Rising Inequality; Rising Levels of Poverty (still!) – Let’s At Least Have Some Meaningful Conversations About This

CapitalNews item: the number of children below the poverty line is now greater than it was in the great recession of 2008.
cf., More US children living in poverty than before recession: report

Indeed, the distribution of wealth is too important an issue to be left to economists, sociologists, historians, and philosophers. It is of interest to everyone, and that is a good thing.
Refusing to deal with numbers rarely serves the interests of the least well-off.
Thomas Piketty: Capital in the Twenty-First Century


You can put it into any wording, and/or any category you choose: the working poor; rising inequality; poverty; food insecurity… The fact is that we are living in a nation (a world) with a widening divide between the haves and the have-nots. And this continues the divide between the “in group” and those not in “in group.”

The haves lobby the politicians, support the candidates, and get much of what they want in policies and laws. The world works the way they shape it to work.

The have-nots don’t get much… sometimes, not even common courtesy in a police stop. (And this can lead to deadly ripple effects).

I speak monthly at CitySquare’s Urban Engagement Book Club in Dallas. Like I do at the First Friday Book Synopsis, I present synopses of books. But instead of business books, at this event these books are on issues of poverty, social justice, racism. CitySquare is at the forefront of the struggle to help lift people out of poverty. (Larry James, the CEO of CitySquare, served as the Chair of the Poverty Task Force, appointed by Mayor Mike Rawlings of Dallas; he is now focusing on a South Dallas initiative, growSouth, again at the Mayor’s request).

From the Dallas Morning News:

Even though we’ve investigated and written extensively about these gaps since 2007, it’s still stunning to read a national report that concludes neighborhood inequality is greater in Dallas than anywhere else in the country.

It sometimes feels like a losing battle. You know, one step forward – one genuine, terrific, step forward – but, about three-four steps back…

I think about this problem – growing inequality, poverty — a lot. And I read books, and watch the trends.

Recently, one city council candidate was asked “what is the one thing you would do to turn things around?” His answer was exactly right: “there is no one thing to do to turn things around.”

the-working-poorIn the book The Working Poor, David Shipler writes:

For practically every family, the ingredients of poverty are part financial and part psychological, part personal and part societal, part past and part present. Every problem magnifies the impact of the others, and all are so tightly interlocked that one reversal can produce a chain reaction with results far distant from the original cause.
If problems are interlocking, then so must solutions be. A job alone is not enough. Medical insurance alone is not enough. Good housing alone is not enough. Reliable transportation, careful family budgeting, effective parenting, effective schooling are not enough when each is achieved in isolation from the rest. There is no single variable that can be altered to help working people move away from the edge of poverty. Only where the full array of factors is attacked can America fulfill its promise.
The first step is to see the problems, and the first problem is the failure to see the people.

There has always been some sense that the business sector is going to have to step up in a bigger way to help with this. But the challenge requires more than charity – it is bigger than charity.

And, I think, one piece of the puzzle – a big piece — is connected to the disappearance of jobs, to outsourcing, to globalization, to technology. This loss of jobs from these factors is just gutting the jobs sector for the less-than-well-educated. And this is a big factor in the growing inequality.

To put it another way, there to be more decent paying jobs for the lesser educated. Those are the jobs that are most disappearing.

These are just a few thoughts about this problem…  We need more thinking, more reading, more conversations, and ultimately much more work, to tackle these challenges.


(One way that might help you think about these challenges: if you are in the Dallas area, come join us at the Urban Engagement Book Club. We meet at noon on the third Thursday of each month.

CitySquare Opportunity Center
1610 South Malcolm X Boulevard
Dallas,TX 75226

Here’s the line-up of books for the rest of the year:

August 20 – Race and Politics
Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class — Ian Haney Lopez

Campaigning for president in 1980, Ronald Reagan told stories of Cadillac-driving “welfare queens” and “strapping young bucks” buying T-bone steaks with food stamps. In trumpeting these tales of welfare run amok, Reagan never needed to mention race, because he was blowing a dog whistle: sending a message about racial minorities inaudible on one level, but clearly heard on another. In doing so, he tapped into a long political tradition that started with George Wallace and Richard Nixon, and is more relevant than ever in the age of the Tea Party and the first black president.

In Dog Whistle Politics, Ian Haney López offers a sweeping account of how politicians and plutocrats deploy veiled racial appeals to persuade white voters to support policies that favor the extremely rich yet threaten their own interests. Dog whistle appeals generate middle-class enthusiasm for political candidates who promise to crack down on crime, curb undocumented immigration, and protect the heartland against Islamic infiltration, but ultimately vote to slash taxes for the rich, give corporations regulatory control over industry and financial markets, and aggressively curtail social services. White voters, convinced by powerful interests that minorities are their true enemies, fail to see the connection between the political agendas they support and the surging wealth inequality that takes an increasing toll on their lives. The tactic continues at full force, with the Republican Party using racial provocations to drum up enthusiasm for weakening unions and public pensions, defunding public schools, and opposing health care reform.

