update from the reader who wanted to help young coworkers learn professionalism

Remember the letter from the reader who wanted to help his coworkers, who were new to working in a professional setting, and who came from disadvantaged communities without many professional role models? He was especially concerned because their manager was violating all sorts of boundaries with them — from going to nightclubs with them (despite a 30-year age difference) to taking them shopping for clothes and alcohol.

(This was the post that sparked the later discussion about how your parents’ level of professional achievement influenced you.)

Here’s his update:

I wanted to update you on the situation with my non-profit and the new-to-the-workplace Neighborhood Liaisons that were being poorly managed. Things with the obnoxious manager and the NLs were getting a little bit worse, but because of a serious bout of community violence and some pretty scary death threats, we had to pull the whole team out of there (that included relocation of the NLs and their families; it was an incredibly stressful time, but thankfully none of our team members or their families were hurt, and now they’re in a safer location). Once they were safe, our admin wasn’t sure what to do, and I suggested we create an internal internship-style program so they could test out different pieces of the business and see if there was a fit in a new department. Folks loved the idea, and one of the former NLs is working with me now, and while we still struggle with certain workplace norms and office culture, she’s crazy intelligent — she speaks four languages fluently, for crying out loud — and it seems like there’s a lot of potential for a brighter future for these guys. It’s really exciting!

I also wanted to say thank you to you and your readers for the thoughtful follow-up conversation about disadvantaged communities and the workplace. The folks in the NL program came from families where not one family member had ever had a job, as in EVER. In my current “intern”‘s family, no one had ever held a job for three generations back. It’s amazing how much these young adults have had to learn, and it’s amazing how much knowledge we take for granted when we come from families with professional backgrounds. I am a firm believer in social justice — it’s our nonprofit’s mission — and this is an issue at the heart of it, and it involves lots of factors — money, race, education, opportunity, privilege, culture … all kinds of fascinating stuff. I think it’s an issue that we should continue to raise and talk about. Thanks so much for doing so!

{ 102 comments… read them below }

  1. BW*

    I missed the original post, but kudos to the LW and his organization for giving people the opportunity and skills that will allow them to succeed in the workplace and make a huge difference in their lives and the lives of their future families.

  2. fposte*

    Wow. That sounds pretty intense. Good for you for weathering it and for seizing the moment to redirect things in a more useful way.

  3. The Dreamer*

    Great Update.

    I am a little confused though. Is the OP not in the U.S.? Just curious because the update details seemed a little odd for a U.S. setting.

    These two things just kind of stuck out to me:
    1. but because of a serious bout of community violence and some pretty scary death threats, we had to pull the whole team out of there (that included relocation of the NLs and their families

    2.and while we still struggle with certain workplace norms and office culture, she’s crazy intelligent — she speaks four languages fluently

    But I’m just nosy and need to know everyone’s personal story to put stuff into context in my head. :-)

    1. AP*

      Hmm. No idea, but I live in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, which has historically been a low-income area without a lot of higher education. It’s not unusual or uncommon to meet people who have way more language experience than typical Americans for family/religious reasons. In particular there are many families of West African descent who can go back and forth pretty easily between English, French, Arabic and a more local dialect. Plus Spanish! It’s amazing, I’m so jealous.

      1. Chinook*

        Or OP may have been working with Native Americans. I could see this situation happening either on a reserve or in a place like Edmonton or Winnipeg in Canada with a large native American population who have left the reserve and are trying to fit into “city” life.

        1. Anonymous*

          I know exactly what you meant, but I now understand why we prefer “Aboriginal peoples” up here (Ontario). “native American … in Canada” sounds almost jarring when you hear it.

          1. TheSnarkyB*

            I’m really curious about this response. Wouldn’t some indigenous people/first peoples feel that it’s important to maintain the reminder of being Native American, and thus the reminder of being displaced? Is the preference for the term “Aboriginal peoples” relatively universal in your experience? Does preference for the term vary based on whether the person’s nation identifies as indigenous/aboriginal Canadian vs. Indigenous American?
            thanks :)

          2. Al Lo*

            I’m in Calgary, and I tend to use the term “First Nations” or “Natives,” without the “American” part on it. To me, “aboriginal” is more strongly associated with Australia, but I’d also never use “Native Americans” to describe Natives in Canada.

            It also seems, in some ways, that the term “Indians” is less derogatory here than in the States. I’m thinking, in particular, of Indian Village and the Indian Queen/Princesses at the Stampede, and the fact that there hasn’t been the same sort of uproar over those terms (including from First Nations tribes, who are instrumental in staging those events) than there might be elsewhere.

            But take that as you will, as this is just from observation, not as a member of that culture.

            1. K*

              “Indian” is used a lot in the States these days as well; I wouldn’t call it derogatory. In fact, virtually all, well, for lack of a better term, American Indians I know use “Indian” as a self-identifier when they need something broader than the name of their Nation/Tribe. “Native American,” by and large, seems to be used by well-meaning outsiders. And official government stuff generally, though not always, uses “Indian” as well.

