Monday, March 07, 2005

Connections - The Cycle of Poverty

For awhile now I have wanted to touch on the subject of connections - how one topic can relate to another through a maze of oddly attached information.

What do low performing schools and jury duty have in common? In a recent Houston Chronicle report, the three best performing and three least performing high schools were investigated. It seems there is no direct link between how much money is spent per student and how well students perform on standardized tests. The lower performing schools spend more and score lower. The report's conclusion points to the culture in which the students live, their parents and peers, for a clue to their expected level of success. The well-to-do, do well; the poor do poorly.

In a different article research was presented that shows predominately poor areas have a shockingly low rate of jury duty attendance, while upper-income residents attend more frequently. Strangely, the two maps, when overlaid, agreed to an alarming degree. So what does this tell us? The poor do badly in school and then go on to be bad little civic citizens? Is it coincidence, or is there a connection?

Ask the schools why the kids are underachieving and they cite lack of help at home with school work and poor communication between school and home. Ask parents the same question and they express lack of time, language difficulties, and distrust of the system. Ask the courts why people don't serve jury duty and the same type of reasons arise. Fear of missing work and losing jobs, uneasiness with the law and the courts. Poor students missing out of education because their parents are not willing or able to work within the education system; poor defendants missing out on a jury of their peers because those same parents and peers distrust the legal system. Connection = a disconnect.

Why does the lower-class/ under-class in America so disavow the government of the people, by the people, for the people? Small wonder when every day there is a new law, a new rule, a change in how they are viewed, counted, helped or denied help. Tax cuts for wealthy and middle income citizens don't apply to them because "they don't pay taxes." Yet here in Texas the poor are subjected to the highest real tax rate because most of our state funds come from sales tax, which hit the lowest earners the hardest (and aren't tax deductible because they don't itemize). The deficit means across the line budget cuts in all social programs and Bush has proposed to eliminate hundreds more. Minority and lower income young people have been killed in Iraq in larger numbers, are in prisoned more often and more likely to get the death penalty. It really sucks to be poor.

Why doesn't the Bush government (and GOP as a whole) care about this issue? The poor don't vote, for the same reasons they don't buy into government systems that keep them disenfranchised, and they definitely don't contribute to party coffers, so why should Republican's give a damn. Why should the Dems care? Because there are a lot of poor in America, and their numbers promise to keep growing as the Reperves keep stacking the deck against them. Why should middle and upper income Americans care? Because the cycle of poverty is growing ever wider. It encompasses minority communities, former industrial areas where factories have closed, farming families, and anyone whose job has been outsourced overseas. And when not just a few people, but who communities, whole cities become poor, those parents and those peer groups become us. We are all connected because we are all Americans. If half our human chain falls down a well, we all fall down, unless something is done to stop (or better yet turn) the momentum.

Last question, how can the government reconnect with the underserved and switch the momentum? Start with the children. Help provide for their essential needs- food, healthcare & education. Keep the programs fully funded and consistent so families are not in a constant state of uncertainty. Move on to the parents. Make it so they can keep enough of their paycheck to provide for their family's basic needs by moving the majority of the tax burden onto those who can afford it. Sales and payroll taxes affect the poor and small business owners (who employ most of the poor) 100 times more harshly than they do upper income and big business.

Eventually, government can earn back the trust of the people it deserted, and they in turn will trust the system enough to be a part of it. Connections.