On Unemployment, Poverty and Disadvantage

Updated: Apr 7, 2021

"Go Get Em" is a social enterprise; a business with a purpose, to change some aspect of this world for the better. Our target here is poverty and disadvantage.

I grew up in disadvantage. My parents struggled on a low income to raise four crazy kids, all whilst facing what, looking back, must have been utterly consuming financial stress and rental instability at times. It is only now, as an adult facing disadvantage myself, that I appreciate the stellar job they did, giving us such a wonderful childhood in those conditions.

I knew that my first social enterprise had to target this issue, that consumes the lives of so many. After a few months with my first working idea, my research pivoted me towards another. Where I had been asking what it takes to help people survive disadvantage, I realised that I needed the boldness to ask something else: what would it take to end it altogether?

Further research and networking led me to the centricity of un/under-employment to this issue. Sustained employment is unique in its ability to pull people out of disadvantage. The problem is, though, that people facing disadvantage often have a number of factors pulling them not towards, but rather further and further away from potentially transformative employment – and therefore only further into worsening poverty:

Finding and sustaining employment requires a set of social skills that surviving disadvantage kills.

For one example, think about emotional awareness. People in disadvantage are strongly incentivised to lose aspects of their social sensitivity, for a number of reasons. For one thing, survival tends to consume one’s attention when it is under threat. Simply navigating social situations in that state can become exhausting - let alone a setting like a job interview! Poverty is embarrassing – shameful, even. It can be easy to feel that everyone around you is either inconvenienced, or at worst, disgusted, by your existence. To remain completely sensitive to all of that is to be in a constant state of emotional exhaustion, and worsening mental health. And so, as a matter of survival, the human mind can often learn to shut itself off to the sensitivities required to navigate the settings in life many of us consider so normal as to not even merit batting an eyelid. Worse still, this effect compounds, the longer someone is facing disadvantage.

Low-income earners are the most exposed to rental instability.

Being forced to move, or even become homeless, disrupts every area of life, especially when it happens frequently. Rental instability can lead to unemployment, and vice versa; creating a vicious cycle that is very difficult to escape from.

Many poverty-stricken people experience issues concurrent (or even inherent) to their disadvantage.

These further prevent their acquiring/sustaining a job; mental health concerns, domestic violence and coercive control, drug abuse, generational poverty, etc

Even star applicants are struggling to be selected for interviews.

In August 2020, there were an average of 15 job applicants for every job vacancy in Australia. What chance does anyone with anything less than a perfect resume and employment history have with those kinds of odds?

The act of preparing for a job interview itself requires a kind of ‘capital’ on the part of the applicant.

Transport costs, clothing, time to search and apply, etc. Even the basic necessity of maintaining personal hygiene can become a cost that is unmanageable. This doesn’t even mention the emotional and mental toll that joblessness carries.

Even should someone overcome all of that, and finally land a job:

There is no guarantee that that job will offer enough hours, or pay an acceptable living wage – which opens up the whole sub-issue of under-employment.

Put simply, we don’t have a system that sustainably, consistently, gives the required numbers of people access to the kind of employment that will pull them out of disadvantage.

So what if we could empower those who need it most to create it themselves?

That is the underlying question for Go Get Em. Its defining thesis? That people facing poverty and disadvantage are under-valued, and under-estimated in terms of their capacity to work.

The world hasn't given them an opportunity - and so it is time to create one. Together.

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