              1. Laura L*

                Interesting fact: The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian was named after extensive discussion with representatives from many Native American groups. So, many people use the term Indian to define themselves.

            2. Chinook*

              I was just going to say the same thing. Even working on a reserve, where the tribe is **** First Nations, they call themselves “indians”. But, school children are being taught “aboriginal” or “Native American” (as the tribes often cover 2 North American countries) and my students and nephews keep trying to correct my usage. I just point out that, if it is good enough for the Elders I have known, then it is good enough for me.

              Then again, we Albertans aren’t always known for our political correctness ;)

            3. Anonymous*

              I’m American, but am very sympathetic to aboriginal people everywhere.

              When refering to people here, I use the term, First Nations.

    2. Kate*

      I live in Chicago and both of those things could have easily taken place here, and I think you could say that for many large cities in the U.S.

  4. Katherine*

    Alison, I would love it if you would follow up this series of posts with a set of links to previous posts you have made or other suggestions that would help people who are from more blue collar families understand how to navigate work practices in white collar places in the ways you’re talking about.

    1. the gold digger*

      Katherine, I think I may have seen this book recommended in the original post: “Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams.”

      I read it and was astounded at how right on the author was. My favorite example of the blue collar/white collar difference was how those of us with a blue-collar background get so frustrated at endless meetings where nothing is ever accomplished. We just want to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

      Some researcher validated that point: they took a group of blue-collar kids and a group of white-collar kids and gave them a task. The blue-collar kids assigned tasks and responsibilities and got to work. The white-collar kids (their parents were college professors) spent the time discussing the process and how work would be assigned. But they never did anything!

      1. Jamie*

        I think that was (blue collar) Sue Hawk’s theory when she was telling (white collar) Richard Hatch to stop talking and try doing something to help.

        Survivor Season 1, Episode 1.

        Oh, I realized this weekend that I desperately miss recapping. So as I have no current outlet more references to Survivor and the Amazing Race may start bleeding into my analogies. I’ll try to keep a lid on it – I already self-censored in another post and didn’t reference Kelly Goldsmith’s comments about introverts (Survivor Africa).

        I really need to stay on the wagon.

          1. Jamie*

            Yep – at RNO (Reality News Online) and a couple of other sites for years.

            I’ve been away from it for about five years now and all of a sudden this weekend it’s a gaping hole in my life and I don’t know why I ever gave it up.

            Oh well – guess pining for an ex-hobby is better than pining for a real ex. Far less complicated. :)

            1. moss*

              I love recaps. No idea why. But they add a richness to the media-consumption experience that I really enjoy.

              I mean they are funny.

              Will check out RNO, am only familiar with TWoP.

              1. Al Lo*

                Here I was hoping you were a former TWoP-per, too!

                Also, yes, funny, but the best ones offer a level of critical analysis that I appreciate.

                (I’m of the old-school “TWoP was better before the Bravo buyout” mindset, but there are still certain shows that I read the recaps for.)

                1. Jamie*

                  You and me both – that would be the pinacle for me. A million years ago Uncle Bob recommended that I throw my hat in the ring there – but for some reason that triggered a fear of rejection response in me like no other.

                  And pre-Bravo – I remember it when it was Mighty Big TV.

                  Man – just showing my age here.

                2. moss*

                  you should try for it!

                  I actually went to school with one of the TWoP’s “founders”… the only person I’ve ever gone to school with (and I went to like 7 different schools) that’s any kind of “famous.”

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Is this what is wrong with me? I have very little patience for sitting around and “talking about it.”

        Very interesting comment, Gold Digger. Does the book talk about how to bridge that problem?

  5. Been there*

    THANK YOU!!!! for doing what you do. I used to work with inner city kids in San Francisco and it could be crazy dangerous as well as some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done! Now I’m a mom living in a safer place and leading a Girl Scout troop teaching the same things.
    Thanks again for being a great role model and giving these kids a chance.

  6. Liz T*

    I’m gonna cop to some ignorance here: can someone explain to me how it’s possible to have a whole community in which three generations have never held jobs? This can’t just be a welfare thing.

    I’m also curious about the death threats, but that’s a lesser issue.

    1. JT*

      I don’t believe it and don’t think it’s possible.

      I think someone (maybe the young people, maybe the OP) is exaggerating or there is some kind of misunderstanding – where never “held a job” mean’s never had a regular job with a regular paycheck.

      Perhaps odd jobs, crappy informal jobs, even just selling stuff on the street. Forms of work that make a little money sometimes. But not “regular jobs.”

      Still, the overall point of the young people not having any experience seeing someone work a regular job is valid.

      1. Elise*

        It’s possible.

