Across North Carolina and in northeastern North Carolina African Americans, Latinos, and women are struggling for economic progress. Their rates of poverty are astounding and yet, there is a deafening silence. What can be done to reduce poverty is the passionate cry that has not been felt or heard amidst the challenges of balancing budgets and conversations around the fiscal budget? Reports show a significant sea change in the economy with unemployment numbers falling below expectation, triggering announcements to keep interest rates holding as an economic stimulus. But when it comes to the poor and the release of the recent federal budget by Senator Paul Ryan, strategies for providing desperately sought-after balance targets safety nets for some of America’s most poor; impacting their families and the communities they live in as well.
It is no secret that low wealth communities and communities of color will be impacted the most. Counties like Bertie and regions like northeastern North Carolina have been living under the nightmare of persistent poverty for over 30 years. The Ryan budget seeks to take 10 years to bring all spending under control, and still no one talks about the same commitment and forcefulness to bring poverty under control. It is painful to hear such resolve not for the poorest of America but to sustain a partisan ideology. Of course, there must be responsible spending and having a balanced budget is important, but not at the expense of millions of poor families trying to make everyday survival ends meet. There must be a balanced approach that considers how the poor are being impacted.
So, it is not just about the poor within a singular impact context, but it is about fiscal cuts that are so massive and threatening that its force erodes safety nets at all levels- federal, state and local, creating enormous degrees of vulnerability. Such force of fiscal action punctures the very essence of life supports of the poor rupturing their confidence in surviving another economic crisis, rendering them helpless to fight against such actions.
When you take a look at selected demographic unemployment numbers by different community groups, nationally, African Americans account for about 13.8%, Hispanics 9.7%, whites 7.0% and teenagers about 23.4%, this is before unpacking the numbers to see what per cent ages of the whole are in poor economically distressed persistent poverty communities. In North Carolina for this same demographic- African Americans 14.0 %,9.8 percent for Hispanic, 6.3 percent for whites and again, the numbers do not unpack economically distressed persistent poverty communities. Proposed cuts to education, public supports that build job skills, science, and technology further erode the numbers. There are a number of communities that can absorb such cuts but communities of the poor do not have such an option. They can trim in places the poor cannot.
The perceived “fat” the poor have- such as in food stuffs and a lottery ticket here and there, is not reasoned belief that it is as perceived. Here is being discussed supports that move the poor and their families from a category of poverty to not. Guidelines for poverty are not the creation of the poor and even still, they fail to capture the real insecurity that lurks around every support of the poor. Nonetheless, their economies are measured and then judged accordingly, considering the norms of America and then defining terms.
The cost of living in whatever part of the country the poor exist drives the numbers before aggregation. Aggregated cost considers cost of living variables such as food, housing, medical care, child care, education, taxes etc. all of which can fluctuate depending on the larger economy. Attempts to simplify reasons for poverty and ways out of poverty defines the significant disconnect that exist between policy makers and the reality of everyday living on the ground and what systems are needed to make it all happen.
The poor are not islands unto themselves. There is more at stake here than what it appears to be. If there are cuts to the poor, then their communities have to gear up for slower economies as well. Locally elected officials will have to figure out ways to help when their budgets are dependent on some of the types of public supports that were cut. Both local governments and their constituents are made to shoulder burdens disproportionately. Where is the lure for economic development? With a more burdensome fiscal climate looming, the likelihood companies will invest in communities of the poor, is less likely.
Again, poverty eradication is not as simple as “go get a job.” The complexity of the poverty cycle blends a number of very difficult to resolve components such as day care, health care, shelter, food, transportation. All of these seem so innate and simple, but it is not. It takes a considerable amount of planning and resourcefulness and access to even more resources to make it happen. Communities have to first be equipped with the appropriate services, and businesses have to be willing to invest by finding ways to justify operating in distressed areas while protecting their bottom line.
In the life of the poor, there are no easy roads. Every decision is riddled with one fire storm after the other that has to be extinguished before attempting another. If anyone cares enough to look beyond a casual look will see that the present and proposed legislation are insufficient in affecting poverty, instead it aids in its promotion. The only way to lead political acts that do not account reasonably for the poor, is if it was morphed in numbers so deep, that it would take intentional consideration, a heart for humanity and mandating it as a legislative imperative, to dig it out.