Why Nonprofits Should Care and What to Do

Why Nonprofits Should Care and What to Do

Why Nonprofits Should Care and What to Do

mother and baby
Key Takeaways:
  • Welfare cliffs and marriage penalties are discouraging people from work and forming families.
  • The cliffs and penalties may mean that our clients are locked into poverty for much longer than they would be otherwise and despite our best efforts.
  • GCO has created a platform that allows anyone to see when a particular family can expect to experience benefit cliffs as they earn more money through work. 

Important Link: BenefitsCliff.org

 

If you work in a nonprofit serving the poor, you need to know that the government benefits your clients receive are likely discouraging them from working or forming a family, two things that research shows could lift them out of poverty the fastest. 

This is an especially tough problem for nonprofits, like GCO, that work to get their clients into good-paying jobs and strengthen their family relationships.

What’s going on?

These disincentives to work are often called “welfare cliffs” and the disincentives to family formation are called “marriage penalties.” Essentially, “cliffs” are generated any time a person receiving government benefits gets a raise at work that causes them to lose more in benefits than they will earn in additional income from the raise. These same individuals can face a similar financial penalty IF they decide to marry. In many cases, they will lose more in benefits than their spouse is able to provide in new income to the household.

While you would think (hope?) cliffs and penalties are rare, they are not. Instead, they are baked into the structure of nearly all welfare programs and many of the cliffs are severe. It’s also important to know that welfare recipients don’t face a single cliff or a single penalty, but they face cliffs and penalties at a number of different points as they have additional income from working or through marriage.

Why does it matter?

For nonprofit leaders, the cliffs and penalties may mean that our clients are locked into poverty for much longer than they would be otherwise and despite our best efforts. For workforce development nonprofits, cliffs could be the underlying reason why your clients don’t pick up additional work hours when they are offered or seem less than excited when they are offered a good promotion. In extreme cases, clients may quit jobs that seemed like a perfect fit simply because they panic when they learn they may lose a major benefit – like housing or childcare.

For nonprofits trying to help strengthen family relationships, marriage penalties may be driving behavior that is otherwise inexplicable, like seemingly happy couples refusing to marry or live in the same home. These dynamics can lead to stress for the couples affected and to a sense that a parent (usually the father) has abandoned the family when, if the system would allow it, he would be in the home. In these cases, children pay the biggest price.

What can you do about it?

Fortunately, we have created a platform that allows anyone to see when a particular family can expect to experience benefit cliffs as they earn more money through work. For nonprofits working with these families, you now have a tool (available for 10 states, with two more on the way) that will allow you to help your clients plan for the future. In some cases, knowing when cliffs are likely to happen will allow your clients to seek a larger raise that will help them bypass or leapfrog a cliff. In other cases, maybe the answer is seeking additional training or certifications that will get your client into a different payscale entirely – one that avoids the cliffs.

In the coming weeks, we will be adding a tool that will allow users to see the impact of penalties on couples who decide to marry. We will also be incorporating a solutions tool that will allow anyone to see how reforming our government benefit programs can actually eliminate cliffs and penalties entirely, giving recipients every reason to pursue work and form stable households.

For GCO, it is this last point – reforming the system – that remains the ultimate goal. In the meantime, we are looking for ways to mitigate the harm caused by the welfare system, so that as many people as possible can escape the system and break cycles of poverty now.



The Success Sequence provides an outline of how to reverse the cycle of poverty in our communities. GCO uses this as a framework for much of our work.

An epidemic of teen depression (and what to do about it)

An epidemic of teen depression (and what to do about it)

An epidemic of teen depression (and what to do about it)

teens helping and hugging mental health

An epidemic of teen depression (and what to do about it)

Key Takeaways:

  • In the last 10 years, the number of teens identifying as having “experienced persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness” doubled.
  • School connectedness was a key barometer of how well teens fared mentally.
  • Teens tend to be more isolated than their peers of past decades, more reliant on social media and smartphones to create a type of “pseudo community.”
  • GCO’s priorities is to offer relationship enrichment classes in local communities and schools.
Full Report:  Click Here

Nothing in life can replace genuine community

The United States has a teen depression problem. And it’s only getting worse.

That assessment is based off a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in April. It found that 44% of teens “experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” in the most recent 12-month period. What’s more, 20% of teens “had seriously considered attempting suicide” and 9% “had attempted suicide.”

