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Family Independence Initiative Calls for a New Approach to the 50-Year War on Poverty: "Making Poverty Tolerable is Not Enough"
[January 08, 2014]

Family Independence Initiative Calls for a New Approach to the 50-Year War on Poverty: "Making Poverty Tolerable is Not Enough"

OAKLAND, Calif. --(Business Wire)--

Today, on the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson's declaration of a war on poverty, Family Independence Initiative (FII) released a report offering an unconventional, evidence based-approach to re-starting economic and social mobility in America: see low-income families through the lens of their resourcefulness, rather than their need.

"Seeing need leads to more of the same: social service programs that do things for low-income people," said Mauricio Lim Miller, founder of FII. "But seeing initiative and strengths leads to opportunities for people to do things for themselves, and to make progress more quickly."

The report, Through a Different Lens: The War on Poverty and a New Vision for the Future, draws from insights FII has gleaned from its engagements with more than 1,000 low-income families across the country since 2001. It suggests that while the war on poverty has not yielded a clear solution to curb poverty and rebuild the middle class, low-income families will come up with solutions that work for them - given an environment of trust, the support of peers, and access to resources.

"It's time to build a system for economic and social mobility based on everything we've learned and observed about how people actually work," said Lim Miller. "This means creating space for people to connect with each other and make their own choices, and providing access to resources that fuel their initiative. These are the elements that we have found are essential to progress."

In the report, FII identifies the following elements as the "fundamentals of mobility":

  • Connections: Family, friends, and colleagues who provide support, information, advice, resources, and a sense of accountability are both a safety net and a springboard forward. To facilitate connections, FII has developed UpTogether, a community-building social networking website, to allow failies across the country to offer and ask for support to move their lives forward and reach the goals they set.
  • Choice: Choice means having an array of self-directed options for moving ahead. Everyone needs to have a range of options and the ability to exercise those options, whether they are related to finances, housing, health, education, or other opportunities for well being. To demonstrate what happens when families have access to a wide range of choices, FII built a Resource Bank to house resources families can access to move themselves forward in the ways they determine.
  • Capital: The biggest difference between low-income families and upper-income families is money-not intelligence, resourcefulness, or drive. Access to flexible financial capital that allows families to leverage their initiative accelerates their mobility. To create access to capital, FII analyzes the data it collects from low-income families to identify trends and develop flexible resources in response to those trends. Examples include loans, scholarships, and matches to savings.

For the past 13 years, FII has observed how connections, choice, and capital produce results for low-income families. Evidence from FII's first partnerships with families in Oakland, San Francisco, and Boston shows what is possible: Over two years, families on average increased their savings by a remarkable 120% and increased earnings by 24%. In addition, one-third of the families started a small business; 80% of children in those families improved their grades; and 75% of families reported taking steps to improve their health. FII found that families made additional progress, like dropping government subsidies, pooling resources with others, and increasing their civic engagement.

Making Poverty Tolerable Is Not Enough

The report also addresses what FII believes is an important caveat to studies like the December 2013 Columbia University study that links government safety net programs to a decline in poverty since the 1960s:

The safety net is essential, and should not be dismantled… [But] Without sufficient drivers of economic mobility beyond the safety net, lower income Americans work very hard to get above the poverty level, only to find that the next rung of the ladder is too far out of reach. The vast majority of people living below the poverty line manage to get above it in three years; however, after another three years, 30 percent fall back into poverty. After five years, 50 percent find themselves back where they started. The constant churn of families moving in and out of poverty shows the fragility of economic progress at the lowest income levels. Common events like a car breaking down, a child getting sick, or a reduction in hours at work, for example - can instantly erase hard-earned gains.

Low-Income People Are Not Helpless

The report also includes success stories of families with whom FII has partnered-Francia Peguero of Boston, Maria and Sergio Perez of San Francisco, and Jolly Bugari of San Francisco-and shows how each leveraged connections, choice, and capital to boost their mobility. Where government or nonprofit workers may have seen helpless people in need of direction or programming, FII trusted each to find their own solutions. FII's role was to collect and analyze data about the initiative each person took to move themselves forward. From this analysis, FII designed new tools, such as character-based loans, scholarships, or matches to savings-allowing them to choose resources as they wanted them. Read the report to learn more about their stories.

For more information about Family Independence Initiative, or to download Through a Different Lens: The War on Poverty and a New Vision for the Future, please visit


Family Independence Initiative (FII) leverages the power of information to illuminate and accelerate the initiative low-income families are taking to improve their lives. Using hard data and compelling stories, we are sparking a movement that transforms stereotypes, beliefs, practices, and policies to catalyze economic and social mobility in America. For more, visit

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