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How do people move up the economic ladder?

Episcopal Community Services looks at the whole person working to thrive in all aspects of life

The Bridge to Self-Sufficiency® is an illustrative tool, developed by Economic Mobility Pathways (EMPath) that is used to guide participants in setting goals and charting their path to economic mobility. EMPath is an international charitable organization dedicated to creating new pathways to economic independence for low-income individuals and their families. The Bridge serves as a brain-science informed scaffold that helps participants manage crises and develop or improve their executive functioning skills by pulling themselves up along the Bridge. There are five pillars to the Bridge. Within each pillar, there are a set of circumstances that explain a person’s standing from the top, most self-sufficient, to the bottom, where assistance is needed.

In order to attain full economic independence—no longer being dependent upon government subsidies and having a career that pays a living wage—people have to optimize their lives in each of the five pillars: Family Stability; Health and Wellbeing; Financial Management; Education and Training; and Employment and Career Management.

To more clearly understand what it means to be self-sufficient according to the Bridge, we will look at the situation of Javier.

Family Stability

Javier is able to meet the needs of his family and home with minimal interventions

Javier is independently housed and pays 100 percent of his rent on his own. He also does not rely on utility assistance. Javier makes a living wage, and his rent costs less than 30 percent of his after-tax income. He is a single father of one child, but has access to affordable childcare. Happy and healthy, the needs of his son do not serve as barriers to Javier’s educational or employment responsibilities.

Health and Wellbeing

Javier’s health could make or break his ability to be effective in other areas of his life

Outside of this relationship with his son, Javier is fully engaged in employment and healthy supportive relationships. He is actively engaged in a support system, and serves as an advocate and social support to others. No physical, mental, or behavioral health issues impose his ability to obtain economic independence.

Financial Management

Javier keeps adding to his banking and paying off debts

Javier is able to sustain his economic independence by having more than three months of his living expenses as liquid assets—items that can be easily converted into cash. He also manages his debt to his income, so his credit score does not serve as a barrier.

Education & Training

With a credential in his field of work, Javier is better able to secure employment that has meaning and value

Javier obtained his Associate’s degree in Recording and Audio Engineering from Community College of Philadelphia. This educational achievement has lead Javier to a career that pays a living wage.

Employment & Career Management

A career with a living wage allows Javier to comfortably handle financial aspects of his life

Javier holds a job as an Audio Visual Field Service Engineer that earns him a living wage as one adult with one dependent.

The scaffolding effect of the Bridge

Each pillar relies on the stability of the others. When more are strong, one is better positioned to handle unexpected hardships

The Bridge demonstrates how interconnected each of these pillars are in relation to the ability to be self-sufficient. If there is one drastic change or shift in one pillar, other pillars on the Bridge will also shift. For example, if Javier were to get severely injured or sick, his ability to work would be impacted, resulting loss of his job. Unemployment would negatively affect his ability to pay rent; he would also not be able to afford childcare for his son. This could impact the stability of housing for Javier and his son, leading them to live in subsidized housing or become homeless. Every aspect of life needs to be addressed and considered in order to attain or sustain true economic independence. The Bridge also demonstrates the need to be comprehensive in approach, and the time required to move up the steps of each pillar.

The coaching process uses the Bridge to Self-Sufficiency® as the organizing framework to:

  • assess where participants are on each of the five pillars
  • prioritize the skills most important for the participant's situations
  • develop individualized specific goals that will move the participant toward economic self-sufficiency
  • identify supports and challenges and develop strategies for utilizing supports and overcoming challenges
  • identify action steps to reach their goals
  • work on goals using the Goal Action Plan (GAP)
  • and celebrate success and reflect on what could be improved