• Julie Cason

Bootstraps & Benefits

What the Right and Left Understand about Poverty and

How We Can Work Together for Lasting Solutions

By Scott C. Miller, Founder of Circles USA, and Denise D. Rhoades, Hartsook Companies, Inc.

This book, co-authored by Scott C. Miller, founder of Circles USA and Circles ABQ Start-Up Team member, is a great introduction to what there is to do to end poverty. Here's an overview of what you can learn, chapter by chapter.


This book explores how we all can work together for the common cause of eradicating poverty. Simply defined:

  • Bootstraps are persons inclined to focus on what individuals can do to improve their own circumstances.

  • Benefits are persons inclined to focus on what society can do to improve the circumstances of groups of people.

Chapter 1: Going in Circles

“We do not have to agree on everything to do something, but we do need a framework of

understanding—or we will spend the next 50 years spinning our wheels” (37).

Chapter 2: Endgame

“Taking a Bootstraps and Benefits approach means starting with a shared endgame, not a hidden agenda—no matter how noble we believe our intentions and agendas to be.

To have a shared endgame, we establish specific goals, define the terms, measure the outcomes, and adapt the procedures based on the findings” (42).

Chapter 3: Assumptions and Allegations

“When we feel drawn into conflict, we can ask ourselves: “Am I fact finding or fault finding?” In a challenging moment, it may feel easier to find fault, but fanning conflict is more stressful in the long run, and it is not part of the Circles culture” (59).

Chapter 4: Targeting 200% of the FPG

“The Federal Poverty Guidelines is not an ideal standard for assessing economic stability, but it serves as a metric for calculating a family’s movement out of poverty. Circles uses the 200% target because it represents what most people really need to be self-sufficient, depending on the region of the country and whether people live in urban or rural communities” (67).

Chapter 5: Targeting a 10% Reduction in Poverty

“The endgame of Circles is to develop a critical mass of Circles around the country that are

committed to reducing poverty by 10% in their area by helping Circle Leaders move toward 200% of the FPG” (77).

Chapter 6: The Cliff Effect

“The Cliff Effect represents one of the biggest barriers for individuals striving to move out of

poverty. It creates a phantom workforce where individuals work fewer hours or below their

potential because benefits from assistance programs drop off at a faster rate than increases in earned income” (84).

Chapter 7: About Circles

“Circles USA is an initiative with 70 chapters in over 20 states and parts of Canada, and it is still growing. Circles offers a unique relationship-based strategy that engages the entire community to move from poverty management to collaborative ownership of the solutions to poverty” (97).

Chapter 8: Begin the End of Poverty

“If you are ready to take the next step to end poverty in your community one family at a time, we invite you to join us” (112).

If you'd like to read the entire book, you can order a copy here:


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