        SSI fraud is a big problem in the US. SSI is Supplemental Security Income. It’s run by Social Security and is intended to provide support for those with legitimate disabilities who are unable to work. Fraud happens when people claim mental disabilities which don’t really exist. And the checks can be issued to children, so the parents defrauding the system also apply for their children –then, the unfortunate kids grow up in an environment where they feel entitled to the funds and they never learn to earn anything. And when the children have kids the cycle continues.

        I’m sure there are also families living on drug money or through other means, but I would say the SSI fraud is the most common for affecting a whole family.

        1. Kat*

          Do you have more information about that? Because I work in my state’s disability determination department and am one of people making the decision about who is disabled enough to get Social Security disability benefits and it really isn’t easy to fake a mental disability that is so severe that it will get someone benefits.

          And with most of the applications I’ve seen, the claimant really does have some type of mental or physical illness. There may be exaggeration when they report their symptoms, and it may not be severe enough by SSA’s standards for that person to be allowed benefits, but there is a legitimate condition.

          1. Elise*

            A lot of people really do have problems and do need the program. But, I guess the thing to look at would be to see how many family members are also claiming a disability. If several parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, etc are claiming a mental issue — to me, that would be a signal of a further problem. That would seem to suggest that the condition is due to genetics, birth defects due to drugged parents, or learned/cultural. Throwing money at the problem would help in any of these cases.

            Growing up in a different environment or with different resources, these individuals with the same disabilities might search for things they can do instead of focusing on what they can’t — learning to fish themselves.

            1. Elise*

              I suppose I just don’t quite understand the attitude of those that abuse that program. I could never be a bum so I don’t see how others are okay with that for themselves. Even if you are a billionaire, you should set goals for yourself.

              My cousin has mental issues (some sort of fetal alcohol syndrome, I believe) and she still works as she can and volunteers helping out at Special Olympics and all kinds of things. I guess I just grew up in a culture where you were expected to be useful.

              Note: I’m not saying everyone getting SSI is a bum. Not at all. The program was created for those who genuinely need it. The people who baffle me are those who look to these programs before they seek their own personal employment options.

              1. K*

                Your cousin isn’t really relevant to this discussion. Just because one person with a disability can work doesn’t mean another can. And Kat is right. As someone who used to review the federal appeals of people denied disability, it is very, very hard to get, and you have to prove that you can’t work. Most people are denied.

              2. TheSnarkyB*

                Wow, your language really shows class-ignorance here. Even the way you use the word “bum” serves to perpetuate myths and stereotypes about welfare mothers, people “gaming the system,” and other forms of serious prejudice that have gotten so far ingrained in how we as a country see our social safety net and treat those who use it.

              3. Kat*

                If you have a disability, and you are allowed benefits due to fitting SSA’s criteria, you’re not abusing the system.

                If you have a disability–or even if you don’t–and you apply and are denied due to not meeting SSA’s criteria, you still aren’t abusing the system. And I’ll note that, in my state at least, in order to get access to some of the other social service programs, you have to apply for Social Security Disability and be denied before you can qualify for those other programs.

                And some people’s goals, when dealing with a disability, are “Get out of bed, get dressed, go to the store.” And if you’re dealing with a condition like severe anxiety and agoraphobia or depression? Those are important and worthwhile goals.

                1. Kelly O*

                  Just to chime in on this one, my Mom dealt with extremely severe panic attacks when my brother and I were very small (toddler-age) and it was years before she could go anywhere without another adult driving. No grocery store, not even driving to church or school (both about a mile away.)

                  It took a really understanding doctor and years of working on it to get her to where she is now – she drives herself all over, has flown out to see us several times, and she and my stepdad went on a cruise for their anniversary last year.

                  I know there are other people like her, and for those people, just getting out to do things can be more difficult than most people would understand. I’m proud of her for her accomplishments, but I also grew up watching that constant struggle to push a little farther.

            2. Kat*

              But multiple family members claiming benefits doesn’t mean fraud, which is what you were originally talking about. And isn’t just money that comes with SSI benefits, it’s healthcare and access to treatment, which means an opportunity to get better. It can mean access treatment and therapy–and vocational rehabilitation programs.

              And the people applying for benefits didn’t grow up in a different environment. They grew up in the one they they had. And yes, sometimes those environments involved poverty, and abuse, and drug use, and a family history of mental illness. The answer there isn’t to say that they shouldn’t apply for benefits, it’s to look at how effective we’re being, as a society, at breaking the cycle of poverty, at treating addiction, at helping people who are being abused, and at getting people access to healthcare and treatment.

              1. Elise*

                No, I know that. I think what I said came out wrong–thinking about too many things while typing and have some personal interest in the subject.

                Those who need the programs should definitely apply and use them (and WIC and other such programs too). It’s when it’s several generations are continuing to use the same programs that it seems that the programs aren’t really helping in the long term and something more or something else needs to be done (maybe better treatment and therapy).

                And I apologize for my use of the term ‘bum’. I’m not meaning those who actually need the help. Nor would I automatically call someone using a government program as a bum. It was more a reference to specific people I know, but didn’t come out that way. I think more of the people I would consider a bum are actually in higher income brackets than lower. The mothers I know who are on welfare are not at all ‘bums’ and are trying to find better work and a better place to live with their child/children.

