Thursday, November 10, 2005

Meeting Disrupted by Specter of Poverty

According the ABH, a Tuesday meeting between the Mayor and Commission and State Reps Keith Heard and Jane Kidd got a little testy when the issue of ACC's 28% poverty rate came up.

To sum up, the exchange went a little something like this:

Heard: "Lots of people in Athens are poor. You should totally do something about that."
Davison: "Nuh-uh! We're like, all busy with bike lanes and stuff. You do something about it."
Heard: "It's your city, yo."
Davison: "I talked to the Chamber and the University and the School District, and they're busy too. Besides, it's your job, yo. Go to Atlanta and make everybody less poor."
Heard: "Whatevs."

We note that, while the pols discussed poverty, there were no actual poor people involved in the meeting.

If you want our two cents, here goes. Heard and Kidd are hampered in trying to do anything, seeing as how they're part of the minority under the Gold Dome, and the majority is far more interested in beating up on illegal immigrants. And, to distort an otherwise apropos phrase, charity begins at home. (Not that helping lower the poverty rate is charity, but you've got to act locally.)

Heidi and her posse have been in office for three years now, and the state of poverty in ACC is no better, indeed, it's worse than it was under the Eldridge administration. In fact, no member of the Commission, including the Mayor, even had anything to say about the poverty rate (beyond the usual platitudes) until enfant terrible Elton Dodson brought it up a few months ago.

It's great that they're at least finally acknowledging that (gasp!) there are poor people in Athens. But actions trump words every time. Now that our M&C have finally acknowledged that poverty is a persistent and pervasive problem in Athens, we need bold solutions. Athens is home to the state's flagship university. We'd bet (although we're biased) that Athens has more smart people per capita than any other city in Georgia. It's time to put those resources to work.

A good place to start, by the way, would be with public transportation, to which the M&C consistently gives short shrift. Or how about after-school programs, to keep kids out of trouble and save the parents a little bit on child care? Those don't have to funded or provided by the school district, by the way. Parks and Rec could do it too.

Bottom line is this. Heidi and the Commission (which would also, by the way, be a fantastic name for a band) have managed to sidestep the poverty issue for far too long. They're not going to get the help they need from Atlanta, at least not while the GOP is in power, and probably not even if the Democrats ran the show again. We have to be proactive on a community level before our state and federal governments will step in. It's a shame, but it's also the reality of the situation.

By the way, Heard hit the nail on the head when he said that there's no plan, no coordination. There are, as Heard mentioned, tons of groups - both governmental and NGOs - fighting poverty in Athens. But without coordination, they won't be as efficient as they can be. That's the job of the local government.

Finally, we'd make this point. Perhaps she was misquoted, perhaps she was misinterpreted, but for Heidi to imply that ACC can't do anything about poverty until the State Legislature gets its act together is disingenous, and we appreciate Keith Heard calling her out on that.

(No actual poor people or Commissioners were harmed in the writing of this post.)


Dawg Corleone said...

We should insist that the government solve the problem of local poverty.

Because, as we all know, government is expert in eradicating poverty.

Pulling tongue out of cheek now...

You actually alluded to the answer yourself, partly, at any rate. Get City Hall out of the bike lane business. It's a stupid-ass try-to-make-us-look-like-Portland issue (who, by the way, gives a damn about Portland?) that has zero impact on the lives of the overwhelming majority of people who live and work here.

Excuse me: I used the "w" word. Yes, work. There's your poverty proposal right there. Get local government out of the way of the people who want to do business here, and yes, that includes the people who want to build things here. Let them do what they do best: provide jobs and raise the quality of living. If that means--gasp!--the loss of the occasional tree, so be it. We might even have to--egads!--build a few new roads to accomodate the--Oh my God!--growth.

It ain't Keith Heard's fault that people are poor. It ain't Heidi's fault, either. And Elton Dodson gets no credit for the fact that I'm not poor.

People in this country are poor because of (a) bad decisions and (b) bad luck. State and local government is responsible for neither.

Publius said...

Well, it's easier for the government to focus on the "bike lane" type issues (bike lanes are nice and all, but having a poverty rate below 28% is nicer, in my opinion.) than it is for them to try to appease everyone on hot button issues like social programs. For instance, the government isn't going to come up with a solution that makes both of us happy, and that means that they're going to lose a vote from one of us, if the issue is important enough. That's why the local govt doesn't tackle any of the major issues, and devotes it's time exclusively to minor things like that.

Fishplate said...

I tried digging into Census statistics, but that's a full-time job... I did discover that in 1989, 27% of people in Clarke County were below the poverty level. Is that a statistically significant difference from the curreent figure of 28.6%? Not much of one, anyway.

