Everyone deserves a home.
Everyone deserves basic nutritious food.
Everyone deserves care when they are sick.
None of these basic human needs should be barriers to individuals obtaining quality education in order to leave poverty.
And yet these are all radical statements.
Overwhelmingly, people die in the same socioeconomic bracket into which they were born. I am sure plenty of people have anecdotal evidence about themselves or a friend starting out poor and ending up earning a great living. Anecdotal evidence is nice for Sunday dinner. Anecdotal evidence is not data.
Unfortunately, this is not the reality for most people. The reality is that most folks who are born into poverty will also die in poverty.
How do we assist individuals in climbing into the next highest socioeconomic bracket while simultaneously helping them to end dependence on government-provided welfare?
The best long-term solution to this problem is education.
How do we help kids get the best possible education?
It can often begin at the workplace of the parents. Pay them enough so that they can keep the lights on, buy food, and help their kids focus on school. Pay them enough so that their kids don’t have to get two after-school jobs just so their families can eat. Pay them enough so that their children don’t have to do their homework in a homeless shelter. I see a meme circulating around which is dehumanizing and humiliating to older adults in the service industry: that the jobs they’re doing are meant for teenagers who want to earn a little extra gas money. This may be true. But the reality is that the majority of individuals working in minimum wage jobs are, in fact, adults. And not just adults: they’re 40+, well past the age that has been deemed acceptable for working a minimum-wage job. So it doesn’t matter who should be working the jobs. What matters is who is actually working them.
Folks working at minimum-wage jobs have not “failed.” Being unable to attain higher levels of education is not failure. Working in a field that others deem “less than” is not failure. The true failure lies in the fact that these individuals are so devalued that they are not even paid enough to keep their lights on. Everyone, I repeat, everyone, deserves a home. With electricity, clean water, nutritious food and a bed to sleep in. Every last one of us. Maybe you think $15 is too high. Fine. I’m willing to bring it down to $10. At this point, I’m willing to compromise. I am by no means saying that folks who work at McDonald’s should be able to afford a huge home with a pool, ten televisions, jewel-encrusted toilet seats, fois gras for every meal, and a bearskin rug in every room. You know what I mean.
Certainly, there are people out there who simply chose not to continue their education. They have chosen to be complacent in the low-paying jobs they have, and that is fine. That is choice, the essence of America. But too many people didn’t have a choice when they entered the service industry. Those folks are the ones I’m concerned with here.
Yet another thing we can do is invest in schools in poor areas, which are still funded by property taxes and which, yes, bear the brunt of kids dropping out and perpetuating the generational cycle that is poverty. Incentivize teachers not only to remain in those areas, but provide them with more support than they are getting. Teachers in very poor schools often feel isolated and unsupported by colleagues, parents, and administrative staff. They are often in classrooms alone with children who have experienced astronomical educational deficits since the moment they stepped into kindergarten. These teachers are then expected to remedy every deficit that these children have accumulated as a result of non-investment in school systems. Having worked in low-income schools throughout my academic and professional career, I have seen this firsthand as part of a larger, national trend.
If more kids graduate high school, more kids go on to trade schools, small colleges, or universities. More kids graduating gives you a better skilled workforce. More skilled workers enables economic competition between businesses, fueling economic growth.
As a teacher, I’m convinced that making strides in education, especially in economically disadvantaged communities, can mean huge gains for the kids who are going to take over our economy someday.
See, capitalists? This can work in your favor too.
I don’t know why this is considered radical or controversial in some circles, but here we are. 🙂