenged them to pay bills experienced by people of different incomes including those living at the poverty level, at the medium income level in Louisiana, and middle-class members who experienced a sudden and unexpected expense.

In the discussion about vocabulary, the presenters showed adults at the lowest income level had an everyday vocabulary of only 600 words. This is compared to 1,500 words for a working-class family and nearly 2,200 words for a professional family.

Why is this important? In a second exercise, attendees were asked to write an email to apply for a new job. Using a list with very few words, those representing people in poverty could only write a simple, elementary letter. When compared to the letters written by those in higher income brackets, it was apparent how language barriers result in economic barriers.

Also in the three-hour workshop, quality of life indicators that are directly impacted by poverty were discussed. These include physical well-being (health, wellness, mobility), material well-being (money management, regular income), social well-being (support systems, spiritual health), emotional well-being (stress, drive and ambition, safety), and developmental well-being (read, write, use technology).

In addition to this learning opportunity on poverty, HOPE Ministries offers these workshops, as well:

Going Beyond Employees Achieving More – Teaches participants how to understand the relationship between personal resources and behaviors and overcome barriers to self-sufficiency.

Understanding your Workforce – A customized professional development training for companies’ executive, mid-level, and line supervisors that helps employers increase retention and productivity.

For more information about Methodists for Social Justice, visit our display each Second Sunday at FUMC in the Conference Center.

ByBob Johannessen
DateJanuary 29, 2023