November 21, 2022

Breaking the Poverty Cycle Through Manufacturing Employment

The manufacturing sector has the potential to support breaking the poverty cycle for those needing someone to believe in them. Imagine living as an individual on a salary of $13,590 or less because you were born into poverty. We should embrace the noble purpose of changing the lives of each person in poverty and their subsequent generations.
Too Many US Citizens Living in Poverty

The 2022 poverty income base number is $13,590 for an individual.  The United States (US) Census Department's official poverty measure in the 2021 report had 37.9 million people, or 11.6% of our fellow citizens, falling into this category.  A subset of the most impoverished in the US is young adults without a high school diploma, at 23.7%, or approximately nine million.  Others are female-headed households without a husband (24.3%), those in a home where the head of the family is unemployed (26.4%), and minorities (18.8%).

Why is US Poverty So High?

An easy answer would be to say that those that are poor are unmotivated to work.  That was the response from half of the people in a national poll of 2,000 people in 2001.  The percentage of people in poverty in the US is on the high end of other industrialized nations.  Does that mean that American citizens are lazier than those from similar countries?  That is unlikely, and the actual causes are likely policy failure and a minimum safety net.

"If human beings are perceived as potentials rather than problems, as possessing strengths instead of weaknesses, as unlimited rather than dull and unresponsive, then they thrive and grow to their capabilities." — Barbara Bush
What Keeps Them From Gainful Employment

The manufacturing industry faces a growing employment gap.  Those currently facing financial challenges could be some of the potential employees to close that gap while providing an opportunity for them to "thrive and grow to their capabilities." If a single young adult makes the poverty line salary of $13,590 and the average entry-level manufacturing salary per ZIPPIA is $31,001, there is an opportunity to more than double their income.  Then they can utilize tuition assistance and other employer support to reach the average overall 2019 manufacturing salary of nearly $84,000.  Given the difficulty in hiring enough employees to fill open manufacturing jobs, the issue is not the availability of work.  Instead, they face the problems of 1) affordable child care, 2) the lack of education, training, and experience, 3) high transportation costs, 4) low proficiency in English proficiency, 5) a lack of access to fundamental worker rights, 6) discrimination of those with a criminal record, and 7) lack of proper documentation.  

Breaking the Poverty Cycle

Those currently in poverty likely are from multiple generations of this economic state.  Unfortunately, structural barriers make it difficult for children from families facing this challenge to break the poverty cycle.  The Annie E. Casey Foundation's Family-Centered Community Change (FCCC) developed a two-generation approach where participants worked with local families with children ten or younger.  A summary of seven years of project evolution led to the following recommendations:

1. Understand the context – Develop a clear understanding of the community's factors that contain family opportunities through residents and long-established community-serving organizations.

2. Define the framework and goals – Build a framework that supports multi-generational needs to achieve a shared vision of improving family opportunities.

3. Incorporate a broad understanding of racial and ethnic equity – Gain knowledge of the existing racial and ethnic inequity issues to inform the development of meaningful community change better.

4. Ensure racial and ethnic inclusion – Work that disrupts racist paradigms should include those historically disenfranchised in developing wealth-building and stability improvement strategies.

5. Engage partners at multiple levels – Creative opportunities to break the poverty cycle require stakeholders' engagement and cooperation across the ecosystem.

6. Define partnership dynamics – The complexities of building efficient and effective partnerships is work that will evolve over time.  Therefore, a mutual understanding of partnership dynamics is essential to program success.

7. Measure impact – Track effectiveness to support interest in the continued expenditure of resources as the program moves forward, with sensitivity to local contexts.

8. Respond proactively to new challenges – The COVID-19 pandemic and the negative impact of inflation are examples of the need to scan the environment for challenges that will require additional action to lessen these social and economic harms.

The work to provide everyone the opportunity to live above the poverty line requires a diverse set of partners willing to invest collective resources to reach the shared vision of closing the gap in income equality.


An example of the success in adopting all or most of the elements of the two-generation approach to support those desiring to gain work with a desirable wage with career opportunities is Network2Work.  The program host is Piedmont Valley Community College (PVCC) in Charlottesville, Virginia.  The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce (CRCC) found in 2011 that twenty-nine percent of Charlottesville families could not meet their basic needs.  The costs of affordable daycare and reliable transportation were something they could not acquire due to existing financial constraints.  Individuals wanted to do what was necessary to make conditions better for themselves and their families but needed initial help.  As a result, CRCC and PVCC partnered to develop the Division of Community Self-Sufficiency Programs.  One outcome of the work was developing the Network2Work tool that connects job seekers, employers, and financial partners to provide resources that support them during the initial transition to meaningful employment.  The January 2021 report found that seventeen percent of families still are self-sufficiency challenged.  However, the twelve percent improvement over ten years has led to work at the state level to expand the program to other regions in the Commonwealth.

Taking Up a Noble Purpose

I encourage those in the manufacturing sector to accept the noble purpose of helping deserving citizens to break free of the poverty cycle.  The work would require the collaboration of those in the local manufacturing sector to partner with job seekers and supporting agencies to eliminate or lessen the above barriers.  Ultimately, to lift those that need our support to achieve financial stability and improve the opportunity to reach their potential.  Your organization can begin with one low-key initiative as a pilot and then use that initial success to develop a portfolio of programs like those supported by Cascade Engineering.  

Key Takeaway

The manufacturing sector has the potential to support breaking the poverty cycle for those needing someone to believe in them.  Imagine living as an individual on a salary of $13,590 or less because you were born into poverty.  We should embrace the noble purpose of changing the lives of each person in poverty and their subsequent generations.  

First Step

Individuals interested in seeing another example of success in using manufacturing to support those needing support can read Lifting Families Out of Poverty and Into Advanced Manufacturing Careers.  The article profiles the stories of two men now in good-paying manufacturing jobs through a program supported by various organizations in the Rochester, NY, area.

My Gratitude

I am grateful to companies like Cascade Engineering, Nehemiah Manufacturing, and US Rubber that support those who embrace the opportunities to break the poverty cycle.  A small sample of many companies that help those in need in many beneficial ways.

Sneak Peek

Next week's blog will further explore adopting the Open Hiring® model from Greyston Bakery to fill some of the growing manufacturing employment gap.      

To learn more about our work or read more blog posts, visit

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Contact me if you need help with the manufacturing support services of consulting, coaching, Fractional Chief Sustainability Officer, or training/reskilling at 734-664-9076.

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Cover Image Credit: Nicola Barts on Pexels

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