As Rachel Maddow pointed out while she was in town visiting Ball State University and taping her live MSNBC show, the republicans are literally using the poor as punch lines for their jokes, and to demonize them as lazy and refusing to work. When these comments are made, the crowds in attendance applaud. Political experts claim that presidential candidates are appealing to the Tea Party influence of the Republican Party. It’s a rather sad commentary for America.
Apparently, many of these Tea Party members are not residents of high unemployment, poorly maintained, and high-crime housing that surround our downtown center. Occupants in these areas pay a price in trauma, substance abuse, physical debility, mental illness, chaotic family lives, and lives lost to violence. These families often need on going services and supports so they can manage multiple challenges and create the stability children need to thrive. But services such as case management, mental health and substance abuse counseling, job readiness, child care, and after school programs don’t come cheap, and, as budget pressures mount, supportive services for the most vulnerable families can seem like “luxuries” that strapped government agencies can’t afford to offer.
Given fiscal constraints, policymakers are demanding evidence that the programs they do fund to help the most vulnerable improve such specific outcomes as employment or school performance—a standard that is very difficult to meet. As for employment, for each application completed means one more round of rejection. How often can someone be rejected before people lose hope? We were told last week in a vocational rehabilitation meeting that some neighbors have stopped attending Work One services because it was a “waste of time.” They’ve lost hope. These people who have lost hope are no longer counted in our unemployment figures, so what is our real unemployment rates?
Yet, the benefits of providing high-quality services may be modest and often come from a range of systems, whether, schools, housing agencies, criminal justice, and healthcare. Intensive case management for these people stabilize their physical and mental health, though their high risk of chronic diseases and associated high healthcare costs may wipe out any savings accomplished from case management.
If less than spectacular results trouble you, though, consider the costs of doing nothing — vulnerable children ending up in emergency rooms, homeless shelters, and jails, failing in schools, and disrupting their communities with their antisocial behavior. Also, don’t forget that the families who are stuck in these situations are hurt by misguided federal and local policies that isolate poor, minority households in neighborhoods with inadequate services and high crime rates. That didn’t happen to the middle class, which has its own problems, but seems to be getting all the policy attention as the next presidential campaign year nears.
Communities need new and innovative approaches for reaching children and youth while preventing another generation from falling into the type of poverty that is so hard to overcome. Meanwhile, republican candidates, and even staunch budget hawks, should think twice before characterizing the absence of violence, sickness, crime, and instability in children’s lives as “luxuries”, and maybe when audiences stop laughing at these insensitive jokes, our political candidates will stop delivering them.