Posts Tagged ‘poor’

The Economic Elephant in the Room

February 13, 2012

What the Republican candidates are not talking about in their knock-down-drag- out fight for the presidential nomination is really the biggest problem facing this nation right now, the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Trying to just dismiss the subject by charging “class warfare” does not address the problem, and certainly is not going to solve it.

The class war is over. The wealthy won, just like they did in the Gilded Age of the 1890s and in 1929 right before the Great Depression. But all one has to do is look at history to know that odds are very high that the victory will be Pyrrhic. Prominent Columbus attorney Morton Harris, in his talk to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus, quoted 1st Century Greek historian Plutarch, who said: “Too great a disparity between the rich and the poor is the most fatal malady of a Republic.”

Mort and I, and another attorney friend of mine, Milton Jones, were in the Columbus Jaycees together back the in the 1960s. Milt introduced Mort Sunday. In that introduction we learned that Mort was a pitcher for the Jaycees’ softball team, and Milt was his catcher. I won’t tell you what Milt said about Mort’s pitching since both are lawyers. But I digress. Back to the income and weath gap mess.

Believe me it’s not crying wolf or saying that the sky is falling, or even making a poltical statement. It’s fact. It is really a gigantic problem. As Mort said, “Poverty and the feelings of injustice can become the ‘fuel’ for ‘revolution,’ either at the ballot box or in the streets.

“The risk of too wide a gap is that our country could lose either its private economic system or its democratic political system, or both, if too many are living in poverty and believe ‘there is no way out, no matter how I try.'”

Mort says, “There is too little awareness and even less understanding of this growing ‘Elephant in the Room.'” That’s probably going to change once Republicans nominate thier presidential candidate and the actual campaigns for president start. In the meanwhile, let’s take a look at what created this problem and just how bad it is. Stay with me, and I’ll get into the specifics that Mort passed along today in future posts, and we’ll discuss possible solutions.  If you have any, let me know.

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Columbus’ Big Problem Is…

August 6, 2008

    Poverty.

Rev. Kim Jenkins, Executive Director of Open Door Community House

Rev. Kim Jenkins, Executive Director of Open Door Community House

  Rev. Kim Jenkins sees it up close and personal everyday. She is a Baptist minister who administers the Open Door Community House in Columbus, which is backed by the United Methodist Church.  She told me of a lady who admitted she had committed substance abuse. She said the woman said, “I have to get off the street. It’s just getting too dangerous out there. Violence is increasing; drug abuse is increasing. Please help me.” Rev. Jenkins said she started making calls and found a church that was willing to help her.  Rose Hill United Methodist helped her get a job.

  That is not always the case. She told me of one lady who came in shaking as she said that she was on crack and had lost her children who were all in state custody. She wanted shelter. Open Door was full. It only has 12 beds, all for women.  Rev. Jenkins called other shelters in Columbus, Macon and Atlanta. Nobody would take her either because she was on crack and they didn’t have medical facilities to deal with that.  Jenkins said she had to tell her, “There is nothing we can do for you.”

Guy Sims, Co-chair of Building Prosperity in the Muscogee County Area

Guy Sims, Co-chair of Building Prosperity in the Muscogee County Area

  And just how bad is the poverty problem in Columbus? Former Muscogee County School District Superintedent Guy Sims told me that the rate is 27 percent, which, he said, “is a lot higher than the national average.”    Sims, who is in between jobs now that Beacon University is shutting down, is a co-chair of Building Prosperity in the Muscogee County Area. His co-chairs are James Blanchard and Betsy Covington. They, along with about 40 other business and professional leaders, are working to develop a plan to do something about the problem.

  It took a little while to get Columbus leaders involved. They just sort of left coping with the problem up to service providers, places like the Salvation Army, Valley Rescue Mission,  House of Mercy, and Open Door. That changed three years ago when the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institue of Government issued a report showing poverty was the Chattahoochee Valley’s number one problem. She said that opened a lot of eyes and at least “the conversation started.” 

  Guy Sims, says, if anything, he is sure it is worse now, citing the worsening economy as a primary reason. And Jenkins says the demand for services at Open Door has increased this year and she is sure it is happening at the other shelters and sevice providers in the area. Many more people are seeking shelter than are getting it.  There are 2 thousand homeless people in Columbus.

  A banker told Jenkins four years ago that the mortgage crisis was coming and the homeless population would be increasing. That’s right, a Columbus banker saw the collapse in the home mortgage industry coming four years ago.

  Why should we care about the homeless, the working poor, shelters that are full and can’t possibly keep up with the increasing demand? After all, shouldn’t every tub stand on its own bottom?  Shouldn’t people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps? 

  Well, says Rev. Jenkins, besides the moral and biblical reasons for caring, self-interest should make us care. Poverty causes crime rates to go up and all of us have to pay for fighting crime. It costs us more when we go to the hospital because the hospitals have to charge us more to pay for all of those people that are converging on emergency rooms. Emergency room care is extremely expensive.

  A report by Building Prosperity points out that if everyone over 25 in our area got a high school diploma, that would increase wages enough to add $168 million to the economy.

  If they got college degrees, we are talking $692 million.

  If the weekly wage rate in Columbus ($564) were brought up to the state average ($669) $10 million would be added to the local economy every week.

  So there are practical reasons to care even if you are hard hearted.  Fortunately, not everyone in Columbus believes in practicing social Darwinism.