                I was just trying to explain how someone could grow up in a culture where no one had worked, and I things got a little side tracked due to personal connections. Sorry.

                1. TheSnarkyB*

                  Hey Elise,
                  Your response makes me realize I probably overreacted (at least in tone) in my original comment, so thanks for that. I see what you’re saying. I think that what I said somewhere on this thread about class-blindness and invisibility still applies (to all of us) but perhaps the election has left me a little raw when it comes to the “bum” trigger- feels like every conservative politician in this country is waging a war on the poor and enlisting everyday Americans, and it’s working- so I’m sorry that much of that was directed at you.
                  Having a few too many trust fund friends, I’d agree with you that “bums” are concentrated differently than people like Romney would have us believe. :)

                2. Elise*

                  No worries. I understand. Everyone has their own views and things don’t always come across well online. :)

                3. Kat*

                  It’s when it’s several generations are continuing to use the same programs that it seems that the programs aren’t really helping in the long term and something more or something else needs to be done (maybe better treatment and therapy).

                  I agree with that. I think the answer is, basically, to have a much better social safety net in the US than we do currently. Giving benefits to the people in those families is helping them as individuals, but it definitely isn’t solving any of the larger structural issues.

                4. Laura L*

                  “It’s when it’s several generations are continuing to use the same programs that it seems that the programs aren’t really helping in the long term …”

                  I agree as well. I’m not an expert, but from my understanding, these programs aren’t designed to help people in the long term, they are designed to help people right now. And even then, much of the help is designed to be supplemental, not a complete support system. (e.g. SNAP (food stamps)=Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

                  Plus, there are a whole host of other issues… access to college, how little many jobs pay, etc.

        2. Andrea*

          In a former career, I was a claims investigator for the Social Security Administration for four years. Before that, I was a claims represenetative at SSA for three years, and I took claims for both retirement (and survivor) and disability claims. I have not worked there since I quit in 2004, but I am still friendly with many of my former coworkers.

          It pains me to see so much misinformation about these programs, especially when it is relatively easy to find out the facts. I personally know of two men, friends of my family who have always worked, who were so afraid of the stigma of receiving disability benefits that they made their own health worse by continuing to work long after they should have. They thought disability payments were just for bums or people who were cheating the government. This is a bad situation. That’s why I’m dropping a knowledge bomb right here, people. Sorry for the off-topic.

          Disability benefits can be paid out from SSA under two different programs. The medical eligibility is the same no matter which program is paying out the benefit. The medical eligibility is done by DDS (disability determination services) at the state level. But SSA administers the program and determines non-medical eligibility.

          DIB, or Title 2 disability benefits, is paid out based on the applicant’s employment record/social security taxes paid. (The same as retirement benefits—you know, the social security benefit that carries no stigma? Yeah, that same program also funds disability benefits.) This program also covers some special cases, like disabled children who, if medically approved, draw benefits based on a parent’s social security earnings. But it is essentially an insurance program where people pay in social security taxes and then draw in the event of disability (or when they retire). The benefit amount is based in part on the amount that was paid in, and non-medical eligibility is based on whether an applicant has paid in enough to be fully insured (and those rules differ based on age; for example, a 40-year-old does not have the same work history as a 60-year-old because they haven’t had the opportunity to work as long, but if they’ve worked consistently, they should still be insured and eligible for some T2/DIB benefits if they are determined to be disabled). Got it? T2/DIB is paid from social security taxes that applicants have paid in, just like with retirement.

          The other program is SSI (Supplemental Security Income), also known as Title 16, which pays out disability benefits (as well as some others). The medical eligibility rules are the same under SSDI, but the non-medical rules are different. SSDI is a needs-based program, and only people who can prove a lack of money and resources can get it (if they are otherwise medically eligible). The benefits paid out under SSI do not come from social security funds, they are general revenue funds. The maximum benefit amount changes (mostly yearly), and is currently set at about $700 per month (not going to look up exact amount now). Not everyone who qualifies for SSDI gets the entire amount, which is offset for other household income or resources. Some disabled people draw some from both T2 DIB and T16 SSI, like if they’ve worked but not enough to be fully insured, but those people would not get the full SSI benefit. So, T16/SSDI benefits are paid from general government revenues, like many other safety net programs, and they are needs-based.

