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Closing the Income Gap for Struggling Families: 3 Simple Things You Can Do to Help Now

As a staff member of United Way of the Greater Triangle, I’ve been fortunate to assist a great team of co-workers in conducting poverty simulations for local organizations. We’re raising awareness in the community as participants experience firsthand the overwhelming obstacles families face. In the debriefing sessions, participants often ask what they can do to create better conditions for families who are working, but don’t make enough to pay for basic necessities of life.

Here are some facts.

In July of this year, Raleigh was ranked #1 in the nation by Forbes as the “Best for Business and Careers.” Yet, a third of all Triangle area families have a household income of less than $50,000. (American Community Survey-2012) with many working in the rapidly growing service sector.
These families struggle since their annual paycheck is still $3,000 shy of the NC Living Income Standard.

I’ve thought about and support families who are struggling to make ends meet, or are in trouble even though they are working.

If you consider yourself fortunate, or living the “American Dream” which according to USA Today is $130,000 for a family of 4, there are 3 simple things you can start to do now.

#1. Advocate through on-line customer surveys. I’m thinking of that retail sales associate who went out of her way to attend to your needs. In the survey mention her name and specifically what she did for you. If co-workers functioned well as a team, mention that too. Store employees can earn points for monetary awards. If you believe outstanding service, and solid product knowledge deserves higher pay plus opportunities for bonuses and health benefits for all employees, then become an even stronger advocate by saying so in the comments section.

#2. Increase your generosity quotient. Did you know restaurants in most states including North Carolina are allowed to pay tipped wait staff as little as $2.13 an hour? (NC Department of Labor). In general, tip wait staff 20% for good service. In self-serve dining establishments, get in the habit of leaving a couple of dollars for those who clean tables. The work of hotel and motel housekeeping staff is quite physically demanding. If your room is kept neat and tidy when you need it to be, leave a $5 bill per day along with a short note of “thanks, enjoyed our stay.” If tip jars popping up on store counters everywhere bug you, picturing staff dividing the cash at the end of the day, and the simple pleasure it could provide to others may be enough to see the situation in a new light. Drop in a dollar, your small contribution combined with additional bills and spare change might be enough to buy gas or a small luxury like pizza for the family on the way home.

#3. Always show respect and kindness. For the few workers you encounter who don’t smile, speak to you politely or provide less than average service, try to put yourself in their shoes and give them a break. It could be a mother who is exhausted and worried about a child who’s sick, but can’t miss work. Or a father working two jobs to make ends meet. It could even be someone who’s hungry and wondering where his or her next meal will come from.

You can make a difference in the lives of others simply by using your voice and your dollars to show appreciation