World of Working Poor Misunderstood

Bob Gorman

The late Art Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and a millionaire many times over, lived in the same house on the north side of Pittsburgh from the 1930s until his death in 1988.
     That seemingly insignificant fact is actually an example of a very significant point made in the book “Our Kids, The American Dream in Crisis” by Robert Putnam.
     Children in America today don’t experience the same variety of life—and views—as children did decades ago because they no longer live around families of different economic standing. Anybody living today in the same economic stratosphere Rooney conquered years ago would never live in the same neighborhood for 50 years, surrounded by an increasing number of unknown neighbors who can only afford to live where property values are declining.
     Through voices and statistics, Putnam shows how we have become a nation of economically segregated communities. The world of the impoverished and the working poor is all around, but it is misunderstood and misinterpreted by those well off because often our only interactions – if there are any at all – are through the service industry. We only speak when you take my dinner order or when you show me in which aisle I can find light bulbs.
     If asked, we can give myriad examples of how the world has changed dramatically over the last 30 years because of the digital revolution. We get our money out of an ATM, our music out of a phone, our weather forecast out of an app. Communication isn’t the same; sports aren’t the same; medicine isn’t the same, education is not the same.
     But with poverty, many of us are guilty of thinking the same things we thought 30 years ago. Such as, poverty can be ended overnight, if only: 1) People would stop being lazy and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and 2) Government would stop giving away so much welfare.
     Except there is this: The economic decline of the U.S. since the 1980s has ensured that more people do not have the wherewithal to be self-sufficient. The ability for thousands of north country citizens to create sufficient wealth—such as that produced on assembly lines at Air Brake, General Motors and a myriad other businesses in the north country— has disappeared.
     With the loss of stable, 40-hour-a-week jobs that included health insurance and pensions, thousands of people under the age of 40 have entered a job market that bears no relationship to the world their parents entered. Meanwhile, the ability to hand down financial support from one generation to the next is eroding as well.
     And that trend will continue, as outlined in the book “Humans Need Not Apply” by Jerry Kaplan, who has been at the epicenter of the creation of “artificial intelligence” for the last 40 years.
     While government crows loudest when employment is highest, business is most profitable when it employs the fewest people possible. And artificial intelligence – from the airline and concert tickets you buy online today to the driverless vehicle you will buy/rent in a few years – is eliminating one job after another, particularly those that the working poor are most able to do.
     (Just to be fair, Kaplan points out that artificial intelligence will eventually be providing the majority of initial medical diagnoses and routine legal work, knocking off a lot of jobs in medicine and law too.)
     This is producing one massive conundrum: Government is trying to move those in poverty and the working poor toward jobs that are being eliminated by artificial intelligence.
     Right now around 100 citizens in Watertown are taking part in a program that is trying to find local answers to that very issue. The Watertown/Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) is one of 16 such studies going on in New York that are giving communities an opportunity to receive state funds if they can develop a plan to make more people self-sufficient.
     Locally the program is being administered by the United Way of NNY and directed by former YMCA
     Executive Director Peter Schmitt. Dozens of meetings are being held to discuss four primary areas: housing, transportation, education and workforce development.
     With continued progress, a road map for Watertown will be submitted to the state this summer and programs will be funded and begin soon after.
     There is no guarantee that anything can be done to reduce poverty in Watertown. But as Putnam and Kaplan show us, doing nothing will allow the problem to become worse.

August 2016: Nonprofits Today

Embracing the call to ‘Lives Matter’

Bob Gorman

Bob Gorman

In September 1976 my brother, Jim, was shooting baskets with fellow members of the Morgan State University basketball team. It was “open gym” so other students were nearby shooting baskets as well.

