Living from Paycheck to Paycheck

by Judith A. McGee

Surveys show that many people today are living paycheck to paycheck, and most are just one unfortunate incident away from poverty. It’s becoming such a pervasive socioeconomic problem Maria Shiver is hoping to raise public awareness with an HBO documentary, “Paycheck to Paycheck.” A Town Hall-style meeting with Oprah followed soon after the broadcast of this television special.

What causes poverty?

The subject of poverty is complex. Does being born into the wrong zip code lock you into poverty?   Is it a cultural situation that may span generations? Is plain laziness at the root? Is it caused by low minimum wages or not enough work hours to earn a full paycheck with benefits? Or is it due to a flawed government policy that supports the unemployed until they earn that first paycheck—no matter how small—then abruptly pulls the plug on benefits like medical care, housing, and food stamps?

According to Allen Hunt, Executive Director of William Temple House, good hardworking people can fall into poverty, become homeless and hopeless because life happens to them; a job loss, illness, death in the family, etc. 

These people need a helping hand—at least for the first few steps so they can climb the rest of the way themselves. The first basic requirement is money for rent and utilities, emergency food and clothing, childcare, or car repair. Sometimes the greatest need is for someone who’ll just understand, listen, and offer guidance and resources.  Counseling is often the greatest gift that restores hope. 

While no single solution will fit all situations, I believe there are ways in which people can rebound from the precarious edge of poverty.  If someone came to me seeking counsel, I’d begin by asking questions that might shed light into their thought process and their own concepts about the situation. I’d also try to understand their family dynamics and cultural morays, as these could affect their support systems.  

Multiply your opportunities

Many people today think there is only so much “stuff” out there to go around. And it can appear that everybody else has already gotten most of it—jobs, money, opportunity, or whatever else they need but don’t have. They may ask,  “If all the good stuff is already divvied up and taken, what hope is there for me?” This is the subtle “victim mentality” trap that many fall into. 

Well, guess what. The natural law of things is NOT division. It’s multiplication! The first thing I would do is guide them toward changing their thought process. New creative ideas are continually presenting themselves to those who are open and willing to hear. It helps to turn off the TV, put those digital devices down for a couple of hours each day, and clear the mind. 

Be willing to change course

Maybe someone is looking for a job just like the one they lost because it feels familiar. Familiar is good, right?  Yes, but change can often be better!  If Henry Ford had asked people what they really needed most, they would have probably answered, “stronger and faster horses.” Where would we be today if Ford had listened to them and stuck to the familiar? 

Education and Free Support Sources 

Formal education is important, but it isn’t the only answer.  Experience and job/skill training can be just as important.   If you need help getting started in a new direction, a practical place to start is your local library with its vast reservoir of practical information and services: free Internet, community resources, and classes in everything from literacy to computer competency.  And don’t forget to inquire at religious and social service non-profit organizations.

For one of Oregon’s most beneficial resources, go to 

You’ll find plenty of free information with 3,000 agencies providing over 50,000 programs to people throughout the state.  

So, get ready! It’s time to start multiplying your opportunities!

This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Judith McGee and necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Links are being provided for information purposes only. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize or sponsor any of the listen websites or their respective sponsor. Raymond James is not responsible for the content of any website or the collection or use of information regarding any website’s users and/or members.