She’d had it with people on food stamps and public aid! Those people have lived that way for generations and she thinks they have it pretty good. She works hard. Why should her taxes go to help them? People who have done well financially should be rewarded, not punished by higher taxes.
I was hiking and camping with a convivial group of women, ranging in age from 50 to 80, and this was our first day. Judging by her friends, my guess is that this is a blind spot and, other than this, she is a kind, interesting person. Surely she, and everyone on that trip, is a member of the 99%, and would be unaffected by a tax increase on incomes exceeding $250,000. I tried to explain that poverty is a complex problem but, sensing that her views were hardened, and the friendly nature of the group, I didn’t invite rancor by trying to get her to see the flaw in her analysis and the logic of mine.
After a delicious dinner and a pleasant evening around the campfire, she packed up her stuff to take to her campsite about 40 feet away. Saying that she couldn’t carry everything, she asked for help, which I happily gave. She didn’t catch the irony: unable to carry everything on her own, she needed a bit of help, a leg up so to speak.
We bleed poor neighborhoods of every kind of resource–safe, affordable housing, good schools, nourishing food and jobs–and then punish them for being poor. We don’t provide the building blocks so that they can create productive lives but we are quick to condemn them for being poor and lazy.
Poverty and despair toss a net of hopelessness over a person, a family or even an entire neighborhood. Bolstering families and supporting programs that improve education are two ideas that can help to turn the tide toward stability and a brighter future.
The surest way to break the cycle of poverty is education and catching children early casts the die for achievement. Supporting schools so that they can deliver the ticket to success in life is smart and a good investment in human capital. Not enough schools meet this standard. Head Start, and Early Head Start, do a terrific job of getting children, and their parents, ready for kindergarten so that they show up ready to learn. These programs pay for themselves many times over.
Once children are in school, a solid reading foundation is the building block that sets the stage for everything else. Reading in Motion, a not-for-profit program operating in inner-city schools, uses the arts to teach reading to children in the first through the third grades. RIM achieves impressive results. One study showed that 75 percent of kindergartners achieved grade-level reading compared with a mere 17 percent at a comparable, but non-RIM participating, Chicago Public School. (Disclosure: Karl Androes, the executive director who founded RIM with two other artists 28 years ago, is a friend.)
Bolstering families and communities is the work of New Community Vision. Many people don’t have nearby families, church affiliation or responsive neighborhoods to lean on for encouragement and support. Creating stronger, more resilient communities is a worthwhile undertaking. Facilitated, monthly community mixers provide the occasion for people to meet, mingle, socialize and brainstorm for solutions that can improve their lives. Facilitated housing mixers are gatherings where people can explore a broad range of housing options that may be more appropriate and satisfying for various life stages, whether that is just starting out or winding down.
The social and economic problems that are tearing the fabric of our culture require new approaches. Bolstering families and neighborhoods and making sure that children have solid reading skills are good places to start.
If you are in Chicago and want to explore your housing options in a wider context, join us for the housing mixers at the United Church of Rogers Park on the second Monday of the month.