I read Dispatches from the Culture Wars regularly. Ed Brayton is a witty and perceptive commentator with an excellent grasp of America’s constitutional foundations–but his greatest appeal (for me) comes from the fact that he monitors behaviors that I wouldn’t have the stomach to follow. He keeps tabs on the kooks of the far, far right (and sometimes the far, far left)–the “celebrities” of the wacko fringes.
Most of the time, when reading about the pronouncements and delusions of these characters, I take comfort in reminding myself of the limited appeal of whatever brand of crazy a particular figure is peddling.
Earlier this month, the city of San Antonio (Texas) held a mayoral forum in which candidates talked about the impact of and challenges for non-profit groups in the community.
At one point, current Mayor Ivy Taylor was asked about the “deepest systemic cause of generational poverty.” There’s no simple answer to that, of course, but Taylor’s response wasn’t even close.
“Not even close” is an understatement. Here’s the Mayor’s response.
To me, it’s broken people. People not being in a relationship with their Creator, and therefore, not being in good relationship with their families and their communities, and not being productive members of society. I think that’s the ultimate answer.
As Ed points out, that not only isn’t the “ultimate answer,” it’s an answer that betrays vast ignorance of American economic realities and that displays the sort of breathtakingly smug religious arrogance that you encounter from time to time from people who give religion a very bad name. As Brayton puts it,
Poor people aren’t all poor because they’re “broken” or atheists or in need of a better relationship with their families. (While we’re at it, they’re also not poor because they’re lazy and addicted to welfare checks.)
People are poor, in many cases, because they don’t have opportunities to put their skills to work, they never had access to a quality education, and they live in areas where upward mobility is hard to come by. In some cases, they can work multiple jobs with little sleep and still have a hard time getting out of whatever debt they’re already in. Poverty is tough to overcome. Generational poverty, even tougher.
The vast majority of poor Americans work 40 or more hours a week at jobs that don’t pay a living wage. (Not that it is relevant, but a sizable majority of them identify as Christian, and profess a “relationship” with a “Creator.” Atheists in the U.S. actually tend to be well-educated and financially comfortable–when you aren’t constantly struggling to put food on the table, you have the time and resources to ponder theological questions and consider counter-majoritarian conclusions…But I digress.)
I’ve written before about the United Way of Indiana’s description of ALICE families (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) and the huge gap between what those families need simply in order to survive and the pitifully inadequate public and private resources available to them.
There are a lot of things policymakers could do to decrease poverty: raise the minimum wage, reinstitute Reagan-era tax brackets, strengthen unions, eliminate the ACA in favor of “Medicare for All”…and jettison a self-satisfied ideology that blames poverty on a lack of productivity and an inadequate “relationship with the Creator.”
The fact that Americans elect people who mouth such inanities (beginning with Donald Trump and definitely including Mayor Ivy Taylor) is evidence of a different kind of poverty.