An Interview with Joseph Sanberg

YCA recently interviewed entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist Joseph Sanberg. We discussed his background, the work he has done to help others in his home state of California, and the importance of young people being involved in their communities.

Can you provide some background information on yourself (where you grew up, what experiences have brought you to where you are today, etc)?

My mom raised me in Orange County, California.  Like so many in my generation, my mom raised me by herself with help from my grandparents (her parents).  My father bullied my mom and our families in so many ways. Ultimately, he drove my mom and us deep into financial crises that ended with our losing our home to foreclosure. Through it all, though, my mom always turned us toward helping others.  As long as I can remember, my mom always emphasized that our purpose in life is to do everything we can to help others and help those who are in trouble and in need.  

How has the work you have done through CalEITC4Me helped families, especially young families, in California?

The biggest thing that has changed since I was a kid 30 years ago (I’m 38) is that it’s harder than ever for working families in California to afford life’s basic needs.  There are more moms like mine who are working hard yet struggle paycheck to paycheck.  The reality of California is far from the progressive rhetoric you hear on TV or read on Twitter.  1 of 5 Californians live in poverty.  Another 1 of 5 Californians live near poverty.  And 3 of 4 Californians couldn’t handle a $700 surprise expense.  That means 3 of 4 Californians are a small health problem away from financial crisis.  

Most people who are working can’t afford life’s basic needs.  It shouldn’t be that way.  Everyone who works should be able to afford life’s basic needs.  

Our mission with CalEITC4Me is to make work pay better.  During the past 3 years as I’ve traveled throughout California and spent time with families we serve, I’ve heard first hand stories so similar to what my mom experienced when she was raising me and working to provide for our family.  These aren’t just stories of dollars and cents, they are stories of single moms and kids who don’t get to spend time together because of the burden of working multiple jobs that pay too low wages.

Let this be clear: it doesn’t have to be this way.  We absolutely can create a future where everyone who works can afford life’s basic needs.  We have to make work pay and we have to make life’s basic needs affordable.  There are many smart policies that can create that kind of future like a minimum wage that equals a living wage, more Earned Income Tax Credit and Medicare For All.

Why do you believe making positive investments in your community, financially and by volunteering, is so important? What are some of the best ways for young people to improve their communities?

I think we each have a special responsibility in our lives to do as much as we can to help others.  Imagine the world if each of us focused on what we could do to help others in trouble and in need.  The path out of the current mess in our world is focusing on helping others.  We need to create a culture of service that honors helping others rather than obsesses over instant fame and gratification.  As Bobby Kennedy said, “GDP measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

The best ways to help others and your community really depend on the needs in your community and the problems that your friends and neighbors are experiencing.  Helping others begins by taking the time to listen to and understand others. So, the first step in improving your community is to understand what your community needs.

Would you ever run for public office? If you would, why?

I think we should each serve where we are needed throughout our lives.  I would consider running for public office if at some point that would be the best way for me to serve and help others.

Why should young people participate in politics and what are the benefits of their involvement?

There are many meaningful ways to serve and help others.  Politics is one of the ways to help solve big problems.  There are so many problems in our world today that we have to use every way available to fix things.  That means we have to participate in politics, community service, treating others kindly during our daily lives and everything in between.  

Thank you to Joseph Sanberg for sharing his insights!


Written by Kate Canavan

YCA Editor-in-Chief

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