Sorry, but things are not going too well for your neighbors at the bottom of the economic ladder these days.
I can report this grim fact with a strange confidence born of a decade of observation. Even during the economic boom years of the 1990s, the trend line was not so good for the urban poor. Admittedly, there appeared to be some progress. Whatever the small gains, they have been wiped out almost completely since the end of 2001.
December is a time of evaluation and measurement in my world. The nubmers are sobbering to say the least. Every indicator of service delivery is up for us at Central Dallas Ministries. Translation: the need is growing and along with it the misery index.
In November 2003, our Emergency Resource Center met needs for 2,201 individuals. During November 2004, we served 4,324 persons--an increase of 96%! As has always been the case, most of the people we serve have jobs or they are elderly or disabled--over 80%.
Our experience matches with the statewide trend. Eighty-one percent of the 513,000 families with children here in Texas (415,000) who live at or below poverty ($18,400 for a family of four) are headed by a worker. Approximately 1.7 million Texans live in these working poor families, 943,000 of whom are children. Of the 689,000 families with incomes between $18,400 and $36,800, eighty percent are headed by a worker and represent 2.2 million Texans, 1.1 million of whom are children.
The biggest challenge facing our neighbors who fall into these categories is not work, but earning power, livable wages. The people we serve day in and day out work, but they don’t earn enough to adequately support their families.
Solutions? No easy answers exist given the current political and community will, but major components of a strategy that must be part public, part private/philanthropic seem clear.
Low-income, working Texans need improved job skills.
Hard working Texas families need new benefits and advantages that reward their efforts—benefits similar to those afforded high-income workers, but tailored to their unique life challenges and addressing issues such as adequate child care, continuing education, accessible healthcare, decent housing, balanced nutrition and reliable transportation.
We need a return to honesty in this state and nation--honesty with ourselves, with our elected officials and with our low-income neighbors. Public benefits directed to providing for fundamental human needs should not be considered “welfare.” Rather, we should call them what they are: investments in the well being and progress of the entire community and in its collective civic life.
Sound public policy should leverage the good will represented by charitable dollars, rather than seeing those limited funds as the end of our investment capability. The outcomes could be astonishing.
As it is, our outcomes and results are getting better here at Central Dallas Ministries. Ironically, the message in our outcomes is very clear: among the urban poor the need only grows.
". . .there should be no poor among you. . .if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today." (Deuteronomy 15:4, 5)
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