By Rick Presbrey
Why should it be a surprise that poverty is on the rise in this country? In this case I am only talking about financial poverty not poverty of the spirit, i.e. giving up on yourself and the potential for your life, though that is also on the rise.
People become poor for many reasons but lack of suitable employment is a big factor. How do we solve the problem? First, there needs to be an adequate supply of jobs that pay a living wage. Second, there needs to be a labor force that has the qualifications to do the jobs that pay a living wage.
Of course some are poor because they don’t have the physical, intellectual, or emotional strength to fully support themselves. Examples of that might be seniors, people with disabilities, and those with mental or physical chronic illnesses .
But what about kids graduating from high school or even college that can’t get a good job? How can you earn seven, eight, or 10 dollars an hour and support yourself? Not too long ago I met with a group of 19 mothers living in a shelter and none of them had incomes above $600 per month. Almost all of them had domestic violence and substance abuse in their family history. Almost none had graduated from high school and about half had their General Equivalency Diploma (GED). Some had vocational plans and ideas, none of which I thought would result in any of them becoming self-supporting anytime soon.
All were deeply involved in the struggle to raise one or more children, getting housing, and getting transportation. If they need to, number one, believe in themselves, and number two, move from an income of $15,000 a year to what I believe they need, at least double that, how do they do that? One simple way to start is getting more education. But few are ready for the challenges of community college or ready to get their lives settled down so that going to school full time is possible.
Growing up, everyone needs stability and nurturing. But the people we are talking about haven’t had it. Everyone also needs a value system foundation. College, which now seems a necessity to survive financially, wasn’t always a necessity. Now kids and their parents face the financially debilitating process of paying higher amounts for college and accumulating inconceivable debt.
Our economic system is not delivering good paying jobs and is not guaranteeing a good education for everyone. Every parent and every able kid ought to know from elementary school on that he or she is expected to go to college and that paying for it is not a problem. To do less is to assure the ultimate failure of our system.
And, the “war on drugs” has to be fought through massive education. Kids are smarter that we think. If we teach them the pitfalls and temptations and the lack of choice for themselves that will result from bad decisions then we will have accomplished a lot.
I have spent a lot of time working with kids and I believe in them. And, starting from when they are young, I think most punishment is pointless. Kids, I believe, react best from trusting them and them trusting themselves. Most kids, starting from when they are young, have healthy interests which we need to encourage in every way we can. Respect for others and yourself is learned at home.