So, I see two things: First, poverty is not growing in A-CC (it's not shrinking, either). Second, there has not been an administration in this county in at least fifteen years that has been able to do anything about the problem. Have they made attempts? Sure...remember midnight basketball? The Government provides a level platform so that everyone is given the same opportunity. I don't believe it is the Government's place to support you if you do not take advantage of those opportunities, neither do I think you should be deprived if you make an effort - up to a certain point. I can remeber getting peanut butter in tin cans...believe me, you want to rise above that if you can.

I'd still like to find the student data separated from the totals.

Jmac said...

I don't have the student data numbers, but at a recent meeting I was at I heard anywhere from 18 to 22 percent, which is still significantly high.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

I've eaten the peanut butter from the tin cans well as the guvment cheez. You're absolutely right; anyone in that situation should strive to get out of it.

However, I don't think that government can turn a blind eye to the problem and just say "well, we've always had 28% poverty rate, there's nothing we can do about it". There are things they can do about it. One is creating conditions conducive to more jobs, and better paying jobs. To a certain extent that does require growth, but I disagree with the earlier post that the job of govt. is simply to "get out of the way" of business so that growth can occur (remember the industrial revolution? how fun was that for poor people?). Their job is to facilitate smart growth that both provides jobs and salvages a livable environment. There are many ways to address this (i.e. mixed-use development to decrease sprawl and increase jobs; govt. job programs to clean up environmentally damaged areas; etc...). The responsibility for pursuing these solutions is shared between local and state government (and federal government for that matter). And, unfortunately, my partner is right, all too often they don't because they don't want to piss anybody off. When local govt or state govt ignores such a glaring problem, I think it's fair to say that their "bad decisions" are contributing to many people's "bad luck".

Publius said...

Yeah, I guess what I meant to imply is that while the percentage isn't the most statistically significant, the number has grown significantly (if the percentage remains roughly the same, but population grows, etc...) I'm not entirely sure, but I'd like to if median income (adjusted for inflation) hasn't gone down a little but too.

Anyway, I didn't want to turn this into a numbers game, and I think we're mostly in agreement here.

One thing that we are in agreement about is the concept of the level playing field. I just don't happen to think the govt is providing that.

One other point I forgot to mention in the post. Affordable housing.

Dawg Corleone said...

What would you have the government do to "level the playing field?"

To mix the metaphor, I'm reminded of the old Rush song about the Oaks and the Maples. Their respective heights were equalized, all right: by hatchet, axe, and saw.

Anonymous said...

same song, same verse, same chorus.

The government shouldn't be working on X while we've got a big problem with Y. How hard is it for folks to understand that most any organization, including government at all levels, can work on more than one thing at a time?!

I'd stack Heidi and half the commissioners resume' for working on poverty issues, both on a personal and elected level, up against Keith's, Harry Sims, and all the rest of the folks always screaming that nothing is being done about poverty in Athens, any day of the week. When you're ready, pack a lunch because you're going to be there a while.

We heard the same thing when they were discussing the artsy bus shelters. "Oh, why are we talking about bus shelters when there are poor people who need jobs?" Well, Mr. Sims and Mr. Maxwell, where are your ideas, your plans? It's just a cheap trick when they run out of anything else to say.

Kathy Hoard has done 100 times more to help the poor and fight poverty than any of those "champions of the poor" who like to grandstand but don't want to actually do anything about it. Keith Heard is the biggest empty suit on this issue, ever! For my money, I think it was Heidi calling him out once he brought up the issue. He made himself look stupid if you ask me.

RandomThoughts said...

I'm very interested in the groups of people who are below the poverty level. How many are working poor? People working full time, probably in the best jobs they can find given their abilities and education, and still not able to climb out of poverty. And how can they offer their children the same advantages the richer parents can? Music Lessons, Travel, Books, Cultural experiences? These people are probably so tired after a long work day they can barely fix dinner (too many starches because they are less expensive, forget that they contribute to health problems and obesity). Weekends are for getting everyone ready for next week. Laundry has to be done - often at the local laundramat. Groceries must be bought and somehow gotten home (often without a car). These are the people we should be striving to help. Also aged retirees who worked hard all their lives and now find that a "fixed income" is actually a "broken income" and won't pay for the things they need and the hoops to go through to get assistance are often hard to find and difficult to figure out. These are also the people we need to assist.

How can anyone disagree with this?

Anonymous said...

I have volunteered pretty often for various serious projects designed to address poverty issues in Athens for about 20 years.

Among the elected officials that I've seen actually working during that time are Kathy Hoard, Alice Kinman, Heidi Davison, Brian Kemp, Nancy Denson, and Jane Kidd.

Among those who I've never seen (unless they just stopped in briefly to campaign) are Keith Heard, Harry Sims, George Maxwell, and Tom Chasteen.

I'm just saying.

