Nick Kristoff wrote a follow-up to the column published in last week’s NYTimes on children raised in poverty that include this finding:
A Pew survey this year found that a majority of Republicans, and almost one-third of Democrats, believe that if a person is poor the main reason is “lack of effort on his or her part.”
The article featured a picture of a single mom with a tattoo reading to her child and, predictably from my perspective, some readers looked at the picture and castigated the women’s decision to spend money on her tattoo instead of on her child. Kristoff noted that the young mother got the tattoo before she gave birth to her child, but both the decision to get the tattoo and create a child out of wedlock are, in the minds of many, morally questionable and in the minds of even more people fiscally irresponsible. Instead of focusing on the mother, though, Kristoff rightfully focusses on the child:
…if you’re one of the one-fifth of children in West Virginia born with drugs or alcohol in your system, if you ingest lead from peeling paint as a toddler, if your hearing or vision impairments aren’t detected, if you live in a home with no books in a gang-ridden neighborhood with terrible schools — in all these cases, you’re programmed for failure as surely as children of professionals are programed for success.
So when kids in poverty stumble, it’s not quite right to say that they “failed.” Often, they never had a chance.
One of the unstated dilemmas Americans face isn’t a lack of compassion, but the demand for us to be compassionate for so many people in the world. The poor child in Appalachia is as deserving of compassion as the Syrian refugees, as the girls who are denied an education in the Middle East, and the many children in African nations who are starving. But somehow a child raised in poverty in America seems less deserving of compassion because their parents HAD an opportunity and squandered it while the parents of children in the other circumstances did not. So instead of having empathy for the child in poverty in our country and providing the resources needed to break the cycle of poverty in our country, we “spend” some of our “compassionate attention and resources” on children across the globe.
In te article, Kristoff describes the big heartedness of one of the Appalachian residents:
The generosity of the poor always impresses me. In West Virginia, I visited a trailer that housed eight people and sometimes many more. A woman in the home, Lynmarie Sargent, 30, was once homeless with a month-old baby, and that discomfort and humiliation seared her so that she lets other needy families camp out in her trailer and eat. Sometimes she houses as many as 17.
I’m not sure that Kristoff chose the right verb… I think that Sergeants emergence from “that discomfort and humiliation” provided her with deep gratitude and that gratitude compelled her to provide a roof over the heads of those suffering the same fate as she did. Kristoff DOES close his article with an accurate assessment of what is needed from our country:
(Poor children) shouldn’t be written off at the age of 3 because of the straw he drew in the lottery of birth. To spread opportunity, let’s start by pointing fewer fingers and offering more helping hands.
Charles Blow’s column in today’s NYTimes, “Fathers’ Sons and Brothers’ Keepers”, opens with this:
Frederick Douglass once noted, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
One of my volunteer activities is serving on the board of the Dismas House, a transitional home for formerly incarcerated men. The home we are about to open will house roughly a dozen of these men in a “family environment” where volunteers from the community will provide evening meals served family style and will find ways to help these men transition into the workforce after serving their sentences in prison. These men are often ex-addicts, individuals who struggled in school, and individuals who had difficulty securing and holding onto gainful employment. My daughter, whose work at a non-profit organization in NYC brings her in contact with this population, calls the effort we are doing “re-parenting”. In effect, we are providing the nurturing environment these young men never had when they were growing up and, as Douglas quote indicates, repairing “broken men” requires an all out effort of an entire region.
At the same time, school districts in this same region— and across both Vermont and New Hampshire and the nation for that matter— are struggling to fund existing programs let alone ones the would relatively easily “build strong children”. A clear case in point is prekindergarten, which politicians are defining narrowly and simplistically as an academic readiness program. If we want to avoid the repair of broken men, we need to fund wraparound programs before students enter school, fund alternative approaches to learning for students struggling in school, and some kind of work study programs for students who have either dropped out of school or failed to find gainful employment once they graduate. To do anything less will build more broken men…. and more prisons to house them.
The Washington Post reported on a recent study conducted by Demand Institute, a nonprofit group run by the Conference Board and Nielsen, which analyzed prices of owner-occupied homes in 2,200 of the largest cities and towns. The study found that 10 percent of communities held 52 percent of total housing wealth — about $4.4 trillion and the bottom 40 percent held 8 percent of the wealth, or $700 billion. The Post went on to note that:
The disparity has remained constant for years, with little movement in and out of the top and bottom rungs, the report says. Also, although home values rose across the board from 2000 to 2012, the gains totaled nearly $2 trillion for the top 10 percent but $260 billion for the bottom 40 percent.
The authors concluded that the national recovery in home values since then “masks wide local discrepancies, with some markets soaring ahead of others,” a theme that’s been sounded more than once this week with the release of various home value measures that also show wide variations among localities.
Given that schools are funded with property tax, and given that standardized test scores correlate highly with income, is it any surprise that test “value measures” show wide and persistent disparities?
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