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American Voices: Mae Watson Grote

Poverty in America is at a 52-year-high with 46.2 million people in poverty, according to income thresholds used in the 2010 national census.

This week’s American Voices is from Mae Watson Grote, founder and executive director of the New York-based non-profit “The Financial Clinic,” who is trying to inspire change on a local level by helping some of our nation’s most economically disadvantaged build financial security.

The Financial Clinic’s mission is to improve the financial security of working poor people. The genesis was, really, around the major demographic shifts that were happening in the country at the time.

Where you had hundreds of thousands of people who were in welfare reform shifting to a booming economy, but one that was, really, expanding in the service sector so that the jobs that were available were, basically, lower paying jobs.

So hundreds of thousands of people moving from welfare poverty to, basically, working poverty. Two thirds of our customers come to us with debt or credit problems…They don’t know where to start… and they don’t know– how to be able to…make ends meet. And so our financial coaches will sit down and, basically, will map out…what their situation looks like, how much income they have coming in…how much more income can be brought into the household.

Then, we will map out, basically, a trajectory– that helps navigate those initial pitfalls.  Helps them make the decisions that they need to be making, so that they can reach– a one year goal or maybe, even, a two year goal.

Generally speaking, people really do have a sense of– what’s a luxury item or– and what’s a necessity…a customer that– that  I served, …I remember very clearly that she … spent, maybe– $35-$40 every week on getting her nails done. And that, of course, wasn’t something that our financial coaches would advise someone not to do– because she knew that already… but …needed someone to facilitate seeing those day to day decisions in context of her longer term financial goal.

So, with that, she was able to immediately cut that out. And, then, came back … to name five other things that she had cut out of her budget… what we’re doing is leveraging what we’re learning on the ground for systemic change. We believe that…the research– and the anecdotes, and the customers that The Financial Clinic has access to– can help contribute to– a larger– national discourse on what it means to be working poor.


  • Paula

    When it’s not really necessary,a car is too extravagant.especially for more than 1 member of the family.When possible public transport or zipcar.Where they live it may not be possible.
    Also,basic cable is $8/month and basic internet(not high Speed)is cheaper.
    She was paying $285/month for cable,internet and phone.
    Car and cable combined cost$1000/month.

  • guest

    When we have basically, lower paying jobs, how can we expect prosperity? We can have only poverty
    I do not see the sign ‘Now Hiring’.  All I see is only No Hiring. Come on, we have to be realistic.
    A car is a luxury or a necessity, depending on where you live. Some companies insist that the candidates must have a dependable car. In that case, those who take a public transportation, sorry, you are out of luck. In a hollywood movie, they show all the cartoon characters using human voice and paint a rosy picture. In reality, it does not work. Pretty Woman may be an exceptional story that came in 1982 but not all the movies are like pretty woman character picked up from the hollywood blvd.

    The Disneyland and the Universal Studios make lot of money from the parking itself besides the entrance tickets. They do not care whether you are rich or poor. In parking alone, they make at least $14 -$20 for every car.  All these entertainment companies make money from the poor taxpayers.
    All the private companies and television network channels that sponsor these sports events make lot of money. How do they make money when there is poverty? .

    Many hospitals where they need acute care do not have money; many school districts have no money but simply close the school buildings and laid off teachers. Many small businesses have no money.
    They simply close their businesses. US Postal Services have no money. They simply have to close down their branch offices and reduce their staff delivering mail on Saturdays. Many Public Library Branches and DMV Offices are CLOSED for one or two days every month due to Budget Problems and Furlough Hours.

    Something is not right here. The equation does not balance.
    Why one sector of the industry makes all the money and prosper and the other sector of the economy has no money but simply impoverish?

  • Rachel

    Where we live we need more then one car.  There is no public transportation, and my husband, and I work different schedules, in opposite directions. Also, we don’t buy it, but basic cable is $40. That is for the bear minimum channels.  Dial-up is $20, but we do spend a little more and get the slowest high speed for $40.  Besides for dial up we would be required to have a land line which would cost us an extra $20 making it the same as high speed.