One way I identify hidden voices is from the comments I receive through my work with Our Eyes Were Opened, Inc. One comment that I hear is: “If they’d just get a job, everything would be okay.”

Maybe we need to listen to why some people do not work. In order to get and keep a job, you have to have transportation, good health, adequate and safe childcare, and good people skills.

In the poverty simulation that I facilitate, I ask during the debriefing session how people who had a job in the simulation would now respond to that comment: “If they’d just get a job, everything would be okay.” The participants report that yes, they had a job but they didn’t earn enough to pay the family’s bills. Yes, they had a job but did not have enough time when they got off work to take care of all the family’s responsibilities or to supervise their children. Yes, they had a job but lost it because they did not have enough bus tickets to get to work. Yes, they had a job but were tardy because of issues out of their control and so their pay was reduced. Their already stressed budget could not absorb the ongoing costs of transportation tickets to continue the job.

The hourly self-sufficiency wage for one adult and one preschooler in 2016 in Greenville, SC, was $15.67/hour. I’ll remind you that minimum wage is $7.25/hour. The annual self-sufficiency wage for two adults with a preschooler and a school age child was $46,030. The self-sufficiency wage includes housing, child care, food, public and/or private transportation, health care (if the employer pays for health insurance), taxes and tax credits, miscellaneous things (figured at 10% of all other expenses), and emergency savings.

I’ll expand just a bit about transportation. Greenville pays $3.76 per capita for its public transportation system whereas Charleston pays $17.79 and Greensboro pays $40.70. Our low per capita expenditure is not a fact to be proud of. Transportation is a huge hurdle for employment.

Many people want to work but the required infrastructure to get and keep a job is just not there.

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