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The Path to Financial Stability

Juan Salgado, Executive Director of Instituto del Progreso Latino in Chicago

In 2005, Patricia Ramirez was working toward her goal of becoming a nurse. She had big dreams to care for others and knew she had skills that could take her into Chicago’s booming healthcare job market. But Patricia had never been particularly successful in school, and now as a single mother with a full time job, things were even more difficult. 

For so many, the story ends here, with unmet dreams and untapped potential, with financially strapped families, generations of poverty, and stagnant economic growth in our communities.

This summer, the Federal Reserve released its annual Economic Wellbeing of U.S. Households report, which depicted the reality of these stories. It found that 46 percent of U.S. families could not cover an emergency expense exceeding $400, or could only cover it by selling something or borrowing money.

The report made news. But, for those of us at Instituto del Progreso Latino, it only reiterated what we hear from our families every day: financial stability is a daily struggle. In fact, the Brookings Institution refers to social mobility as an economic imperative. If we don’t invest in opportunities, then communities will see a drain on public resources, labor shortfalls, and a loss of human capital, as so many people do not reach their full potential. 

It can seem like an overwhelming challenge. And yet, it is also a powerful opportunity. Many of our families come from communities that have been underserved by education systems – the very systems that build capacity for increased income for all of us. If we invest in what we know works-- flexible programs that offer the skills needed for promising careers as well as supportive services that tear down barriers to success—we can reverse these damaging trends.

That’s what we do at Instituto. We create pathways for people of all education levels, provide intensive support services, and connect them to employers that are in need of their skills. For Patricia, this meant prep classes before she entered community college so that there was no remediation, no wasted time, and no wasted money. It meant support as she selected her classes, tutoring when she needed it, financial counseling for her family, on-site childcare, access to mentors, and support in finding a good jobs.

So, where is Patricia today? She went well beyond her original goal and graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelors of Sciences in Nursing. She recently earned her Master’s Degree in Nursing and is a leader in the Illinois Hispanic Nurses Association. Patricia didn’t just get a job; she tapped into her passion and talent to build a successful career. She left financial instability behind, and became a leader in her industry and community. 

People like Patricia are all around us. They are those who, for whatever reason, the traditional education system did not reach. They are people with immense potential who could be part of a broader economic impact. 

When we create education systems that truly work for all learners, those systems also work for the entire community and our broader economy. They warrant our investment and ongoing support.

Juan Salgado is the Executive Director of Instituto del Progreso Latino in Chicago. He spoke about financial stability at the 2016 LISC Leadership Conference. See his LISC Talk here.

Posted in Family Income & Assets

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