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Poverty Studies Leads to Policy Research Aspirations

By Morgan Hobbs

Ms. Hobbs works at Mathematica Policy Research in Washington, D.C. as a Research Assistant. She is a 2015 graduate of Furman University where she studied economics and poverty studies. ​​​​​

This past spring, my peers and I spent countless hours working on resumes, cover letters and applications for jobs we hoped to acquire after graduation. During this period of uncertainty, I thought back to the most meaningful experience listed on my resume thus far: my summer internship with Career Collaborative in Boston, MA. Representing Furman University through the Shepherd Consortium, my internship was a firsthand encounter with the complexities of working class poverty and consisted of eight weeks helping low – income adults on the path to employment.

Morgan Hobbs (Furman 2015)  interned at the Career Collaborative in Boston.

Morgan Hobbs (Furman 2015) interned at Career Collaborative in Boston.

I was fortunate to study poverty and human capability in the classroom and grapple with the realities of inequality as an intern during college. Through my minor in poverty studies and work with Career Collaborative and other non-profit organizations, I was challenged to ponder the role of public policy in poverty alleviation and question my professional and personal decision-making in relation to what I learned. This academic and experiential foundation for grappling with inequality has certainly informed my post-grad decision to pursue a career in social policy research.

As an economics major at a liberal arts university, I took interdisciplinary classes to explore poverty within the context of labor, development, and education policy. While this academic study was valuable and important, nothing could have prepared me for the lessons I would learn from my Career Collaborative clients and Shepherd Consortium colleagues. The clients I worked with at my internship faced various barriers to employment and job retention including but not limited to lack of experience, education, and personal networks. Career Collaborative is supported by a dedicated staff that works to equalize the job search, collaborating with clients individually to reach a “target job” which can provide a full-time and long-term source of income with benefits.

At Career Collaborative, bell ringing from the main meeting room is a signal to the employees, interns and clients that someone has accepted a full-time job. This is an occasion of pride for the hard-working client who had accepted the offer and a bittersweet moment for the rest of the clients still on the job hunt. During my time, bell-ringing became symbolic of low-income adults overcoming some of the complexities of job placement that I had never fully considered before. Cultural differences, lack of access to child care and blatant discrimination in the workforce are just some of the obstacles that my clients faced in their pursuit to obtain and retain employment.

As the Shepherd interns who were placed at locations across the country gathered for our closing conference, I learned that the other interns had grown to be just as passionate as I had about the issue that their organization addressed. My peers shared eagerly about everything from health care access to nutrition to after-school care. That summer changed my college and post-grad trajectory in that I realized my desire to work outside the realm of non-profit organizations and specifically to pursue interests in policy, data analytics and economic research. This past July, I became a Research Assistant at Mathematica Policy Research in Washington, D.C. With the goal of improving public well-being through objective research and evaluation, my work allows me to pursue my interests while working to advance social programs that are safety nets for people like my former clients at Career Collaborative.

Regardless of professional path or personal circumstance, grappling with the pervasive inequalities in our country and in our world and finding some way to contribute to the solution using one’s passions is a worthy pursuit. Poverty alleviation should not be left exclusively for politicians and non-profit organizations to tackle. My experience “studying poverty” has instilled in me that whether your passion is finance or medicine or history, we all have a contribution to make and that contribution will evolve over the course of our lives.


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