By Brenda Robinson
If America is the land of opportunity, there must be a new way of counting. Two plus two no longer equals four. Reportedly, since 2009, ninety-five percent of economic gains have gone to the richest one percent. If this trend continues, educational achievement and gainful employment, will be inaccessible to a majority of Americans. If this direction is not halted, crime will escalate as sentiments of hopelessness will replace the “American dream.” In other words, poverty is destroying America. We must halt this pattern.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, poverty is a family of four (two adults, two children under 18 years old) earning less that $23,021 yearly. Of course, poverty income levels vary by region. Poverty level, by the same described family size, is $31,081 in rural Nebraska, but $66,656 in Boston. In 2011, 46.2 million Americans were living in poverty. The educational impact on these Americans is overwhelming. Let’s examine the data.
Children who live in poverty have a higher number of absenteeism days than those students who are not living in poverty. The excessively absent students said their absences were due to taking care of family members and working to obtain dollars for family emergencies. Students living in poverty are seven times more likely to drop out of school than those from families with higher incomes. Forty-percent of children who live in poverty are not prepared for primary schooling. The situation is more bleak for minority students. By the end of fourth-grade, African American, Hispanic and low-income students are already two years behind grade level. By the time they reach the 12th grade, they are four years behind. And, the nation’s lowest performing high schools produce 58 percent of all African American dropouts and 50 percent of all Hispanic dropouts, compared to 22 percent of all white dropouts.
What a waste of America’s most precious resources, our children. Generally, America’s conservative approach has been ineffective; calling upon adults in poverty to make a choice to do better, and petitioning philanthropy groups to help people out of poverty. What an inhumane approach to solve the problem. And, the liberal approach has been government has a role, but “we can neither fully fund, nor innovatively restructure the educational system for fear of alienating the status quo.” What an ineffective way to solve the problem. America must accept one of two realities. Either poverty is eliminated and thus all children are equipped with the tools to learn in current school environments, or children who live in poverty are provided, within school systems, types of influences and environments that foster learning.
Long-term unemployment is also destroying America. The Urban Institute described it best:
“The relationship between growing long-term and poverty runs both ways, where poverty can reinforce joblessness, just like joblessness can increase poverty.”
Most of us have transported people to job interviews who have no money for bus fare and no car to drive. Community agencies provide bus passes to people who are seeking employment, but have missed interviews due to no transportation. Paying for childcare, just to go for an interview, becomes a hardship. A never-ending cycle becomes a reality. The longer an individual is unemployed, the harder finding work becomes. The unemployed become discouraged, networking tools diminish and conservatives shout even louder, “they are lazy and don’t want to work.” There are reasonable solutions, which include raising the minimum wage and the creation of real job training and placement programs.
For centuries, sociologist and theologians have concluded there is a direct correlation between crime and poverty. Catholics, for centuries, have prioritized “giving alms to the poor.”
Yet, America continues to build more prisons, expand law enforcement, and vote for politicians who commit to “getting tough on criminals.” Some uninformed people will ask, “If poverty breeds crime then why don’t all poor people commit street crime?” The answer, my friend, is the same as the reason all rich business people don’t embezzle, being: “Regardless of the problems (financial, social, or emotional), I see a way out of my circumstances.” Poverty has become so much an acceptable condition in America, some of our citizens have lost all hope for a way out.
We just have no argument for statistical studies. An October 2013 FBI report revealed the 10 cities with the highest violent crime rates all had poverty rates more than 50 percent. While the cities with the “worst” violent crime rates had poverty rates from 30 to 41 percent. Those cities were Flint Michigan and Detroit, respectively.
So, here’s where we stand: Americans can no longer ignore the degrading manner in which non-rich people are treated. Our charge is to carefully evaluate the platforms of politicians, before casting our votes. We must support any efforts to raise the minimum wage. We must financially contribute to organizations working for economic equality. Finally, and most importantly, let’s seek and hope to find a leader who can mobilize this country to uniformly “do the right thing” for all of it’s citizens.
Now that we know better, let’s do better.
Brenda Robinson is an NNPA Emory O. Jackson award-winning columnist for Frost Illustrated.