What’s truly eye-opening is when you compare these statistics with the reported mental health status of teens a decade ago. In 2009, for example, just 26% of teens reported having consistent feelings of sadness and despair. That means in roughly the last decade, the rate of teens who feel this way has nearly doubled. Rates of teens attempting suicide (from 14% to 19%) or committing suicide (6% to 9%) also increased during that period.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the problem, as teens have been more isolated than ever. The CDC survey was of 7,700 teens conducted in the first six months of 2021, when the young people were still mired in the worst of the pandemic school shutdowns and social isolation.

“These data echo a cry for help,” said CDC acting principal deputy director Debra Houry in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has created traumatic stressors that have the potential to further erode students’ mental wellbeing.”

Importantly, the CDC report found that school connectedness was a key barometer of how well teens fared mentally. “Youth who felt connected to adults and peers at school were significantly less likely than those who did not to report persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness,” the study concluded.

What’s interesting about this anecdote from the CDC report is the emphasis on community and positive social relationships in maintaining good mental health. Today’s teens tend to be more isolated than their peers of past decades, more reliant on social media and smartphones to create a type of “pseudo community.”

As a recent article in The Atlantic points out, “Compared with their counterparts in the 2000s, today’s teens are less likely to go out with their friends, get their driver’s license, or play youth sports.”

It goes without saying that the pandemic only worsened these problems. What’s more, our nation’s public discourse has continued to deteriorate and today has never been more toxic, in large part fed by a culture drenched in social media.

The Success Sequence provides an outline of how to reverse the cycle of poverty in our communities. GCO uses this as a framework for much of our work.

Again to quote The Atlantic, “Outwardly, teens are growing up slower; but online, they’re growing up faster. The internet exposes teenagers not only to supportive friendships but also to bullying, threats, despairing conversations about mental health, and a slurry of unsolvable global problems—a carnival of negativity. Social media places in every teen’s pocket a quantified battle royal for scarce popularity that can displace hours of sleep and makes many teens, especially girls, feel worse about their body and life. Amplify these existing trends with a global pandemic and an unprecedented period of social isolation, and suddenly, the remarkable rise of teenage sadness doesn’t feel all that mysterious, does it?”

Solutions to this problem are not easy, but we know from our work at the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) that nothing in life can replace genuine community. That community ranges from a good school to a healthy family life to thriving relationships to meaningful work. Teenagers need this just as much as adults — perhaps even more so as they pass through these key years of development.

One of GCO’s priorities is to offer relationship enrichment classes in local communities and schools. That includes students in middle and high school. Joyce Mayberry, vice president of GCO’s family team, “Teaching young people the dynamics of healthy relationships is so important, now more than ever. We’re seeing the devastating results of a loss of meaningful relationships, but it’s not too late to reverse course. All it takes is a direct investment in sharing the tools and approaches that work with young people.”

The bottom line is this: A key way to combat this epidemic of teen depression and poor mental health is through real community, where teens experience relationships face-to-face with friends, family, and broader society. That’s also one of the best ways to break the social media addiction — substituting real relationships for fake ones in a virtual world. Ultimately, it all loops back to community.

A renewed reason to celebrate this Fourth of July

A renewed reason to celebrate this Fourth of July

A renewed reason to celebrate this Fourth of July

This year we celebrated our country and one of its biggest values…family. 

For many the Fourth of July is more than just a celebration of our country’s birth—it is an opportunity to gather with family. An opportunity to connect and celebrate together. It feels like this past year, more than most, this was true as we came out of a period of social distancing and separation. 


While many areas of our state refrained from large gatherings, most people returned to having small gatherings of family and friends. Picnics and backyard get-togethers returned and with them came improved social, mental, and relational health for many of our families and neighbors.

As we have discovered over the past 12-14 months, these previously mundane gatherings with family are much more important to our community and personal mental health than we may have realized. We have taken for granted the value and the connections we need to sustain our lives. And we have had a reawakening to the requisite relationships that ground us and support us through hard times.

It is why family is one of the pillars of the success sequence which models the tangible ways that we can make strides in addressing poverty. It is a recognition of the importance of the role family has in creating stability and support. It is why we must continue to value it and why, I believe, it is directly connected to our national identity.

 

The Success Sequence provides an outline of how to reverse the cycle of poverty in our communities. 

But celebrating family happens outside of a single holiday (or even a nation). As the summer continues many of us will jubilantly gather and connect. It is as if the past year or so has reset our expectations and even our need to be with those we love.

I have seen many people recently post realizations of how much they missed being together and hugging someone. When it was part of our day-to-day, we just expected it. But since it was deprived from us for so long, we understand the importance of it.

Let us not forget the power of coming together. The strength we gain by being with one another and supporting each other. The power that comes out of family and relationships.