          Most of the time, an SSA claims rep will take claims for both DIB and SSDI at the same time, even if it is fully apparent that the claimant is fully insured. (Not always, but often they do, though this may vary by state.) The idea behind that is that you don’t want the claimant to miss out on any potential benefits. Also, some states have programs that can supplement certain benefits for disabled people, and they are often required to apply for SSDI for those things (Medicaid can come into play here, too). It may add to the confusion many people have, though. I did not always take an SSDI claim, especially if I had an older claimant who had always worked and was fully insured under T2 and who would not be eligible for Medicaid, because I felt like there was just no reason to go through that process—which includes asking the claimant for specifics about all household income and belongings and the number of cars they own and how much money they have, etc., etc.—especially if I had a claimant who was upset or ashamed. And believe me, almost every single disability claimant I ever dealt with was deeply ashamed. By the time their medical eligibility had been determined, even if things went in their favor, many (probably most) claimants have depression, too, and sometimes marital problems and anxiety, all of which can worsen the medical condition. The process is bad enough and the medical eligibility rules clunky enough that there’s no reason for people to suffer more by thinking that they’re “bums” who can’t work and who are leeching from the government or whatever other incorrect things that people who don’t understand these programs might think or say. But I hope that none of you all will make that mistake (well, at least maybe you won’t if you read this entire thing).

          1. Andrea*

            BTW, in case it was not obvious, my use of the word “bum” above was in response to the offensive use of it earlier in the thread. I do not use this word, nor do I believe it is a word that should be used to describe our fellow human beings.

      2. JessA*

        Unfortunately it is true. I have done volunteer work in southern West Virginia where the majority of families in a community solely rely on welfare and haven’t worked since the coal industry there dwindled in the 70’s. This includes young adults in their 20’s who have never been to school. Please be aware that America has it’s hefty share of inter-generational poverty.

        1. COT*

          “Family welfare” in the U.S. has a 60-month lifetime limit for the vast majority of recipients (and some states are even shorter). So a person couldn’t live off of that forever, but certain forms of assistance like medical care and food support/stamps usually don’t have time limits for those genuinely in need.

          The U.S. absolutely has its share of generational poverty, and I’m glad that the OP can have a small role in breaking a few chains.

      3. Anonymous*

        I went to school, in a poor part of the city where I live (in the middle part of the US), and some of my classmates where working on being the 3rd generation not to work. It all depends on someone in the household having some type of assitance – medicaid, medicare, SSI, even charity from churches, etc. So everyone who lives in the household, basically lives off that person’s benefit. And it might switch around to who has money coming in – kids, parents, and/or grandparents.

        1. JT*

          No one in the family in three generations ever working is different than most or every person being on public assistance for part or even most of their life.

          1. Anonymous*

            It depends on how large a geographical area you’re talking about. In that part of town, having whole families not working for generations, was not uncommon. Of course it also wasn’t uncommon in that area to have “under the table” jobs, be day laborers, and have illegal immigrants working in horrible conditions. Because of the exploitation of people in those types of jobs, people living in those types of situations view getting welfare for their entire lives as a better way to live.

      4. TheSnarkyB*

        It is definitely possible, and it’s real. OP, can you come back to comment on this? This same dispute took place in the original post, and I suspect that your validation of this will do more than my “Trust me, it’s a real thing.”

    2. The IT Manager*

      Liz T, I wondered the exact same thing. I think it’s a combo of what JT and Elise said. It’s really completely impossible for me to imagine an adult never, ever holding any kind of job.

      1. TheSnarkyB*

        The IT Manager, I appreciate that the way you phrased this is very much about you (“I can’t imagine”), versus many in this thread (“This can’t be”), so please don’t take this too harshly, but the U.S. is a very class segregated society. It’s built so that some people literally cannot possibly imagine the lives of others. And as someone who has been at the bottom, I can tell you it’s much easier to see up than down. And it’s how classism is built.
        These all might be things you know already, but it seems like this comment section could just use a little reminder (sanctimonious though it may seem).

        1. Jen in RO*

          [Not American.]
          I understand the reasons, but I’m curious about the how. Say you’re a healthy adult in a bad situation (family’s never worked, you never went to school, this whole thing is completely alien to you). Where do you get the money? Does everyone qualify for welfare? Does “never working” means “never working *legally*”? Won’t you starve to death without a job to provide at least some money?

          1. Jen in RO*

            Also, what about rent? I was under the impression that in the States it’s quite uncommon to buy a place and renting is the norm.

              1. Elise*

                Wow. I expect the ‘own’ amount also includes those who live with family, but I still would have thought a higher amount for rent since it seems like so many people in large cities rent apartments.

                1. Jamie*

                  I would think, also, that the numbers would skew toward renters if you were just looking at urban areas.

                  But when you factor in the suburbs and more rural areas where renting is way below 1/3 is where it evens out.

            1. Laura L*

              Yep. In many European (well, at least Western European) countries renting is the norm, not buying. But in the US it’s flipped.

        2. JT*

          I’m one of the “that can’t be” side and I’m coming from it from the perspective of breaking through the belief that people on public assistance are sometimes/often exclusively on public assistance, and that the very poor never work.

        3. jennie*

          I appreciate this response so much. It’s hurtful to see the lack of empathy for those with a different life experience than our own. It’s ignorance and it just makes things worse for everyone.

  7. JT*

    Interesting. So you’re suggesting it’s worse than three generations not working, but probably three generations defrauding the government.

