SCARBOROUGH — As a private-practice career counselor, I work with a range of clients, most of whom have the financial resources to seek improved career satisfaction rather than worry about where they will sleep or if they can pay the rent.

Another population I encounter through volunteering in the nonprofit sector endures barriers unknown to most of us. They face a variety of challenges to their financial stability, including disability, mental health issues, unexpected unemployment, immigration status, lack of employable skills, lack of transportation, minimum-wage jobs or the need to care for a family member.

There is a growing view that the resolution to these issues lies within the person and that society should play an increasingly diminished role in assisting them. This view is reflected in the many legislative proposals – both in Maine and nationally – to reduce or eliminate the eligibility of targeted groups for General Assistance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, food stamps and other programs.

In my opinion, the movement to impose arbitrary limits on benefit eligibility or to save money by eliminating supportive programming ignores exigent individual circumstances and is shortsighted and economically unsound.

Economists have lamented that Maine faces a demographic winter, which simply means that we experience more deaths than births. Having too few young people will, over the long run, mean that Maine will lack the skilled workers necessary to replace the fast-retiring baby boomers. In fact, this situation already is evolving when one looks at the local employment needs of companies such as Idexx, which lists over 65 position openings on its website.

As further documentation, a recent study by Gary Yates, director of site selection for JLL, a Chicago-based firm specializing in commercial real estate services and investment management, found that corporate executives rate the availability of skilled workers as the single greatest factor in companies’ decisions to plan new facilities, relocate or expand.


It seems clear that if we wish to offer an attractive environment for in-migration to support business expansion and relocation, we must maximize the career development of our resident population.

While pre-K education, job training and benefit programs, such as General Assistance, do have a cost, the investments we make now will pay off many times over.

Children from low-income families who profit from pre-K education are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to post-secondary education. The physically challenged person or New Mainer may become the health professional of tomorrow.

The individual laboring in a low-wage job or the person affected by mental illness may become a successful entrepreneur. It is to the advantage of the business community and our legislators to recognize this potential now and make those investments proactively.

Some have taken issue with this approach, suggesting that there is limited motivation to work among those who participate in various benefit programs.

A recent Portland Press Herald article about a hearing in Augusta on proposed public assistance reforms included the thoughts of Antonie Bikamba, who fled political persecution and torture in Rwanda.


After a period on General Assistance, while awaiting a work permit, he earned a master’s degree and currently is a caseworker at Preble Street.

He is quoted as saying: “I didn’t cross the ocean to receive General Assistance. I came to Maine because I wanted a new life.”

Antonie Bikamba’s goal of achieving a “new life” is not only inspirational, it is the norm for New Mainers. Helping our neighbors in need to advance their career paths and climb the financial stability ladder through providing strategic supports is not only the right thing to do, but will benefit us all.

As a career planning professional, I encourage my clients to look ahead and make realistic plans for the future. In this spirit, I feel that it is critical that business, government, social service providers and the greater community come together to determine how we can work collectively to leverage our educational, financial and occupational resources to assist those in need to rise above their challenges.

Instead of making program cuts to save revenue today, let’s invest in programs that will facilitate the career development of those facing adversity and thereby create a welcoming environment which will lead to greater economic prosperity for Maine.

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