Thomas Black lives in Leesburg, Virginia.
It seems inarguable to state that poverty creates desperation. Through casual observation, one can come to understand this statement as a self-evident truth. For instance, in the most innocent of circumstances, a single mother working two full-time jobs at, or near, the minimum wage standard for both occupations is unlikely to pursue these professions out of passion, or because she believes this will ultimately prove to be lucrative. Contrarily, she is honorably striving to provide for her family and make ends meet to the best of her ability.
In more dire situations, those who live in impoverished circumstances are more likely to turn to criminal activity in an attempt to address financial short comings. Algis Sileika and Jurgita Bekeryte (2012) discuss this correlation in the Journal of Security and Sustainability Issues. The authors note a correlation between high poverty rates and a growth in criminal activity, while also observing the negative side effects poverty produces on an individual’s physical and mental health.
So, what does poverty look like for individuals and families long term? Well, in the first scenario, it not only looks like an exhausted mother trying to provide for and raise her children, but the effects of poverty-based desperation are paid forward to the child. Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs notes that children who do not receive consistent responses from their parents are more likely to be, “aggressive, defiant, and hyperactive as adults” (Huber, 2014). Furthermore, Huber (2014) notes that children who do not create strong bonds with their “mothers or fathers,” through having basic emotional and physical needs met regularly, will likely enter kindergarten with deficient language and behavioral skills. While an impoverished mother and/or father are desperately trying to meet the basic necessities for survival, their child is already developing a pattern that is likely to conclude with poverty in their own adulthood.
Poverty begets desperation which begets continued poverty.
While I do not intend to over simplify the problem or the solution, a few observations regarding modern responses are relevant to this discussion. First, our well-intentioned policy makers who would self-identify as left or left-leaning often seek to ensure a more equal outcome between those who are currently in poverty with those who are currently experiencing greater affluence.
Public housing plans, social welfare policies, and minimum wage mandates are often points of discussion in this debate.
While I can choose to trust that the intention of these policy makers is to provide families and individuals with the necessary breathing room to more appropriately care for their children and better themselves, I fear the conclusion to these principles results in well-intentioned harm. These programs are often, I believe, unsustainable. Moreover, it can lead to a type of practical slavery experienced by sharecroppers in the Jim Crow South.
Sadly, however, many policies to address this situation from well-intentioned policy makers who would self-identify as right or right-leaning, often offer responses that do not recognize or satisfy the urgency of the situation. Tax cuts, while necessary and helpful, take years to move a family from one socio-economic environment to another. Additionally, school choice – which will be addressed momentarily – is a non-immediate benefit experienced by the next generation. When considering the plight of the economically depressed, policies need to be both sustainable and as immediate as possible.
Algis Sileika and Jurgita Bekeryte (2012) identify, among other variables, a lack of education and sustainable employment opportunities as two great factors that contribute to poverty. To address the shortfalls of education, I believe school choice needs to be the cornerstone of public policy regarding academic advancement. This conclusion is both practical and principled.
- Why should the government be permitted to dictate where free men and women educate their children?
- Why is it that the government – which is an organization constituted by nothing more than fellow citizens – can mandate where my children go to school and my only response to benefit from this publicly funded option is to say, “yes, master”?
- How does this design benefit our most vulnerable and impoverished citizens? Public schools are primarily funded through property taxes, and impoverished communities generate less revenue which leads to underfunded and less effective schools.
The prevailing laws of the day encourage a cycle where poverty propagates poor education, and public policy forces impoverished students to learn in ineffective institutions. The conclusion of this system results in a student that is less prepared to compete for well-paying jobs where upward professional mobility is also a possibility. And yet again, poverty begets poverty, which begets greater desperation, which begets further poverty.
However, school choice cannot be the only answer. Rather, if the point of education is to prepare for a career, why not foster a greater bond between professionalism and education? I believe a greater partnership between tradesmen (e.g., welders, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, contractors, etc.) and public education institutions would benefit individuals, communities, schools, and businesses. This is not to be confused with a current system where career and technical education are options in the existing curriculum.
I believe a partnership between companies that specialize in a particular trade will practically enhance the principles, curriculum, and opportunities of technical education.
Tradecraft education could permit a company to assist in the development of a curriculum, ranging from one to four years for completion, where they are able to teach the “tricks of the trade” and possibly help students prepare for initial certification(s); this would make the student immediately marketable upon graduation, and just as quickly lift them – and potentially their family – out of poverty in a sustainable fashion. Internships for upperclassmen could also be offered, much like a professional version of dual-enrollment courses, allowing graduates to have work experience and academic success on their initial résumé.
Finally, schools should be able to choose which companies they want to participate in this program from a pre-approved list of interested businesses. As I said earlier, this program must be a consensual partnership between a school and a company participating by their own volition. Of note, within the framework of school choice, schools would be even more likely to participate in this program, as this would enhance the product/service they’re bringing to market by appealing to a wider array of consumers.
This idea, of course, cannot be forced upon companies. However, I believe there are a number of benefits companies could derive from the structure of this program, which would be both naturally and legislatively achieved.
First, I believe companies could be incentivized to participate through tax legislation.
For example, the state could provide tax credits of a set amount to participating companies; or they could treat every hour of an employee’s time spent on this program as a charitable contribution from the company, by multiplying the hours spent by the average revenue generated by an employee, and reducing the corporation’s taxable revenue by the total of that amount.
Additionally, to further incentivize business, you could apply a tax credit for every former student a company employs out of this program. However, the tax credit for this action would need to be relatively minor, or you create a market for hiring poor employees – which would, in all likelihood, result in termination of employment for an individual, a potential return to poverty, and a greater budget deficit for the state government. Rather, this particular credit would need to be an added bonus, which responds to corporate hiring patterns that would have likely happened with or without the credit, based on the merit of the former student and prospective employee.
To this end, there are natural benefits a corporation has to participating in this program, one of which is the ability to establish a pipeline of prospective employees. By participating in this program, companies would be able to become very familiar with the character, skills, and qualifications of a potential employee. Instead of making hiring determinations based solely on a résumé and short interview(s), the company could now establish a channel of prospective employees who they personally know have the necessary qualifications, skills, and work ethic to grow the business and represent the company well.
Governing at any level is not a simple task. It often requires officials to engage in complex challenges while making difficult choices from a myriad of options, none of which promise success and all of which carry risk.
Rather than viewing the primary role of government as a means to progress society, I believe the primary role of government is to protect individual liberty.
Secondary to that principle, government does have a responsibility to promote the general welfare through careful investments, striving for equal opportunity within its jurisdiction, and removing obstacles to success not resulting from personal choice. I believe the framework of this plan champions both liberty and sustainable socio-economic advancement by recognizing that an individual’s freedom is both inalienable and necessary if an individual is to seize control of their own destiny, and that taxes are both essential for society and an obstacle to wealth generation.
- Main image credit: Brandy Taylor/ Getty Images
- Huber, B. (2014, March 27). Princeton University: Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Retrieved from “Four in 10 Infants Lack Strong Parental Attachments.”
- Sileika, A., & Bekeryte, J. (2012). Theoretical Issues of Relationship Between Unemployment, Poverty and Crime in Sustainable Development. Journal of Security and Sustainability Issues, 59-70.