    PS – Drug dealing is work. Perhaps not what most people would call a job, but it’s work.

  8. Dee*

    I have a hunch the OP is in the UK. That would easily explain three generations not having a job – social support (welfare) programs there are much more comprehensive and families often live on the same estate/in the same flat for generations. There are benefit incentives to having more children and it is possible to live fully off the benefits, whereas it would not be in the US. It is also much more difficult for individuals in low income and immigrant communities to find even low paying, low skill work. It would also more easily explain the language ability and the type of program.
    (I’m an American who studied criminal justice in one of England’s less… ahem, nice cities.)

    1. K*

      Having the relative budget to relocate the entire team, including their families, suggests foreign NGO working in a developing country to me.

  9. jesicka309*

    If the person in question’s family were immigrants/refugees a few generations ago it could explain the problem. If the grandparents and parents spoke no/limited English, they would a limited ability to work, and could therefore live off assistance packages, refugee packages etc. When you bring in generation 3 who has grown up in new country and speaks English, they have only ever seen their grandparents and parents who have never worked. It would also explain some of the terrible living conditions, as many immigrant/refugees tend to cluster in suburbs together, with few English speaking neighbours, the shops that spring up in the are are specialty shops where the owners speak little English…and the kids growing up in the area don’t get to see adults who are successful and working. It’s a shame, as the OP points out, some are very intelligent, and their diverse upbringing means that they often have many languages…but when your Mum and Dad don’t speak English, how can they discuss your grades with your teachers? How can they advise you on career options? And of course, these kids themselves may not have access to the same benefits as their parents anyway, being natural born citizens.

    Just another potential way people have multi-generational unemployment. Good on the OP for trying to break the cycle.

    1. JT*

      I think exactly the opposite about immigrants – at least in the US. The initial immigrants, especially back in the day, have relatively little ability to access social services due to lack of knowledge and language barriers, and may not even be eligible for the highest level of services. Language barriers make it harder for them to find the services.

      And I think exactly the opposite, at least in the US, for immigrants who are not refugees from religious/ethnic persecution or a major disaster. They have generally have left their country explicitly to *work.* If anything, the initial set of immigrants to the US in a family are probably the hardest working part of our population.

      Perhaps you’re in the UK (using the term “Mum”) – I’m not familiar with the situation there.

      1. jesicka309*

        I’m in Australia where illegal immigrants are a real issue. We’ve had refugees from every conflict in the Middle East/Asia/Africa in the last 60 years. Which means we have huge pockets of Vietnamese, Sudanese, Afghani, Iraqi, Pakistani in various parts of the country. I could name a suburb for each nationality I just listed in Melbourne. And they are the legal immigrants. Then there are ‘boat people’ who travel in leaky fishing boats after paying everything they own to get to Australia.
        Why? Because once you pass the lengthy detention period, you are housed and paid welfare. I’m not joking when I say that illegal immigrants (eventually) get better benefits than pensioners. They get a comfortable, modern house to live in, clothing and LCD TVs, and welfare payments.
        I’m not saying that all immigrants manage to live their entire lives in Australia on welfare – there are many that study, upskill, learn English, and go on to be successful, and you wouldn’t know their children and grandchildren had immigrant parents from their behaviour. But for many, the generous benefits package is what entices refugees from Sudan to come all the way to Australia for asylum instead of, say, a neighbouring or nearby country.
        I would probably say that the US is less generous in this regard, hence why there are many more working immigrants as opposed to asylum seekers.

        1. K*

          Okay, there’s a lot going on here. First, people granted asylum are not illegal immigrants. By definition. Second, it’s not a choice between being a “working immigrant” and being an asylum seeker. That’s an extremely specific thing that’s only granted under extremely specific circumstances – if you can show very severe persecution in your country of origin on a limited number of bases. Both Australia and the U.S. grant asylum to people who meet those criteria, and then give them aid, because they’ve signed treaties requiring them to do so under international law. Third, yes, there’s some people who manage to flee to the U.S. or Australia and then get granted asylum, and probably some of these are from the Sudan. But by and large, refugees do flee to neighboring countries and then are resettled in other places by international organizations because the neighboring countries don’t have the resources to help them. Fourth, being granted asylum is not a free pass to many generations of not working. Fifth, look up some statistics: people granted asylum and their children generally do work and often become quite successful in their new countries.

          Basically, this entire comment is based on a lot of misinformation.

          1. jesicka309*

            Oh I’m not denying people who have fled to other countries then are resettled in other countries further away from the country – I know that their lives are hard, and it’s great they have a chance to start afresh in a country like mine. I’m also aware there are many people in refugees camps just waiting for their turn to get on a plane and come to Australia to start their new lives…but everytime a fishing boat overloaded with people dangerously crosses into our waters seeking asylum, that’s 200 more people in refugee camps across the world who don’t get the chance to come to Australia, and have to wait longer. We see stories on the news of boats being hit by storms and sinking, or hitting rocks off Christmas Island, or having to be rescued by the navy because they’ve gotten into trouble. And the problem is, people won’t wait for their turn in the camps if they are prepared to take the risks and hop in a boat, if it gets them to Australia 2/4 years quicker than it would before. And then the wait for people who do wait paitiently in the camps gets longer, and the pockets of the pirates who ferry people across in fishing boats gets fatter.
            I know I don’t have specific facts or figures, but it happens. And it sucks for everyone involved.

