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Equal Opportunity in America


It’s not novel to point out that it’s good to be rich, or that it’s bad to be poor. Perhaps the ambition and drive that powers capitalism needs the spur of poverty to keep it moving. But the fundamental promise of America, of any just society, is that with hard work and talent, anyone can lift themselves up, up out of poverty, up into prosperity. And that promise has been broken.


~Scott Galloway


Opportunity


Habitat for Humanity believes in everyone having the opportunity to have a safe, decent, affordable place to live. The key word in that statement is “opportunity.” Contrary to what our country’s founding fathers wrote, equal opportunity is not the current status in the US. The opportunity a person has to build a stable future largely depends on the situation they were born into.


Consider the following:


Brian was born to wealthy parents. They were wealthy largely because their parents were either middle class or wealthy. They learned at home things like fiscal responsibility, financial planning, the importance of education or learning a skill. They passed these standards on to Brian. These standards have been passed down in Brian’s family for many generations. In addition, Brian grew up with a stable foundation of a safe home, food on the table and a solid network of family and friends. This was the safety net and springboard Brian had as he became an adult. His basic needs were met, so he could explore and leverage opportunities to make a good and stable life for himself and his future family.


Paul was born into poverty. His mom was a single mom who also grew up in a single parent household. Her examples at home were those of scraping pennies to get by, relying on government assistance, and having low expectations of herself and those around her. Teaching her children about fiscal responsibility and saving for the future was not only a foreign concept, it wasn’t even on her radar because all of her focus was on trying to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. These examples of barely getting by and relying on government assistance (or worse, criminal behavior) have been passed down for generations in Paul’s family. There is no safety net or springboard for Paul. He’s starting his adulthood behind the eight ball.


The Missing Middle


The divide between wealth and poverty has grown by leaps and bounds over the past three decades. Middle class households in America used to be able to afford a modest home in a safe area, providing stability from which to offer opportunities to their children and future generations. Today, middle class households can no longer afford that modest home or even to save for the future. The problem has become so wide-spread that there’s a term for it: The Missing Middle.


It’s called The Missing Middle because these households and individuals are caught in the middle - they don’t qualify for government assistance (they make “too much money”), but they can’t afford the basics. Saving for a downpayment to purchase a house is impossible, and the average purchase price is out of reach anyway. And rent is often unaffordable too.


The average purchase price of a house in Michigan increased by 50% between 1990 and 2000 ($60,100 in 1990; $115,600 in 2000). In Jackson, MI, the median listing price of a house in September 2023 is $180,000. Income has not kept pace with the rising cost of housing. The median income in Jackson, Michigan in 1990 was $28,000. In 2023, it’s $59,000.


The cost to purchase a home has tripled in the past 30 years, while income has increased only double.


Bridging the Gap


Habitat strives to give a hand up to people who have started life in difficult situations, or have fallen on hard times, and/or are part of The Missing Middle and struggling to keep a solid foundation under their feet. Over the years, the way we do this has evolved to meet the ever-changing needs of people in our communities.


This “hand up” takes various forms: financial education, housing counseling, down payment assistance for a home purchase, eviction or foreclosure prevention, and critical home repair assistance are a few examples.


We’ve worked hard to advocate for and create programs that include Middle Class America. In addition to creating much-needed opportunities, providing a hand up to this economic group can help create opportunities for lower income households and individuals as the pipeline bottleneck shrinks and available housing increases.


For more information on how Jackson Habitat provides opportunities for stable housing or to get involved in our mission, follow the news section of our website, sign up for our monthly e-newsletters, or contact Sheila Everts, Executive Director, at 517-784-6620 or sheilae@jacksonhabitat.org.



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