Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Creating Poverty

What we have at work in America today amounts to a production model for manufacturing poverty.

Think about it.

Wages today, calculated in real dollar terms, have sliden lower than five years ago.

Good paying jobs are outsourced overseas. The new jobs being created by our economy do not pay anywhere near wages of the jobs they replace.

Gasoline prices don't need to be described!

Utilities cost more, much more in some sections of the country.

Auto liability insurance, required by law, grows more expensive each year, but provides less and less benefit.

Housing costs, calculated in real terms and as a percentage of income, continue to soar.

Consumer prices also inch up so that food, clothing, medications, transportation, child care, all cost more every year.

Government at every level slashes public programs benefitting the poor, even those with a work requirement, even those tied to food security.

The number of uninsured Americans increases by the day, as health costs soar.

No surprise then, is it that over 1 million Americans fell below the poverty line last year?

In inner city communities the impact is often disasterous.

Simply put, these are the facts of life in my part of Dallas.


KentF said...

Excellent points Larry. I listened to James Dobson again this morning Larry make the argument that the Government is largely the cause of the demise of the inner-city Afrrican American family based on the premise that young African American women are encouraged to have illegitimate children and the men are then replaced by the Government as father of the family. Would love to hear your real-life take on the issue of the high out-of-wedlock motherhood and male unemployment rates in the urban African American community. Thanks.

Larry James said...

KentF, thanks for the post.

James Dobson perpetuates a race-based mythology that is not true.

For one thing, the public benefits to which he refers have basically dried up and do not provide the kind of incentive that his analysis assumes. Things in real life are much more complicated than he would lead his mostly white, middle class Evangelical audience to believe. He is dishonest in this analysis.

At the heart of what I am about to say stands a persistent systemi racism that continues to plague inner city communities. It is much easier to blame "welfare" and "welfare moms" than it is to take a careful, analytical look at factors such as public education, livable wage jobs, employment education, affordable housing, affordable child care, access to routine health care, transportation, job skills for the new world economy. . .the list goes on and on.

Drug abuse is a huge problem in our neighborhoods. People who find it very, very difficult to rise much above minimum wage jobs due to inferior education and a lack of marketable skills often do stupid things. American media, music and marketing present a fantasy world that many young, urban kids fall into. The alllure and false promise of quick, big bucks running narcotics traps many youth. Should they make better decisions? Of course! But they don't and people who don't understand their world don't help by simply writing them off.

The manner in which most states treat persons with drug addictions compounds the problems of the poor. If you have no money and you have a drug problem, chances are very good you are going to prison. The revolving door of incarceration because of drug abuse is a big, big problem for low-income,urban communites. The system works against African American males especially--taking them out of the community and then putting them back there with virtually no options but to return to the lives that got them in trouble in the first place.

The entire urban poverty matrix is so much more complicated than what you report Dobson says. One of the reasons I have little respect for him is how he and people like him distort and falsely report on the reality I encounter daily. He does not help the urban poor with comments like this. He simply keeps his base of support among the middle class in place and the dollars flowing in.

RC said...


I really struggle with much of what you say. I know without a doubt that you deeply care about the poor, and I know that it is at the heart of authentic Christianity, but here is my struggle. When I read your writings I read very little about personal responsibility. I would love to her your comments not on James Dobson, but on Bill Cosby. It seems that with Cosby's background of growing up poor that he at least has a right to speak. I also struggle with the stories that I grew up hearing about the Great Depression. I was amazed at the level of poverty that some of these people were in, but their families remained intact, both black and white, and it just seemed to be a totally different world. Dobson is a machine, but Cosby seems to be speaking from his heart. I want to understand and always try to read your words with an open mind.

Anonymous said...

Larry, this post is as important as any you have written. In a complex society, we simply need help to get on the right track. Peter Drucker once wrote that the greatest government program in the history of the world was the GI Bill. It helped a generation of people in two significant ways: education and housing. In other words, it helped an entire generation build a future. Without it, all the personal responsibility in the world would not have produced the same results.

Without help in a complex era, it is a much harder road...

Randy Mayeux

Todd said...

Do you suggest that greater government infrastructure be added to aid individuals?

Of course, you know I disagree. Rather than create additional programs, we should educate and provide opportunities in the private sector to create options for those who make bad decisions.

However, something political can be done. The Fair Tax (http://www.fairtax.org) is the answer!

We need to create a tax system that encourages businesses to stay in America, not leave. That will benefit our economy, government funding AND provide job opportunities right here in the grand Ol' U. S. of A.

Charles said...

Larry, I'm looking forward to your replies to the other comments. Could you post some time in the future your thoughts on the immigration policy Bush outlined last night? I don't trust him or Congress to follow through, but it sounded generally fair and reasonable and (dare I say?) compassionate. He even avoided invoking fear, which might be a first for him.

