January is National Poverty in America Awareness Month, a time to shed light on the financial challenges that many individuals face. For HR and Benefits teams, National Poverty in America Awareness Month is a unique opportunity to smash the stigma surrounding financial health in the workplace and put programs in place to take action.
What is National Poverty in America Awareness Month?
National Poverty in America Awareness Month is observed each January. It aims to raise awareness about the prevalence of poverty across the nation. Workplaces, organizations, and communities engage in National Poverty in America Awareness Month activities, campaigns, and discussions to recognize the challenges faced by individuals and families living in poverty. This month serves as a call to action, encouraging collective efforts to address the root causes and work towards solutions for poverty alleviation.
Understanding the American Financial Landscape
To address employees' holistic financial health, it's essential to understand the current state of poverty in the United States.
According to the most recent reports, the poverty threshold for a family of four in the United States is $29,960. For an individual, the poverty threshold is $14,891. This data comes from The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which issues its poverty guidelines based on the Census Bureau poverty thresholds.
According to recent data, the United States poverty rate is 11.5 percent, with 37.9 million people in poverty. Among employees (those in the labor force for 27 weeks or more), the poverty rate remains at a staggering 4.1 percent.
These figures underscore the urgency for workplaces to adopt strategies that address employees' financial challenges and actively work towards solutions.
Real Stories, Real Struggles
Meet Andra, a dedicated employee earning minimum wage in the retail industry. Despite her hard work, she struggles to make ends meet each month as her debt accumulates. This affects her productivity and overall job satisfaction. She has recently turned to predatory products like payday loans to try to improve her situation, and is likely to leave her job for a nominal pay increase at a retail competitor.
Andra's story is not unique; many employees are silently navigating similar struggles. Through data and stories like Andra's, we aim to humanize the statistics and encourage HR professionals to take a closer look at the financial health of their workforce.
The Impact on Workplace Productivity
Financial stress doesn't stay confined to employees' personal lives -- it spills over into the workplace. Decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and higher turnover rates are directly linked to financial instability. By acknowledging poverty in the workplace, HR and Benefits professionals have the opportunity to create a supportive environment that fosters employee success both personally and professionally.
National Poverty in America Awareness Month: Proactive Solutions for HR and Benefits Teams
The good news is that HR and Benefits teams are uniquely positioned to support their employees' financial health. Here are four strategies for National Poverty in America Awareness Month to add to your playbook:
- Smash the Stigma: The stigma of poverty in the workplace can bring judgment or biases against employees facing financial challenges. This limits open discussions about their struggles and may prevent employees from seeking guidance. HR teams can foster a culture of empathy and understanding to create an environment where employees feel comfortable seeking assistance without fear of judgment.
- Financial Wellbeing Programs: Implement a trusted, holistic financial wellbeing program that provides digital planning tools plus 1:1 guidance from Financial Planners. Resources and support for employees of all income levels, including budgeting workshops, debt management tools, and access to financial advisors, have been proven to drive positive outcomes.
- Flexible Benefit Options: Explore flexible benefit options, such as emergency savings accounts, flexible spending accounts (FSAs), and student loan assistance programs, to cater to diverse financial needs.
- Address Mental Health: Employees with incomes below the poverty line reported feelings of worry, nervousness, or anxiety at higher rates than average: 19.4%, compared to 12.7% of Americans generally. Address the connection between mental health and money in your workforce.
- Communicate Helpful Programs: Promote regular workshops and awareness campaigns to educate employees on financial wellbeing. This empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their money in a way that is most comfortable to them.
Poverty Awareness in America Month serves as a reminder that financial wellbeing is a crucial component of overall employee health. HR and Benefits professionals have the power to make a lasting impact by implementing strategies that address the root causes of financial stress. Through empathetic policies, support systems, and education, organizations can create a workplace where employees can thrive.