Oklahoma can’t fight poverty when policymakers are out of touch

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Solutions to complex community issues require the recognition that policy makers have relatively little personal exposure to the issues themselves, and the voices of those who live within the issues need to be raised. A human-centered design approach with input from real participants and hypothetical “characters” allows for the creation of empathetic structures and a greater likelihood of long-term success.

After:It’s time for Oklahomans to reframe poverty talk

As we continue our discussion of poverty, consider the needs of a man named Cory, who represents thousands of people like him in the same or similar circumstances.

Cory is closer to giving up than he’s ever been. He doesn’t even really know what ‘give up’ means, but the idea of ​​doing anything with his own life seems so remote that he’s forgotten what it was like to have thoughts about anything other than survival. daily. At 26, he has already resigned himself to the fact that he is only there to improve the possibility that his daughter can have something better. Every once in a while, he thinks back to his mother and his mother before her, acknowledging that each had probably reached that same point in time – shifting their sense of hope from themselves to their children.

Cory grew up in poverty, but his high school diploma and natural charm felt enough to overcome the overwhelming amount of multi-generational cycles he would have to break. The early years of Cory’s marriage and his experience as a young father were somewhat uneventful, especially in retrospect.

At 22, Cory could be proud to be the first in his family to graduate from high school, he had a beautiful and healthy 4-year-old daughter and a marriage with the same age, but “beautiful” and “healthy” weren’t the words he would have used to describe it. He had worked full-time changing oil since he graduated, and he enjoyed working with his hands. He had learned a lot about cars and was beginning to appreciate when customers brought in complicated repairs, as diagnosing and fixing moderately complex automotive problems was the only source of strength he felt in what was becoming a very turbulent world.

Cory also felt settled in their small apartment, which was in a nicer part of town than his childhood home. Without many friends and few family around, the apartment was their refuge. Her daughter, Destiny, was starting to read, and the chair in the corner of her room was a perfect place for them to connect with the books.

As his wife’s drinking and criticism increased, she began to display erratic behavior. Cory knew something had to give. His words had a way of crushing him because he had grown to truly love her, but he felt an overwhelming allegiance to Fate which he knew would lead him to choose his daughter’s well-being over his own. woman.

The day his wife left, Cory was two hours late for work because he had to find daycare for his daughter. However, since he’d called ahead to alert his employer, and had been a good employee for years, that wasn’t a concern for his manager, who had truly become a friend of Cory’s. That same day, he was very distracted at work because his thoughts kept drifting to his daughter and how he would tell her about her mother’s mental health issues. Minutes later, as he sat in the garage of the auto repair shop, he realized that without his wife’s extra income, they would depend solely on his $11 hourly wage. Their way of life was in danger. The emotional security provided by their apartment was no longer affordable. The thought of his daughter losing her bedroom and the reading chair in the corner was the first sadness he had felt since his grandmother died and he began to cry.

The life Cory had built for himself and his daughter was more tenuous than he had ever thought. As a couple, if he and his wife were spending conscious, they could save a few hundred dollars a month. But with his wife gone, he was just weeks away from not having enough money to survive. With his current salary, he could no longer afford childcare, internet or the apartment that makes them feel safe. Without major lifestyle changes, he will spend hundreds of dollars more per month than he earns. Cory and Destiny’s future was uncertain, and the pain he felt over the loss of his wife was something he would have to bury to meet the challenges ahead.

Justin Brown

Justin Brown is Oklahoma’s secretary of social services. He will tackle poverty every two weeks in a series of guest columns in Viewpoints. The next column will use a Chutes & Ladders game analogy to explain the difficulty people like Cory face in overcoming their challenges.

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