                1. JT*

                  Thanks for clarifying. Clearly not “illegal” in the sense that they are involved in a government process.

                  And the “eventually” part earlier implied that they got great stuff when they finally settled in. When in fact it’s a long-term temporary benefit.

            1. K*

              Yeah, sometimes desperate people take desperate measures. I can only imagine that I might be, for instance, fleeing a war-torn country with two small children and only what I could carry, and my only choices were between (a) languishing indefinitely in a refugee camp that’s also in an unstable area, and hoping we got resettled before we starved or the camp got bombed, or (b) risking my life at see in a rickety boat and hoping that instead of the boat sinking or getting dashed against the rocks or intercepted such that we got sent right back where we came from, we got picked up, thrown in detention, and had my claim processed favorably. I’ve never been in any situation anywhere near so dire and have no idea what I’d choose. I’m not really going to judge anybody for which of those choices they make, though, and certainly not based on some theory of whether or not they properly waited their turn in line.

              1. JT*


                I had a friend in college who fled her country on a boat due to violence, and her whole family was robbed by pirates on the way. Amazing.

  10. moss*

    I am amazed that people who are disadvantaged are considered to be defrauding the government or in any other way “getting over.” If any of you were in their shoes you might understand better and just because you know someone who managed to get out of the poverty cycle doesn’t mean anyone can.

    1. Jamie*

      I think where we get into trouble (as a society – not us in particular) is painting everyone on assistance with a broad brush.

      There are people who assume everyone on assistance is lazy and living off the backs of tax payers and there are others who assume everyone on assistance is a victim of society and would love to be productive if just given the chance.

      The truth is, as it always is, somewhere in the middle. Some people are gaming the system and that sucks and should be stopped. Some people are legitimately in need and I don’t begrudge them one dime of my taxes.

      This very complicated issue really boils down to two things for me.
      1. As a society we have an obligation to put in place a safety net for those truly in need.
      2. Individuals have an obligation to keep this safety net in reserve for those who need it.

      Sounds simple – but the implementation is what makes it so complex.

      1. NicoleW*

        Well said, Jamie.
        I hope the OP returns to give us more information. It is great to see in your update that some positive changes have been made!

      2. K*

        I don’t think you’re wrong, Jamie, but I also think that people’s perceptions of the relative numbers of people in group 1 vs. group 2 are often really off, and some of the characterizations above demonstrate that and are worth challenging. Of course there are always people trying to game the system, but that doesn’t mean the truth is in the middle in the sense that there’s equal likelihoods that a given individual is a “bum” gaming the system instead of a truly needy individual. Especially when you’re talking about things like refugee status and disability in the U.S., which aren’t that easy to get. I think that’s why the people in the thread who have worked in these areas are feeling the need to pushback against a lot of the rhetoric being used.

        1. Jamie*

          To clarify – I didn’t mean the truth being in the middle to imply an average of 50% in each camp. What I meant was that there are no absolutes when we’re dealing with people.

          In any subset of people whether you’re talking about those on assistance, those in a neighborhood, IT professionals, Mustang owners, blondes, what have you, will be made up of people of varying degrees of integrity and ambition.

          1. K*

            It’s true, but it’s also true that at a certain point the incidence of one group is low enough that the prevalence with which they’re brought up doesn’t do much more than stigmatize the other group. The other part of this is that keeping a focus on individual ambition and the like ignores systemic factors that track people into those roles. Talking about how to productively address those systemic factors is one thing, as is a real discussion about how to prevent system gaming, but that is, by and large, not what I saw in the comments people were objecting to on this thread.

            1. Kat*


              I don’t think anyone is saying that no one ever games the system and fraud never happens. It does. But most of SSI’s fraud occurs in the form of people who were allowed because they really did have a disabiling condition that kept them from doing any work at all and then improved enough (or found a job willing to accomodate their limitations) and didn’t report that they had returned to work. And even then, there are systematic reasons that can influence why someone would do that, just like there can be systematic reasons why a mother on welfare might decide to stay on weflare rather than trying to find a job (such as childcare costs outweighing any income she would be able to bring in.)

