Helping the Other Half
America's problems related to poverty, and possible solutions
On the surface, it seems like many of America’s economic problems are being fixed. We have come out of the Great Recession, unemployment is down, inflation is manageable, the stock market is booming. There seems to be a rising economic tide, and a “rising tide lifts all boats.” Unfortunately, we seem to have forgotten that many don’t have a boat, or whatever boat they have has a leak. Nearly one in 7 Americans have food insecurity. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are homeless, and nearly 50 million live below the poverty line.(4) It’s time for those with a boat to make some rescue missions.
Many say that the poor are poor because of their own life decisions. They point out the stories they hear on the news of people living entirely off of welfare and food stamps without working a lick to defend their statements. While these situations exist, they are not the norm. Food stamp fraud is less than 3% and 90% of recipients with a family have worked in the past year, and 60% are currently working.(2) Regardless, reform of programs such as food stamps and social security, etc still need to happen. When this point is made, critics of social security will say it should just be taken away all together, forcing them to work. A middle ground is needed. Instead, reform needs to be done that allows people to work their way out of poverty while keeping them out of homelessness and the problems that come with poverty. I have a relative for example, who had disabilities that prevented him from working almost any job. Government programs enabled him to lead a life. However, when he found a job that gave him some purpose, not enough to really live off of though, his benefits were removed. He then had to quit his job, robbing him of a sense of purpose, so that he could live. That’s not how it should work. A solution is allowing them to wean off of social security by decreasing benefits slowly. Also, although it would cost more short term, implementing job training programs, and other life classes would bring long term savings. It is necessary to remember why these government handouts were put into place and the needs that still exist, while adapting them for the future.
I’m from Michigan, and often went to Saginaw, Flint, and Detroit, and while I can never say I know what poverty and economic struggle feel like, I was able to see the effects of poverty, unemployment, etc, especially in a city. This is what I could tell happened. As jobs left, those who could also left, and everyone else was left behind to deal with desperation from unemployment that leads to crime. There are then fewer people to pay taxes, especially because most who could pay taxes left. The cities then cannot cope with trying to maintain order and help its citizens. For example, Detroit quickly went bankrupt after the recession and the decline of the auto industry, as, during the last half century or so, the city’s population went from 1.8 million to less than 700,000.(5)A similar catastrophe was Flint’s water crisis. At a track meet in Flint, we couldn’t drink from the drinking fountains at the school. These municipal declines lead to the following: good teachers leave, and school quality suffers. The population becomes undereducated and crime seems like it can be a viable path. The ruthless poverty cycle begins. Now is where can we step in. The Marshall plan did a fantastic job at helping to rebuild cities all across Europe and Japan after WWII cities with many of the same symptoms that America’s cities face from a different plague. We need to put money into the schools, not just for new buildings; fancy classrooms don’t make brighter students. We need programs and teachers that will help nurture and develop these kids. A generation of motivated and educated youth is enough to turn any city around.
Finally, the most effective route out of these problems is good employment. Good jobs need to be created, and there are different ways to do so. First, the build up and cleanup proposed earlier of our biggest cities would create many jobs for those who need them most. Second, in the case of the Michigan cities I mentioned earlier, the decline all started with the leaving of the auto industry. At the end of the day, it’s a business decision to move jobs overseas, and if it wasn’t a good decision, they wouldn’t all be doing it. However, it needs to be more enticing to stay in America. Tax cuts for the companies, not the individuals in charge of the companies who bring jobs back would help much. This is because corporate tax rates in America are the third highest in the world, nearly double the world average, proving why relocation can be so enticing.(1) Another reason is the wages in America are higher than those in other countries, and for good reason, it took centuries to elevate the standards of the American worker and we can’t cut those. However, wages in other countries are catching up, for example, Chinese manufacturing wages have risen 18% per year from 2007 to 2012, whereas American manufacturing wages have risen only 2.3%.(3) That combined with a corporate tax cut should encourage a reverse exodus.
Those in the boats such as myself, and specifically the captains such as you the president, need to do a favor for our less fortunate, not less able, not less committed or dedicated, compatriots who are stuck in the riptide of poverty, where they are stuck, and their family most likely will be. Instead of trickle down economics, maybe “fill up” economics to a moderate extent is a viable solution. For example, every one dollar spent on food stamps generates nearly two in economic activity. No dollar spent on educating future workers is ever wasted if spent wisely. America and its economy has been a boon of opportunity for millions for centuries, now let’s help give this chance to everyone.