Financial Stability: Rethinking Economic Upward Mobility

Person holds a smartphone with mobile banking icons projection

At Gulfcoast Legal Services, we find that there is no lack of support from the community and funders for topics such as preventing homelessness and stopping domestic violence. But how do we help those who need support to become financially stable? This begs the question: why is there less support for financial stability? Is it merely a perception issue? Do we stigmatize individuals for what appears to be financial decision making when they are being forced to make difficult financial decisions?

Legal services providers address various social issues like hunger, homelessness, and abuse. However, financial instability often underpins these issues. For instance, economic inequality and unemployment are primary causes of homelessness, leading to evictions and other legal cases the team at GLS handle. Similarly, financial dependency can trap individuals in abusive relationships. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence identifies the lack of financial means or access to assets as a significant barrier for those trying to leave abusive situations.

Financial stability is intertwined with almost all the work we do, impacting Housing, Family Law, Immigration, Human Trafficking, and Services for Older Adults. Our financial stability team assists individuals in obtaining essential documents, such as a birth certificate or social security card such that they can apply for housing or social security benefits, which can transform their lives. We also assist with consumer law-related matters, ensuring people receive money owed to them, whether from a small business or large corporations. For some, this can mean covering a month’s rent, paying for necessary medication, or feeding their family.

As a community, it is important to understand the decision-making processes of those from vulnerable backgrounds. Research by Loibl (2017) in “Living in Poverty: Understanding the Financial Behaviour of Vulnerable Groups” highlights several critical points.

1. The financial environment can facilitate certain financial behaviors.

2. Characteristics of low-income individuals negatively impact financial decision-making.

3. Living in poverty restricts households’ flexibility to cope with financial challenges due to limited access to credit and higher risks of income and health shocks.

4. Resource scarcity limits self-control, reduces cognitive resources, and causes stress, fear, and anxiety, leading to short-sighted, risk-averse decisions while neglecting ongoing or longer-term problems.

Are we too harsh on those who are faced with making hard financial decisions? How can we better understand how legal services provided by our financial stability team help alleviate barriers that lead to tough decision-making? Are we judging people living in poverty without fully understanding their circumstances?

We invite you to shift perspective and join us in promoting economic upward mobility within the communities we serve. By supporting financial stability initiatives, we can help individuals overcome barriers, make better financial decisions, and ultimately improve their quality of life. Let’s challenge ourselves to see beyond the surface and understand the deeper issues at play. Together, we can create a community that supports all its members in achieving upward economic mobility.

Learn more about our services offered for financial stability here.