Thanks for provoking us!

Anonymous said...

I don't always read the posts; grateful I did today. The term "taking personal responsibility" carries with it an assumption that one has both access to information and opportunity to choose. One or both of these are woefully lacking for many of the urban adults in my GED classes.

Larry James said...

RC, thanks for the post.

Regarding personal responsibility, why would I post much about that here? Here I am trying to coax and challenge the church and those with wealth and power to actually see what is happening and come out of the complacent, self-centered, radical individualism that is threatening the moral fabric of our society and our world. Come to think of it, I am talking about personal responsibility--yours and mine!

As to personal responsibility in the inner city, we press that on people daily--it is a huge part of what we do. As a matter of fact, Bill Cosby "tried his speech out" at an event we hosted here in Dallas at the Meyerson Symphony Center four years ago. He challenged everyone to be personally responsible.

But what you need to get in touch with is how much bigger the problem is than that. Almost all of the people I deal with here are about as responsible as they can be. They pick up on all the opportunities they can find and handle. Many are beaten down. Many despair. Many rebel.

The Depression Era is not an equivalent example. EVERYONE WAS AFFECTED BY THAT ECONOMIC CRISIS OF UNIVERSAL PROPORTIONS. This is not the case today. Beyond this and quite ironically, the end of Jim Crow and the advent of American Civil Rights created a large black middle class and destroyed many middle class neighborhoods and communities as African Americans assimilated into white communities. The poor were left behind in the urban centers. The story is complex and challenging to be sure.

But you can explain the existence of over 45 million Americans in poverty by an appeal to a failure in personal responsibility. No way.

Randy, you are right. We need a GI Bill for the poor.

Interestingly enough, I made this statement last week in a Q & A session after a speech. I planned to blog on this notion later and now I will for sure.

One last note. When I was a kid and a teen, I wasn't always personally responsible. Were you? But, I did have the wonderful benefit of parents who had plenty of money, a good home and the capacity to help me correct my foolish mistakes, overcome them and move on. I can assure you that I don't have the life I enjoy today because of my flawless personal performance in life! Most often poor folks don't have all t his advantage. Just something to keep in mind. The playing field is simply not level.

RC said...


I love your passion, but when you talk about the need for a level playing field that sounds like a dream world where the government comes in and makes everything right. When I was a kid I did have two parents, but two parents who were poor, but I did have the structure and love that they gave me and the love and guidance of a church. I also went to a fully intergraded school that was rough. I will always remember one student, Yevonne. She seemed to choose to be different. She said no to drugs and used her intellect to rise above her otherwise bleak circumstances. I believe it is our God given responsibility to reach out to the poor, but I wish there was a way to do it without some massive government program. I again appreciate that you don't just dismiss people who might disagree with you. Sometimes people who are liberal politically are so condesending to people who tend to be more conservative like we are a bunch of hicks. Before I change a position I have to have time to process information. If you will maintain your open tone I think you will have a chance to engage a wide variety of people in meaningful dialogue. Everyone starts somewhere, and I do agree that the problems are complex, but here in Memphis where I struggle to understand why the blue collar community where I grew up was able to support all kinds of shopping and even the largest mall in the state. It opened in the mid 1990s and last year they just tore it down. I am trying to learn, but I do want you to know that I wasn't raised with a silver spoon in my mouth, and had very little when I was growing up. My dad worked two jobs one summer just so I could have a cool bike when I turned 10. As far as the Depression my only point is a question. Does poverty of necessity have to destroy the family? There is so much that I would like to talke to you about and I pray for your patience. God bless.

Larry James said...

RC, thank you for your open tone as well! I want that to be the tone constantly here.

One aspect of American poverty that it is hard for many to comprehend is the influence and power of race in affecting the entire social/economic equation.

If you are white, no matter how poor you were, you had advantage and privilege.

I am not pressing for a perfect world. I am advocating for a nation that is more devoted to fairness and equity.

Not all of the solutions will involve the government. But many will and many must if change is to be achieved.

There is a naivete, a false innocence at work among many in the US about the role of government. Currently, the government is playing a small role if you are poor. On the other hand, if you are rich or corporate, the government is hard at work on your behalf.

RC said...


I couldn't agree with you more about race. The racism I saw first hand in Memphis was unreal at times. I well remember as a first and second grader packing up our worn out books to send to "colored" schools. Right now I just watch our churchs move further and further out for all kinds of made up reasons when everone knows the real reason, they don't want to go to church with too many black people. I hope you will let me keep writing, and I will keep listening. Thanks.


L.E.Meredith said...

I could not agree with you more, It litteraly makes me ill to read some of the comments praising the Dobson view as truth.
keep up the good work

Lulu said...

Thank you. It's a fact of life in rural, aging America as well.