              And when people bring up the kind of SSI fraud Elise did, with saying that it’s a big problem in the US and that it comes in the form of people lying about having mental disabilites and lying about their children having disabilities–There’s a lot of harmful assumptions in there that hit a wide range of people.
              A) That large groups of people on benefits are liars.
              B) That mental disabilities are easy to fake/lie about having, which contributes to the overall stigmatization of mental illness and the idea that psychological illnesses aren’t legitimate illnesses.
              C) That’s it’s easy to game the system that way and that SSA & the people making the decisions about who gets benefits are easily fooled and don’t really know how to do their jobs in evaluating who should get benefits. And that devalues the program and makes it difficult for it to get funding, which in turn means higher caseloads for workers, which means slower processing time, and a longer wait for applicants to get an answer. It also means not having the resources to investigate fraud or do reviews of allowed cases to make certain that those people should still be on benefits.

              And, as Kat said, we hear way, way more about people abusing the system than we do about people aren’t.

          2. K*

            (In other words – neither IT professionals nor Mustang owners are groups whose lives are made more difficult because people talk about their less ambitious members, assume that they personally are less ambitious, and then use those that assumption as a rationale to cut programs that might help them exercise what ambition they have. The opposite is true of people from impoverished communities; immigrants; and people with disabilities.)

      3. moss*

        Jamie, I agree with you in some ways. However, I think that there is a danger and a risk of false equivalence. It’s not okay by me for people to say, “oh there’s no way to tell who is really in need.” while using inflammatory language like I have seen people (not necessarily here) do.

        In other words, when looking at issues like this I evaluate risk thusly:

        If I help someone who doesn’t need it, I risk looking stupid and wasting my money.

        If I don’t help someone who does need it, I risk physical harm coming to them, children going hungry or growing up in a disruptive home life etc.

        Weighing these two risks I would rather risk looking stupid.

        1. moss*

          and substitute “my country” for “I” in the risk calculations and that’s what I want my government to do: help people.

          After all there are tons of lazy, wasteful people who by dint of being born in the right place to the right family never have to defend their right to laze around and waste resources.

          1. Jamie*

            In large part I agree with you. I do, however, think we need to make sure we’re doing what we can to make sure the money is truly going to those in need…because for those taking it who don’t need it aren’t just making us look stupid. They are using resources which should be going to help those who truly qualify for aid as well as wasting other people’s money – and they aren’t entitled to do that.

            I will be honest, I don’t know what the statistics are are those abusing the system. I do know that 1% is too many. And getting back to the original post, imo if you have multiple generations of people in one family none of whom have ever had a job – which is what was stated – that’s a problem and I believe that’s what people are reacting to.

            Also, I don’t really understand your last paragraph. I’m assuming you mean people who are unemployed and not on assistance because their family has money? If that’s the case, the only people they need to defend their life choices to are the ones supporting them. They aren’t using public resources – so it’s not my business if the wealthy chose not to work. It doesn’t take money away from my children if a trust-funder lives off his parents. That’s an entirely different scenario.

            1. K*

              I think the issue with multiple generations being on aid and not having a job, though, isn’t that it just so happens that multiple generations of a family are lazy and stupid. It’s that systemic poverty is a hard thing for an individual to overcome and that whatever country the OP is from (like the countries most of us are from) doesn’t have a system that has cracked it.

              Of course it’s a problem and of course it’s something we should be working against. That’s why we should all applaud people like the OP who run organizations dedicated to doing that! But it’s a mistake to look at that and say “Well, you know, bums cheating the system.” In reality, what it is is places where people have been systematically failed for generations and we need to look at the causes of that.

              Incidentally, while the OP hasn’t weighed in to say where her org is located, it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s a country without much of a social safety net where the people she’s working with have been in dire poverty and relying on begging, scrounging, low-level crime, and odd or off-the-record jobs. A social safety net is not a precursor to generations of people who haven’t been able to find jobs; in fact, you’re going to see a higher prevalence of that in countries without it. You’re also generally going to find them in conditions much more desperate than we’re used to in the U.S.

              1. JT*

                Odd or off-the-record jobs are what I was thinking about when I said I don’t believe the statement of three generations with no one ever having a job.

            2. moss*

              I agree 1% is too many in theory but I think things like systemic Wall Street reform should come first. In other words, yes I am talking about wealthier scoundrels. But I disagree that it doesn’t matter what they do with their money.

              The people that destroyed the economy most recently are those involved in securities fraud. I’d rather punish them because they removed MUCH more wealth from my country than any aggregate group of welfare “cheaters” might.

              It is a dangerous and destructive myth that people don’t want to work. Pretty much everyone wants to work. They want a job where they can retain a measure of dignity, safety, and sense of fairness. That might be too much for some employers to be able to provide.

              1. Jamie*

                You make some really excellent points – and I don’t think we disagree on the big picture – or the end goal – which is to make sure everyone in need is cared for (shelter, food, clothing, medical, education) and putting the structures in place to help people break the cycle.

                1. moss*

                  Thank you! Always a pleasure to ‘talk’ with you. I agree we seem to both want the same things for society.

  11. Anonymous*

    Thank you so much for this update! This is a good one and made my morning! OP, thank you for all you are doing for these kids!

    I am sorry that they went through the turmoil they did and had to be moved, but I’m glad to hear that some of them are now thriving. :)

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