Dawg Corleone said...

Random asks "how can anyone disagree with this..." as how lays out his litany of ways life sucks for the poor.

I can't. Nobody can. Life sucks when you're poor, and for every degree from which you are removed from being poor, it sucks less.

But let's define terms here. The poor in this country and in this county still have televisions (and cable or satellite dishes), they have cell phones, they have Air Jordans, and--more to the point--they have food (I've not heard of anyone starving to death lately). They have a bus that takes them wherever they want to go (well, maybe not every place and maybe not exactly on their timetables, but beggars can't be choosers). They have any number of social service agencies that will work to keep them warm in the winter and cool in the summer and to make sure their babies have milk and diapers. They have schools to which to send their children. Maybe not the best schools, but again: beggars can't be...

I know all this, because some of the 6 trillion dollars we've spent in our 4-decade War on Poverty were my dollars.

Now, I can't say whether we're winning, because we're not exactly fighting it like a real war. In a real war, you defeat the enemy by killing his people and taking his land.

And I'm not yet ready to advocate shooting poor people and take over their housing projects, though I suppose sometimes we do have to think outside the box...

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

No, I think that's exactly the problem; in many ways we are fighting it like a war, as if the poor are the enemy, as if it's their laziness, their inability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, that's somehow harming us. We need to look it not as a war, but rather as what it is: a social problem, to be solved as a society working together, not by individuals.

Dawg Corleone said...

I don't know what that means..."society working together." I am individual. That's how I work. I have a job (two of them, actually). I perform a service to my fellow citizens, for which I am compensated. A goodly portion of my earnings are then confiscated and given over to those who did not do any of my work. On top of that, I am on occasion charitable, because my faith tells me I should be.

By which I mean I think I'm doing my part, and then some. Nobody is poor because of me. Nor are they poor because of any lack of effort or attention on my part.

I guess what I'm saying is this: I ain't buyin' no bus pass for anybody's Guilt Trip.

Jmac said...

But if I can speak to a larger issue Corleone, that's exactly the problem. There's no sense of the common good - and throw out paying your tax dollars since we obviously disagree over ideology.

You say that your faith tells you to, on occasion, give money to a charity. That's a great thing to do, but why then do you, just a couple of paragraphs later, say you 'ain't buyin' no bus pass for anybody's Guilt Trip.' The notion of the common good and shared responsibility and charity is exactly about buyin' that bus pass.

And that's something that my faith as a Christian instructs me to do. The book of Micah focuses almost entirely on social and economic justice, while throughout the Gospels Christ urges His followers to take care of the poor. He doesn't ask if they're working hard or if they're lazy ... He just says do it in My name. Do it because that's what you're supposed to do.

And this concept is much larger, frankly, than merely the specter of using the government to assist people. It's also about charitable giving and charitable service, and our charitable giving sucks. I heard today in a meeting that the average American only gives two percent of their income back to charity, while last night I heard at my church's Wednesday night supper that only eight percent include charities or their church in their will.

That's awful, and that should change. My neighbor's problems are my own, and it's time we all started to think that way.

Fishplate said...

1. Since when is the Government in the charity business? I thought there was a separation?

2. If charity is Jesus' instruction, why do non-follwers have to comply, at the risk of being jailed?

3. I suspect the nature of poor people 2000 years ago was different from people who are currently the third generation of sucklers at the Government teat.

We've been fighting this war, trying to solve this problem since 1964... And do you know what? The situation was improving, until Lyndon Johnson stepped in with his Great Society. Why should we continually keep throwing money down the hole of poverty, only to find out it doesn't work, in which case we decide the solution is to throw even more money? The Government gives everyone the same opportunity - sufficient food and housing, and a basic education. The rest is up to you.

Dawg Corleone said...

Charitable contributions come out of my disposalbe income.

You want me to give more to charity?

Cut my taxes so I'll have more disposable income.

It worked, by the way, in the Reagan years. Charitable contributions went up after the Reagan tax cuts.

My larger point remains: I'm not going to feel guilty, just because it's somehow and suddenly fashionable.

Anonymous said...

Hey, if the govt can use my tax dollars to kill off America's best and brightest in Iraq, then I'm ok with them using your tax dollars to help people put a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs right here at home.

Dawg Corleone said...

The US Goverment isn't killing Americans in Iraq.

Terrorists are.

Fortunately, we are killing more of them than they are of us.

I say "fortunately," understanding that you might have a different view.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

Yeah, and they were sorely needed after all of the cuts to social programs.

I'm not asking you to feel guilty; the comments weren't directed to you or any other individual. That's exactly my point. A big ideological clash about who's to blame does nobody any good. I simply want collective action to solve the problem.

I don't care if it's charity or government. Ideally there would be efficient cooperation between the two. I'm just saying let's get it done, however we have to do it.

