Bandwidth Poverty, Barriers to Employment and Potential Solutions

Here’s a new term for you to think about: “bandwidth poverty”. What do you suppose this term means? Xavier Ramey, the founder of Justice Informed and advisor to Solve, recently brought “bandwidth poverty” to my attention and my team has been using this term ever since to motivate us in our work. In this blog post, we’ll dive into bandwidth poverty and how it prevents residents from underserved communities from realizing their potential in the workforce.

Bandwidth poverty (source): An attention shortage that creates a negative, reinforcing cycle and contributes to less-than-optimal decision making that leaves individuals worse off than before. When we experience financial poverty, for example, we focus on the immediate need to make money or to pay a bill and don’t leave significant bandwidth or mental space to consider future needs.

When it comes to hiring, employers need to understand the effects of bandwidth poverty on some of their potential candidates and new hires. In addition to securing a stable job, there are other challenges that could be crowding an employee’s mental space such as:

  • Transportation – how will this individual commute to their job from home?
  • Childcare – can this individual afford to hire childcare services while they are at work?
  • Food – can this individual provide adequate nutrition for his or her family?
  • Trauma – is there a pre-existing emotional, physical or mental trauma this individual needs treatment for?

These four barriers can occur both pre-employment and post-placement and can even lead to poor retention rates.

But there is hope for positive change. Here are two examples of solutions that Solve has discovered since starting our journey.

The first example is the simplest yet most innovative: Access United, an initiative supporting access to career and training pipelines in the unionized construction trades, is piloting a $100,000 fund. This fund, managed by United Way of Metro Chicago in partnership with the Chicago Community Trust, the Obama Family Foundation, and the Chicago Federation of Labor, will support the reduction of identified barriers to securing employment through the administration of financial assistance coupled with wrap-around supportive services.

The second example pertains to the employer. Much like the Google’s of the world, employers can go outside the box to attract talent from under resourced communities and employ unique tactics that directly address individuals affected by poverty bandwidth. In this five minute TEDx Talk, one company describes how they resolved a common challenge their employees experienced (transportation) with one simple, cost-effective solution.

A model similar to the TEDx Talk above is live right now in Chicago and sponsored by the Manufacturing Performance Center’s Tony Garritano and Xavier Hernandez. Much like the problem described in the TEDx Talk above, Tony and Xavier are providing their employees with affordable and convenient transportation options to their firms out in Elgin.

As employers look to add to their teams, I ask that they stop to consider what challenges may be impacting the individual sitting across from them during a job interview. What did it take for that potential hire to even physically be present during the interview? Are there children waiting for this person to come home or pressing bills that need to be paid? It’s important to keep in mind the different things like transportation and childcare that can take away an employee’s ability to devote their entire time to their work.

Together, it’s time to Solve the many barriers to employment and create inclusive growth for all!

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