No big deal, except for one minor detail: Jim had just shown up on campus as the first white player to receive a basketball scholarship to Baltimore’s “historically black” Morgan State. [Read more…]

July 2016: Nonprofits Today

Eight steps to help define excellence

Rande Richardson

Rande Richardson

We know the nonprofit sector’s impact has been consistently diverse, positively affecting education, human services, the arts and culture, religion, philanthropy, health and economic development. The Northern New York Community Foundation is increasingly looking to diversify how it supports the work of nonprofit organizations in our community. The nonprofit shared services collaboration floor within the future home of the philanthropy center is one immediate and tangible way we can do that. [Read more…]

June 2016: Nonprofits Today

Forging a partnership to help our needy

Bob Gorman

Bob Gorman

In the 1960s a colleague once made this observation about then-Congressman Gerald Ford: If Ford were sitting on a park bench eating his lunch and saw a hungry kid sitting next to him, he would hand over his sandwich without giving the matter a second thought. Ford, the colleague contended, would then return to the halls of Congress and — without a second thought — vote against funding for the national public school lunch program. [Read more…]

May 2016: Nonprofits Today

Nurturing the next generation of giving

Rande Richardson

Rande Richardson

In the most recent issue of NNY Living magazine (Spring 2016), Norah Machia, who has long written about the work of the region’s nonprofit organizations, presented inspiring examples of the next generation making a real difference. If you accept the premise that vibrant communities need things that government can’t, won’t or shouldn’t provide and that the private sector has not found a way to make profitable, then you also believe that our charitable sector needs passionate supporters of all ages and backgrounds who are willing to give time, talent and treasure. [Read more…]

April 2016: Nonprofits Today

Working for north country businesses

Editor’s note: The following information was presented March 3 during the Business of the Year Awards given by the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce. The United Way of Northern New York was named the Small Nonprofit of the Year at the event.

Bob Gorman

Bob Gorman

Every day the Watertown Daily Times prints the names of people charged with driving under the influence. It’s easy to dismiss the names as representing the dregs of society.

But if you are in management around here long enough, one day one of those names will belong to one of your employees, a person who is crucial to the success of your business. [Read more…]

March 2016: Nonprofits Today

Youths excited to invest in our region

Max DelSignore

Max DelSignore

The question made Harrison Fish pause for a few moments.

“What are your thoughts on being a community leader as a high school student?”

As a senior at South Jefferson Central School, Mr. Fish has served in a variety of extracurricular clubs. Community service is a likely requirement for his participation. His perspective has changed slightly in recent months though, as he and his classmates engage in the “LEAD Your School Challenge.” [Read more…]

February 2016: Nonprofits Today

Nonprofits on front lines of heroin war

Bob Gorman

Bob Gorman

In her office at Pivot, Anita Seefried-Brown has created a collage with the faces of bright and promising young adults, all now dead from heroin and other opiate overdoses. One of the photos is of her late son, Herbie. [Read more…]

January 2016: Nonprofits Today

Be what’s right with our region this year

Richardson_RandeW-“Those who invest in our treasures are what’s right with Watertown. Make it your resolution to be a part of what’s right with Watertown.” — Mark Walczyk, newly elected Watertown city councilman

It is common at this time of year to look back and dream forward. During the New Year’s Day swearing-in ceremonies at Watertown’s Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library, one didn’t have to listen too hard to find a theme emerge — hope and optimism for a greater community. Those assembled were gathered in a building that itself serves as a living example of civic pride, love of community, respect for heritage and giving back. It is hard to be in that space and not sense the importance of thoughtful stewardship. The best way we honor those who have led before us is by ensuring that this generation and the next recognizes the great responsibility, privilege, honor and joy of being a trustee. We honor yesterday by advancing tomorrow. [Read more…]

December 2015: Nonprofits Today

Local nonprofits react to wage hike

Columnist Bob Gorman

Columnist Bob Gorman

When anyone discusses the north country economy, the usual suspects are Fort Drum, agriculture and tourism. But “nonprofits” should always be part of the conversation.

More than six years ago, the Watertown Daily Times studied the financial impact of nonprofits on the north county and published this: [Read more…]