Sheridan — About 20 Sheridan employers, including city Mayor John Heath, gathered Thursday at the Holy Name Parish Hall to learn how they could help employees in need.

Regina Lewis, a consultant for  the aha! Process, Inc. training service, spoke to attendees about how to help end poverty in the community by helping employees who could be considered working poor.

“There are 10.4 million working poor who are hidden by the rules of their class,” Lewis said. “You many not know you have these employees. We don’t necessarily know what the working poor looks like.”

Lewis described how poverty for employees could be either generational or situational, but said that poverty is a difficult economic class to break out of due to behavior that follow the rules of that class.

“Each economic class has hidden rules and behaviors,” Lewis said. “The hidden rules of poverty run against the grain of the hidden rules of the middle class, and it can affect the way an employee performs, which can affect the way the rest of the workplace operates.”

Lewis explained that the hidden rules of poverty could keep an employee from advancing in a way that would help them out of their economic class, and that it is important for employers to recognize the signs of employees operating by those rules.

Employers need to keep an eye open for subtle signs of these hidden rules, Lewis said. Employees constantly rushing in at the last moment, bringing skimpy lunches or no meals at all or carrying new phones or wearing new shoes when they can’t pay their bills may be exhibiting the signs of poverty.

Lewis is a consultant for a training program called “Getting Ahead,” and pulled advice from the program to help advise employers how to recognize and understand working poor employees by understanding the rules of each economic class.

“The working poor live in the moment,” Lewis said. “The middle class looks toward the future. They view time differently. They view money differently.”

Lewis explained that the working poor are trapped in a “tyranny of poverty” that keeps them unbalanced in life and worrying about basic things such as transportation, communication, food and health care. Many, she said, are afraid to break away from the lives they are stuck in due to fear of losing certain benefits that they need in their present financial situations.

“Fear is the darkroom where negatives are developed,” Lewis said. “They need a support system that will help them out of their rut, and they don’t have that.”

Lewis emphasized, though, that employers can’t tell their employees how to move forward. She said the employees have to discover that for themselves through building relationships with people who can help them understand how to use the resources that are available to them.

“They need to learn what they’re capable of,” Lewis said. “But they need to write their own stories.”

Lewis warned that helping an employee in poverty move forward takes time, sometimes a year or more. She advised employers to encourage employees to attend programs such as “Bridges out of Poverty” or “Getting Ahead,” and to give them incentives to participate. During early programs, she said, she offered $25 checks for each time an employee showed up to a weekly meeting.

“I had one woman tell me that she started coming for the money,” Lewis said. “But she told me that now she was coming for what she was learning.”

Hidden Rules of Poverty

Money:

Money is something to be used and spent immediately. Small amounts are not going to help with a family’s financial problems, so it should be used on immediate needs. People following this hidden rule may often have new clothes, phones, jewelry or tattoos, but will not have enough to pay their bills.

Time:

There are not enough resources to deal with anything past today, so today must be the focus. People following this hidden rule will often be rushing in late, will deal with matters immediately, even if they are at work and will not have a vision for the future.

Food:

It doesn’t matter if the food is good or nutritious, only that there is enough to go around. There is no guarantee that the family will always have enough to eat. People following this hidden rule will often have lunches made up of empty calories or cheap, poor quality food.

Education:

Education is important, but it is out of reach. People following this hidden rule will revere education, but they do not believe it will ever be a reality for them.

Source: Aa presentation given by Regina Lewis Oct. 16 at the Holy Family Parish Hall in Sheridan.