It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men. -Frederick Douglass
It has now been 50 years since the War on Poverty began under President Johnson.
(ed. note. Initiated by socialist Michael Harrington) Many positive safety net programs were created by the government during that period such as Head Start, food stamps and Medicare and they played an essential role in reducing the level of poverty. However, there have also been many political groups and harmful economic policies enacted that have worked to undermine these efforts. From the 1970′s to the present a negative economic
President Johnson talking to unemployed workers who his War on Poverty helped to retrain.(click to expand)
trend has been developing that is creating an unequal distribution of wealth within our society that continues to deepen. This corrosive trend has resulted in a growth of income inequality and reduced social services for the middle and working classes which has had the direct effect of drastically increasing the number of families now living below the poverty line. There are currently about 46 million people existing in poverty throughout the country and this includes 16 million children of which about 12 million are Latino and African-American. Close to 48 million people still lack health insurance which may be relieved somewhat by Obamacare while the median household income continues to drop due to long-term unemployment and the disappearance of jobs. The poverty threshold for a family of four is now 24 thousand dollars per year and many millennials are increasingly being pushed down below this level due to a lack of good-paying jobs or being consistently underemployed. Despite the doubling of worker productivity during the last forty years and record corporate profits and stock market earnings in 2013 the real income of most wage earners has stagnated in relation to the rise in prices and general cost of living.
Harmful political and economic decisions have contributed to this problem
There are various factors that have caused this deteriorating economic situation which is negatively affecting the daily lives and finances of most working people and particularly minority families. First, the vast and wasteful expense of tax dollars and resources
Constant wars and the military have drained away tax resources from jobs and schools.
that was expended on the Vietnam War unleashed a surge of inflation and a rise in prices that have made everyday necessities more expensive from the 1970′s onward. This wasteful expense has been compounded by the costly debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan. Secondly, the well-financed corporate campaign to reduce the effectiveness of organized labor and reduce the number of higher-paying union jobs which provide health and pension benefits has driven wages downward. In addition, the successful effort to keep the minimum wage at a low level over the years and the enactment of right-to-work laws in over 20 states has effectively lowered union membership and salaries. The economic objective of this corporate strategy is to rollback the overall earning power of the majority of employees in order to increase profits and the result of these actions has been the lowering of people’s standard of living. It was the widespread availability of well-paying manufacturing jobs and hard-won union contracts during the decades after World War Two that once allowed large numbers of people in this country to get paid decently and to achieve a middle class standard of living. Thirdly, the restructuring by the US Congress of the tax system over the years into a regressive one that favors the wealthy has caused serious economic and social disparities. People who are at the top of the economic ladder have been provided with tax cuts, loopholes and government subsidies while the tax ratio paid by the majority of middle-class and working-class wage earners has proportionately increased, This biased tax structure has contributed further to the increase in income disparity.
Highly paid Boeing Aircraft execs tell workers to accept cuts or they will take the work to another state.
Fourthly, the intense drive by corporate America to raise quarterly profits by squeezing even more production out of less employees while cutting health and pension benefits is accelerating. This economic strategy that increasingly applies intense pressure on workers to continually boost productivity and company earnings has kept salaries at low levels or even cut them resulting in a decrease in purchasing power and a growth in family debt. Making this economic situation even worse is the increasing practice by companies of hiring part-time and temporary workers without job stability and benefits while simultaneously exporting hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas where cheap wages and non-existent labor protection laws are readily available. None of this recent increase in wealth seems to be “trickling down” to us as promised by the preachers of “free market” economics. Rather, the market is becoming more and more rigged against the average working family. This unrelenting pressure that is being applied on employees to labor harder under the guise of “efficiency and cost cutting” is also resulting in a higher level of stress and problems in people’s lives and those of their children.
An increasing disparity in income leads to a growth in social problems
This growing economic gap is creating serious social consequences as working-class families are increasingly being thrust down below the poverty level which in a state such as California now comprises close to 25 percent of the population. Meanwhile, the state’s prison industry is booming and officials have recently predicted a continuous rise in the state’s prison population. This growing
Recent food stamp cuts have sent a surge of New Yorkers to food banks for meals.
inequality is also affecting housing affordability and location as a growth in de facto residential segregation based upon income is on the rise. This increase in the level of poverty also impacts the local schools as inferior educational programs generally tend to reflect the economic and social conditions of their neighborhoods. Contributing to this dire educational situation is the reality that inner-city schools have educators who generally try their best despite the hardships created by funding and program cuts. However, many of these schools also have low expectations for minority children and tend to be staffed by inexperienced administrators and teachers or even by some who have been rotated and transferred there as must-place “lemons”. This growing economic divide between social classes in society is also increasing the level of physical and mental health problems experienced by low-income parents and their children. These often express themselves through domestic and neighborhood violence and a proliferation in gang membership. These underlying economic problems and deprivation also disrupt the ability of parents to support their children’s academic studies as well as a student’s cognitive ability to concentrate on their school work in a qualitative way. Such
Corporations avoiding taxes and receiving subsidies are up while social services are cut.