Rejecting any simple story of malevolent and obvious racism, Haney López links as never before the two central themes that dominate American politics today: the decline of the middle class and the Republican Party’s increasing reliance on white voters. Dog Whistle Politics will generate a lively and much-needed debate about how racial politics has destabilized the American middle class — white and nonwhite members alike. 

September 17- Education
The Road Out: A Teacher’s Odyssey in Poor America — Deborah Hicks

Can one teacher truly make a difference in her students’ lives when everything is working against them? Can a love for literature and learning save the most vulnerable of youth from a life of poverty? The Road Out is a gripping account of one teacher’s journey of hope and discovery with her students—girls growing up poor in a neighborhood that was once home to white Appalachian workers, and is now a ghetto. Deborah Hicks set out to give one group of girls something she never had: a first-rate education, and a chance to live their dreams. A contemporary tragedy is brought to life as she leads us deep into the worlds of Adriana, Blair, Mariah, Elizabeth, Shannon, Jessica, and Alicia? Seven girls coming of age in poverty.

This is a moving story about girls who have lost their childhoods, but who face the street’s torments with courage and resiliency. “I want out,” says 10-year-old Blair, a tiny but tough girl who is extremely poor and yet deeply imaginative and precocious. Hicks try to convey to her students a sense of the power of fiction and of sisterhood to get them through the toughest years of adolescence. But by the time they’re sixteen, eight years after the start of the class, the girls are experiencing the collision of their youthful dreams with the pitfalls of growing up in chaotic single-parent families amid the deteriorating cityscape. Yet even as they face disappointments and sometimes despair, these girls cling to their desire for a better future. The author’s own life story—from a poorly educated girl in a small mountain town to a Harvard-educated writer, teacher, and social advocate—infuses this chronicle with a message of hope.

October 15- Race
Racism Without Racist: Colorblind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality — Eduardo Bonilla-Silva

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s acclaimed Racism without Racists documents how beneath our contemporary conversation about race lies a full-blown arsenal of arguments, phrases, and stories that whites use to account for—and ultimately justify—racial inequalities. This provocative book explodes the belief that America is now a color-blind society. The fourth edition adds a chapter on what Bonilla-Silva calls “the new racism,” which provides the essential foundation to explore issues of race and ethnicity in more depth. This edition also updates Bonilla-Silva’s assessment of race in America after President Barack Obama’s re-election. Obama’s presidency, Bonilla-Silva argues, does not represent a sea change in race relations, but rather embodies disturbing racial trends of the past. In this fourth edition, Racism without Racists will continue to challenge readers and stimulate discussion about the state of race in America today.

November 19- Hispanic Culture and Immigration Issues
Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer — Sylvia Longmire

When confronted with the challenges of border security and illegal immigration, government officials are fond of saying that our borders have never been as safe and secure as they are now. But ranchers in the borderlands of Arizona and Texas fear for their lands, their cattle, their homes, and sometimes their lives due to the human and drug smuggling traffic that regularly crosses their property. Who is right? What does a secure border actually look like? More importantly, is a secure border a realistic goal for the United States? Border Insecurity examines all the aspects of the challenge—and thriving industry—of trying to keep terrorists, drug smugglers, and illegal immigrants from entering the United States across our land borders. It looks at on-the-ground issues and controversies like the border fence, the usefulness of technology, and shifts in the connection between illegal immigration and drug smuggling, and the potential for terrorists and drug cartels to work together. Border Insecurity also delves into how the border debate itself is part of why the government has failed to improve information sharing and why this is necessary to establish a clear and comprehensive border security strategy.

December 17- Poverty
The Rich and The Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto — Tavis Smiley and Cornel West

Record unemployment and rampant corporate avarice, empty houses but homeless families, dwindling opportunities in an increasingly paralyzed nation-these are the realities of 21st-century America, land of the free and home of the new middle class poor. Award-winning broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West, one of the nation’s leading democratic intellectuals, co-hosts of Public Radio’s Smiley & West, now take on the “P” word-poverty. The Rich and the Rest of Us is the next step in the journey that began with “The Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience” Smiley and West’s 18-city bus tour gave voice to the plight of impoverished Americans of all races, colors, and creeds. With 150 million Americans persistently poor or near poor, the highest numbers in over five decades, Smiley and West argue that now is the time to confront the underlying conditions of systemic poverty in America before it’s too late. By placing the eradication of poverty in the context of the nation’s greatest moments of social transformation- such as the abolition of slavery, woman’s suffrage, and the labor and civil rights movements-ending poverty is sure to emerge as America’s 21st -century civil rights struggle. As the middle class disappears and the safety net is shredded, Smiley and West, building on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. ask us to confront our fear and complacency with 12 poverty changing ideas. They challenge us to re-examine our assumptions about poverty in America-what it really is and how to eliminate it now.



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