Publius said...

None of this "more patriotic than you" crap, please.

Xon said...

JMac, I took Corleone's point to be that "common good" and "doing whatever guilt-laden non-poor people think will make them feel better" are not necessarily the same thing.

Just because some would-be central planners say that such-and-such is what needs to happen to help the poor, doesn't their mean they're right. If I don't think they're right, if I think that in fact they're proposed "solution" will only make things worse (as centralized solutions, always do, especially when trying to affect economics), then it's not really fair to say that I am rejecting the "common good" or that I need to be feel a greater sense of "social responsibility."

Jmac said...

I think everyone completely missed my point in my common good discussion. I was not arguing for increased government involvement, nor do I think I gave that indication.

I, for one, do think the ability of a government to respond to the needs of its society can be included in this, but I'm not seeking to further that ideological or philosophical argument at this moment.

What I'm talking about right now is the fact that there seems to be a disconnect from what the 'common good' is. Someone can be an arch-Libertarian and still recognize the notion of the 'common good' and seek to play a part through their charitable contributions and good works. That's the larger point I was trying to make, and the criticism of Corleone's seemingly flippant response at the end.

If you don't want to government to have any role in assisting the poor, that's fine. It may be something I wholly disagree with, but it's also an ideological view that I can completely respect. But does it change the fact that you should love your neighbor and you should assist the needy?

As for other points raised here ...

- Much of the reason charitable contributions went up in the Reagan years was because of the increased deductions made available for charitable giving, not because the super-rich had more money in their pockets. They've got more money now and charitable giving isn't as strong as it used to be.

- Fishplate, the nature of poverty has changed in some cultures since the time of Jesus. But so has the nature of the rich. In today's global economy with differing costs of living, there are several levels of poverty, and Christ didn't put any requirements on who is 'more poor' than another. He merely said help them.

- Government's been in the charity business for years - from social programs to public education to corporate tax breaks to tax-deductable contributions. It's all how you define it, so let's not grandstand about this or anything.

- Same goes for the odd question about non-compliers being jailed. Take the military - if you are some uber-pacifist and oppose the fact we even have a military and refuse to pay taxes to fund the military, you're going to be in some trouble. Now even the most ardent Libertarian would agree that a government should provide for the defense of its citizenry, right? So why the bizzare selection of 'charity' (i.e. social programs) as your principled stand against taxation? You'd be hard-pressed to find one person in this country who agrees with every single penny spent by the government, but that doesn't excuse you from paying taxes.

It just means you should work to change the system if you don't like it.

monticello_pres said...

All good debate. Some of it misses the point from which we started - but that is inevitable when we have 2 or more people string together 3.5 sentences or more.

Poverty is a terrible problem. But it is not a social problem. It is an individual problem. We throw more money, more opportunities, more feel-good-look-good crap at poverty than ever before. If you want after-school programs, you have them. And the feds are paying. Tutoring is even included. If you want housing allowances and food stipends, you have them. And the feds and state boys are paying. If you want transportation, there are plenty of empty seats on the bus. And there are bus stops every 12 1/2 feet along most roads in A-CC... so you won't even have to walk a block to catch one.

Should we - as individuals - continue to help our neighbor? Absolutely. Because we adhere to Christ's teachings or simply because we are nice people and it's the right thing to do. But these LBJ expenditures have grown old and are wasting everyone's time and money.

When do the individuals take responsibility for their situation? What motivation do my wife and I have to split 3.5 jobs? Why not sit back and wait for the government to bail us out? Because we don't want them to. But we have trained a population to depend on that and now there is no easy way out.

The government can't fix this problem. Or any other. Only its citizens can - one at a time. 1st step = look in the mirror. Stuffed suits like Keith Heard are too concerned with reelections. So are the boys in Washington. Hell, I don't think John Barrow has unpacked or Max Burns has left his DC apartment. And now they are back at it. Even if these people did have the magic solution, there would be no time to implement it. They campaign 50% of their elected time.

See, now I've gotten off the subject.

The tie-dyed liberals who say we don't do enough are kidding themselves. And they're playing with house money anyway, so what do they care? The soul-less right (even some of the "compassionate conservatives") are only a few days evolved from Jim Crowe tactics. And I'm not bringing race into this as a sole factor... just saying that the pot-bellyed grey hair takes care of his buddy today like he did in 1952.

This is fun to discuss. And it's equally as fun to watch our politicians spout soundbites of empathy while dancing around the real issues like it's a pole in the Cheetah. And the good thing about the topic is that it will be around forever. So we will have it to discuss/debate forever.

Just like the OB/GYN has job security (sex doesn't go out of style)... politicians will have poverty to campaign upon. Because, afterall, our lazy and empowered 25% won't go out of style either.