Following a wave of violent crime in South Florida, State Rep. Shevrin Jones and Florida Senator Oscar Braynon II hosted a Choose Peace/Stop Violence community town hall meeting. It was at this meeting that I listened to a mother’s tragic story of the loss of her son to gun violence. This mother was all too familiar with violence in her community, as she had relocated to South Florida from one of Chicago’s crime saturated neighborhoods to provide a better living environment for her kids. She continued to discuss the importance of keeping our youth engaged in extracurricular activities, for it is in those idle moments that our youth fall into trouble. She wanted desperately to keep her son in after school activities; however, her finances could not sustain it. As she told the story, her son would later get involved with the wrong crowd and fall victim to a violent crime. Already moved to emotion, the mother then closed out her statement with something that pierced my heart, she asked if she had not been so poor and had the economic means to keep her son involved, would her son be alive today. The room was silent.
That last statement forced me to think of the parallels between poverty and violence. The number of violent crimes in my community are increasing, however, I find it interesting that we do not always address that the common denominator is economic turmoil, including factors such as unemployment and population density. Poverty is REAL in America, and in my eyes, it is the silent community killer. Poverty is defined as the state of being extremely poor and is associated with words such as neediness, insufficiency, inadequacies, lack, and scarcity to name a few. These adjectives are not what you typically think of when you think of the land of opportunity. The United States of America, one of the richest countries in the history of the world, the land of dreams, opportunity and land of the free, could very well also become the land of the impoverished.
According to the Department of Health, in 2012, an individual making $11,170 or less was living in poverty and if it was a family four with a household income of $23,050 or less, they were living in poverty. The US Census released their “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012” report which stated that 46.5 million people in the US were living below the poverty line, some 10 million families. In the black community, 27.2 percent were living in poverty, which equates to 10.9 million people.
The phenomenon continues to grow and does not show any signs of slowing. Though often time seen as an urban and rural phenomenon, poverty in the last few years has taken a significant shift. With massive job loss within the middle class, the new poor in the United States are those formerly of the middle class. Additionally, the poverty rates in the suburban areas have alarmingly surpassed the poverty rates in the urban areas.
What is causing this phenomenon? The great recession of course! We have experienced massive, chronic, long-term unemployment rates and the lack of opportunity for growth, especially in the black community. The cost of living in our communities continues to increase and is pricing out the poor. Safety net programs that are designed to give a hand up to those who are experiencing economic challenges are losing funding and support.
America will be at its greatest when everyone has an opportunity. We cannot stand by and watch families fall from poverty to extreme poverty and from middle class to poverty. Poverty is a real problem and we need policy makers to start talking about it. The best anti-poverty bill is a bill that includes job creation and job training. Extending the safety net programs such and unemployment insurance and programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would also aid in fighting the poverty battle. And most importantly we must be able to mobilize communities to where the jobs are.
For millions of American families the unfortunate reality is that the only thing standing between them and poverty is their job. If we don’t begin to seriously examine this issue, we will continue to see the heart of this economy falter while the American dream becomes the American nightmare.