unrelenting economic pressure also contributes to a persistently high attrition rate in disadvantaged schools which is not being alleviated due to budget cuts in dropout prevention and vocational training programs. The precarious situation that these poorly educated and unskilled students are in is compounded by the disappearing option of unionized jobs in manufacturing which once offered employment to these young people at a decent wage. This fast-paced economic transformation is creating a growing sub-class of low-skilled and permanently unemployable people within our society who increasingly live in segregated neighborhoods. This deplorable situation severely affects the fragile well-being of children who must attend segregated schools with less than rigorous academic programs.
The rapid growth of income and class inequality fuels educational inequality
The increase in the number of people who exist below the poverty level means that most of these families will be living in substandard housing and their children will attend second-rate schools. The US now ranks 26th in the world in regard to math and science skills and this ranking is slowly slipping downward. The influence of social class within this ranking needs to be looked at closely in order to clearly understand its relationship to our inequitable schools and society. Such an educational divide within the US is a reflection of the present income divide as those families with higher incomes live in better neighborhoods where their children usually attend good schools and receive a rigorous education. Thus, the elements of class, race
2013: a record year for corporate-stock market profits while education funding and academic outcomes decline.
and privilege have become the key factors that determine whether a child will receive a quality education within our society. The growing number of disadvantaged students throughout the country who attend inferior schools within their poor urban and rural neighborhoods comprise the sector that is dragging down the ranking level of US education internationally. This is not being said to blame or scapegoat these disadvantaged students, but merely to clarify that the growing divide in wealth within our society is also creating an educational divide of haves and have-nots that objectively constitutes two separate and unequal school systems within many cities and states. Low-income neighborhoods and the academic programs at their schools are also affected by disruptive gang activity, harmful budget cuts to staff and services, and parents who work excessive hours to make ends meet. All of these factors contribute to the increase in the level of emotional stress and dysfunction within families which has the effect of eroding support at home for their children’s educational needs. In better-off neighborhoods and schools, budget cuts are offset in many instances with fundraising efforts by alumni and community groups and the support of booster clubs who augment student services such as tutoring, the arts, athletic programs and needed materials. Compounding this academic disparity is the growing practice of college recruiters who increasingly ignore inner-city minority schools and students and primarily focus on the public schools in higher-income communities as well as private schools where student’s families have the finances to pay for the high cost of tuition and books. This increasing educational disparity in turn fuels and reinforces the further growth of income and social inequality throughout the country.
Class warfare is unleashed upon wage earners and their children’s education
The strategic drive by corporate employers to drastically boost worker productivity, quarterly profits and implement “cost cutting” which in the real world means chopping wages, benefits and pensions continues to increase. Such an economic offensive against wage earners combined with a resource-draining military budget that has doubled within the last ten years is in direct contradiction to the supposed efforts to truly reform and improve our educational system and the academic needs of children. This extreme corporate offensive combined with runaway military spending for weapons and wars contributes to the growth in poverty by unfairly allocating income and tax resources to those at the top of society’s financial pyramid. Such an unequal allocation of wealth along with drastic budget cuts in social funding deprive disadvantaged children of the educational opportunities that will allow them to achieve their full academic potential. Many young people from poor families who lack skills and career options are
Our best resource requires an investment
of high expectations & funding to develop their full academic potential.
increasingly left with the sole option of joining the military as a last resort where they face the possibility of becoming victims in unnecessary wars while the children of the well-to-do stay safely at home to pursue their education and careers. This financially-fueled social divide is creating two separate and unequal societies where the more privileged half enjoy more extensive political and social rights with their children being provided with a decent education and an optimistic future. In contrast, the growing working-class sector and their families in our society are generally ignored by politicians, lack sufficient basic needs such as housing and healthcare and have their children attend academically deficient schools from which they face a dismal future due to being given a substandard education that merely provides minimal skills to them. This accelerating economic transformation is resurrecting old social barriers where economics, social class and race once played a vital role in obstructing progress. Our present financial situation is creating a new form of segregation that adversely affects housing and education within our society. This prevailing top-down class warfare needs to be resisted organizationally, otherwise, the economic and political rights of the working majority and especially the well-being of their children within our society will be overwhelmed. Poverty is fundamentally inherent to the capitalist system, but we must work collectively to minimize its harmful effects on families and their children. In addition, profits from productivity need to be distributed much more fairly in order to promote economic justice. This will require a broad-based organizational effort to increase the minimum wage, expand wages, benefits and the right to unionize in addition to reforming the regressive tax structure. Most important is the urgent need and demand to invest heavily in education and children who are our most valuable resource for the future. The War of Poverty provided economic betterment, social fairness and expanded opportunity for many people. What is now needed is a war on rising economic and social inequality.