It can seem impossible to get ahead when you’re earning minimum wage. The idea of an emergency fund is nice, but to save for one, you must have money left at the end of the month.

MarketWatch recently published a story about a San Francisco program that helps low-wage workers begin to save and develop better money skills. The Earned Asset Resource Nework (EARN for short) is a non-profit organization providing financial assistance and education to those who need it most.

EARN empowers people to escape poverty. From the organization’s mission statement: “EARN breaks the cycle of poverty by matching the savings of low-wage workers and helping them invest in assets that build wealth, creating a cycle of prosperity across generations. ”

The MarketWatch article provides a little more information:

Participants in EARN have a household income of about $18,000, on average, yet manage to put aside almost 5% of their income each month. The U.S. savings rate in 2007 was just 0.6%. For every dollar a participant saves up to $2,000, EARN pays $2. That means those who complete the program can walk away with as much as $6,000.

EARN doesn’t just give participants the money, though. To obtain the matching funds, savers must:

  • Attend eight hours of financial workshops with topics like “Investing 101″ and “The Language of Money”.
  • Save toward a specific goal (buying a house, paying for college, starting a business).
  • Spend six hours in “asset-specific training” about their chosen savings goal.
  • Occasionally attend additional workshops.

The attitudes of those interviewed for the MarketWatch piece are awesome. “It’s just a breakthrough, the frame of mind, in terms of poverty,” says one participant. “To be able to overlook the poverty, the fear and all that, and be able to say, ‘Yes, I can do it.‘”

It’s also encouraging that these savers continue to put money way even after they’ve finished the program.

Most of the personal-finance advice available in books, in magazines, and on the web is targeted at people in the vast middle class. There’s not a lot of help for those mired in poverty. (And economic mobility for these folks is difficult, even with a college education. Only 5% of those without a degree ever escape poverty.) I believe it’s important to acknowledge and to support those resources that provide tools for the poor.

When I wrote about micro-lending and the battle against world poverty, some readers wondered if there were similar programs for people in the United States. EARN isn’t exactly the same thing, but it’s close. This is a charity I will gladly support. (And I would love to hear about similar programs in other cities, states, and countries.)

[Thanks to GRS-reader Joyce for submitting this story idea!]

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