Flowers: Reignite the war on poverty

Darrall Flowers

The time has finally come to reignite the war on poverty. Since President Lyndon B. Johnson’s famous speech, the true dedication of tackling poverty in the United States has long passed. At a time when the United States possesses the highest rate of childhood poverty among modern industrialized nations, and when the middle class is crumbling along with our infrastructure, the United States is ready to make the lucrative investment in its poor citizens.

Yes, that’s right, the lucrative investment in our poor. The reality is that poor Americans spend more per dollar than the rich or middle class.

“Those in the bottom 30 percent of the income scale make an average of $14,000 a year, including the value of many government benefits like food stamps or disability payments,” according to a CNN Money’s analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. “But they spend more than $25,000, or 182 percent, of their annual income mostly on basic needs like housing, food and transportation.”

This significant increase in spending for the basic needs of poor Americans presents a great potential for return on investment if government and small businesses were to invest in them. The spending of the poor is the income of the middle class.

However, gaining a return on investing in the poor does not have to mean taking advantage of the poor through one-dimensional investments in temporary jobs. For the investment to be lucrative, it must be a 360-degree financial investment in health care, education and job opportunities to increase productivity among the less fortunate.

In order to encourage our government and small businesses to invest more in the poor, we must fight numerous battles to receive the stimulus packages that are necessary for the survival of families stricken by poverty. This then turns the war on poverty into three proxy wars that many Americans face: The War on Failing Education, The War on Entitled Health Care and The War on Collapsing Infrastructure. 

If we win all of these wars, the United States will circulate money from the bottom to the middle class effectively while increasing productivity in the economy.

The War on Failing Education

Failing educational systems exist in the United State’s inner cities and small neglected towns based on an outdated 1970s economic structure, where high school graduation was the road to the middle class. 

In poor neighborhoods that are usually heavily Black or Hispanic populated, Little, if any, has been done to fix the outdated educational systems in poor neighborhoods that are usually heavily black or Hispanic populated. This forces their students, who are not equipped to compete in our service-based economy, to take on minimum wage work as a lifelong career. While minimum wage work may be the best career option for some, the current low wages stifle the ability for home ownership and economic independence among many of its workers.

This results in less contribution to our free market economy and an increased reliance on government assistance. The only way to fix this problem is enforcing a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) driven K-12 curriculum that ensures students graduate high school with professional skills. It would also need to guarantee student loan debt forgiveness for young college graduates who are motivated to teach in underprivileged communities but are crippled by student loan debt and would lack the resources to give back.

STEM learning is becoming more relevant as many industries rely on new technologies to provide their services.

Teaching the United State’s underprivileged youth to write computer code, build circuits, solve math equations and test chemical compounds as a main curriculum focus will spark students’ interest in STEM-related fields. Investing in a STEM-driven K-12 curriculum would provide underprivileged young Americans the best chance to break the cycle of poverty. In addition to breaking the cycle of systemic poverty, these young Americans will be able to spend more money and contribute to our economy by building more small businesses and a stronger middle class.

“When urban students have a path to receiving a college education, they also will be committed to make the most of that opportunity and earn a college degree,” CBS News reported. “And, a degree in a STEM field is a nice head start for a student beginning a path to a well-paying career.”

Encouraging student debt forgiveness for new teachers will heighten the quality of teachers who teach in poor communities. US News reported that the best way to ensure an improvement in education is to bring in qualified educators to move schools in the right direction.

“One of the biggest issues in education today: Teachers lack knowledge in the content needed to teach the STEM areas effectively,” the report stated. “Consider this: Close to 30 percent of chemistry and physics teachers in public high schools did not major in these fields and haven’t earned a certificate to teach those subjects.” 

Many young teachers face the harsh reality of having to teach in wealthier neighborhoods to pay off outstanding student loan debt. We should ask law makers to create a system where educators who pledge to teach in the United State’s impoverished communities for 10 or more years are automatically granted student loan forgiveness. This type of legislation would drastically increase the quality of education in poor community schools. More education leads to more opportunities for jobs and the spending of one’s wages.

The War on Health Care

Along with educating the United State’s poor, we also must keep our citizens in good health to maximize productivity, as “Poor people have lower life expectancies, higher prevalence of chronic illnesses and health conditions, and more unmet health needs than people with middle-class and high incomes,” according to an article by Katherine Swartz, Harvard University professor of health economics and policy, titled “Health care for the Poor: For whom, what care, and whose responsibility?”

The United States has the best health care in the world but only the wealthy can afford it, reserving high quality health care for the entitled. The only way to fix this problem is to increase government investments in hospitals and health care facilities within these communities. This investment would create more jobs for doctors and nurses while building up the poor and middle class within these communities.

The War on Collapsing Infrastructure

The final battle that needs to take place to alleviate poverty in the United States is the war on our collapsing infrastructure.

Many of the United State’s trade networks and systems of travel are well behind the times. Rebuilding our infrastructure would create more jobs, positively impact poverty-stricken communities and stimulate a slow growing economy.

While it is easy to see the problems that persist with poverty in our country, it is even harder to find an adequate solution. The many wars I have mentioned would simply require changes in policy and reallocation of local and federal funds. However, the difficulty is not in the policy changes, it is in the public’s lack of awareness and neglect of poverty in the United States. The only way we can truly start to reignite the war on poverty is through middle-class Americans. Additionally, we should be taking a hard look at the unsung citizens by committing to a war on a standard of living that is unacceptable for every man, woman and child, realizing that when one American is poor, every American is poor.