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Book review: Why don’t they just get a job? One couple’s mission to end poverty in their community

Why Don’t They Just Get A Job? One Couple’s Mission to End Poverty in Their Community

By Liane Phillips and Echo Montgomery Garrett

Aha! Process, Inc.


Here’s a poverty to prosperity solution that’s well worth a look if we’re serious about helping our lower city neighbours and making Hamilton the best place to raise a child.

Cincinnati Works is recognized as one of the leading poverty to work programs south of the border. It’s a nonprofit founded by a husband and wife team and focused on job retention and advancement for the unemployed and seemingly unemployable.  The award-winning program is heralded as a solution for both people living in poverty and for employers looking to hire qualified, entry level workers who can hit the ground running.

Liane and Dave Phillips founded Cincinnati Works back in 1994. Dave was retiring from a 32-year and 100 hour a week career with Arthur Andersen.  The Phillipses were looking for a way to work together, give back and make a difference. After their daughter-in-law sent over a newspaper story about Cleveland Works, the Phillipses paid a visit to C-Town and decided to launch a similar jobs program back in Cincinnati.

But first the Phillipses did their due diligence. They got a clear picture of the scope and severity of the poverty crisis in their hometown. According to the 1990 census, 186,000 adults and 175,000 children were living in poverty in Greater Cincinnati, for an overall poverty rate of 24 per cent. “Plenty of folks were in dire straits and needed help,” said Liane.

They looked at the local job market to see if there were any decent jobs for people looking to get out of poverty. The Phillipses talked with 200 local employers and discovered they had an immediate need to fill 1,200 vacant entry-level jobs that offered decent wages and health care benefits. Projected across the region, that worked out to 10,000 jobs waiting to be filled.  

The Phillipses finally looked at who was already helping folks find work in their community.  The Ohio Bureau of Employment had placed 3,000 people in the past year while 20 other organizations had put 4,222 people back to work. Yet there was no data that showed how many people got full-time jobs, what they were paid or how long they kept their jobs. There was clearly room for a well-run program that did a better job of tracking performance and measuring results.

And with that, the Phillipses launched Cincinnati Works. For $1,200 per person, Cincinnati Works delivers a one-week, 33-hour job readiness workshop followed with a lifetime of ongoing staff support to help clients find work, keep their jobs and get ahead at work.  To date, Cincinnati Works has helped more than 5,000 clients with an 80 per cent job retention rate after a year.

The Phillipses decided not to apply for government funding so they could stay responsive in meeting client needs. Just over 10 per cent of the funding comes from the United Way, 50 per cent comes from local companies and foundations and the remainder is donated by individuals who believe that investing $1,200 on a client in the program is better than spending $30,000 every year in social services for a person living in poverty.

So why don’t people living in poverty just get a job? Why do they need organizations like Cincinnati Works to lend a hand? According to the Phillipses, poor people are far from lazy. Every day’s a struggle that demands constant problem solving. Grinding poverty leaves you exhausted, overwhelmed and paralyzed by low self-esteem and a fear of failure. The Phillipses found that 60 per cent of Cincinnati Works clients were suffering from depression and many were self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.  

“On a good day, somebody with depression and anxiety can get a job. The problem is that they can’t keep the job,” says Liane. So along with teaching soft skills for getting a job, Cincinnati Works offers mental health services. And for the 50 per cent of clients with legal issues, the program partners with Legal Aid.

“Dave and I were single-minded about getting as close as we could to creating a one-stop safe haven where the poor could get the training and support they needed as individuals in order to tackle a plethora of barriers while getting a decent job with health benefits.”

This is a great book that offers a blueprint for replicating Cincinnati Works, including an overview of workshop curriculum. To their credit, the Phillipses talk about the false starts and missteps, the disappointments and heartbreaks.

And here’s the overriding message. Poverty isn’t a permanent condition and it can be eradicated one person, one job at a time.

“Poverty is a community problem. Eliminating it takes a community solution. You can make a difference. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you a problem is too big to tackle. It’s about helping our neighbours – one at a time and that is a powerful, beautiful thing.”


Book review: Start over, finish rich (know your Latte Factor)

Start Over, Finish Rich: 10 Steps to Get You Back on Track in 2010

By David Bach

Broadway Books


Money began burning a hole in my pocket from an early age.

My grandparents were forever slipping me $20 bills. My grandmother called it pin money.  Buy yourself a sandwich, she’d tell me. I was 11 years old. When my parents protested, my grandfather would say that a boy should always have cash in his pocket.  He knew what it was like to be broke. My grandfather talked about growing up in a family that was so poor they couldn’t even afford to pay attention. Anyone who says money can’t buy happiness has never been poor, my grandfather said.

No sooner did I get the cash than I was on my bike or the bus and off to the comic store. I’d spend every dime.  When my parents complained about my free-spending ways, I said the comic books were a smart investment that would one day pay for my college education.

I eventually discovered girls and ditched the comics at a used book store for  $40. I started to spend a small fortune on sports and rock’n roll magazines.  When my parents complained about the stacks of Hockey News and Rolling Stone magazines creating a fire trap in my bedroom, I said this was a smart investment that would get me a date.

These days, my nightstand is overrun with The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Fast Company, FORTUNE, Time, Newsweek, Inc., Esquire, Canadian Business, The New Yorker and Next American City magazines. And when my wife complains, I have no excuse for what bestselling author and financial expert David Bach calls the Latte Factor.

“The Latte Factor is the ultimate metaphor for how we spend money. It shows us the way small amounts we spend daily, on little things like fancy coffees and bottled water, can literally add up to a fortune. It is not about giving up your favourite cup of morning coffee at your favourite coffee shop. It’s about considering where your money really goes and asking yourself is this spending really worth it? What else could this money be doing for me?”

So for those of us who are tired of living in the shadow of Debt Mountain, it’s time to take the Latte Factor Challenge and get our discretionary spending in check. Start by identifying your Latte Factor. Now figure out what your Latte Factor is costing you every day. Every month. Every year.  Download a calculator app for you iPhone (which may well be your  Latte Factor) and figure out what you’re going to spend over the next 30 years and how much you could earn if you banked the money instead.

Cutting back on unnecessary expenditures frees up cash. “And the more extra money you can put aside, the stronger your financial position will be,” says Bach.

Now that we’ve got our Latte Factor figured out, it’s time to tackle credit card debt. Bach’s come up with something he calls the DOLP system, or Dead on Last Payment.  The DOLP system gives you a plan of attack for prioritizing your debts and establishing the pecking order for paying off your cards.

Divide the outstanding balance on each of your cards by the minimum monthly payment.  A $1,000 balance on a VISA card with a minimum monthly payment of $50 gives you a DOLP number of 20.   The card with the lowest DOLP gets ranked number one.  Every month, Bach advises that we make the minimum payment on every card. And we then throw as much money as we can spare at the credit card with the number one DOLP ranking.

“The DOLP system works by identifying the card you can pay off most quickly and then having you pay it off first,” says Bach. “The point of doing this is to reduce the number of different cards you owe money on as fast as possible.”

Bach offers up eight other steps to get your financial house in order. And the timing couldn’t be better as we come out of the Great Recession. “I believe that the post-recession period we’re in now offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build wealth and start over,” says Bach. “Yes, the economy did have the equivalent of a heart attack. But don’t think that means the rules for the steady, lifelong accumulation of wealth have somehow changed.”

Jay Robb works and buys his magazines in Hamilton and blogs at