Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
Benefit or betrayal?
Week 60 of the Occupation
As the policy elite gather this week in Mackinac, they should look beyond Grand Bargains, political posturing, bankruptcy, and bond ratings to the state of our children. Nothing more starkly reveals the failure of the reigning economic and political ideas than the increasingly impoverished lives and diminished opportunities of our young.
The Casey Foundation recently released a report called “Race for Results.” The results they document are disturbing. Deepening poverty, and health, and educational disparities mark the lives of all children in America, but especially those of African American, Latino and Native heritage.
“Race for Results” provides a high-level but nuanced look at children in each racial demographic and some of the conditions that explain their circumstances,” said Laura Speer, associate director of policy reform and advocacy at the Casey Foundation. “We see that where a child lives matters and that in nearly every state, African-American, American Indian and Latino children have some of the steepest obstacles to overcome.”
The report concludes, “For African-American children, the situation is dire. In general, states in the Rust Belt and the Mississippi Delta are places where opportunity for black children is poorest. African-American kids face the greatest barriers to success in Michigan, Mississippi and Wisconsin.”
The report documents that over the last four years, during the so-called economic recovery, the number of children living in poverty has increased nation wide. Now one in four children lives in poverty. Detroit leads the way with 60% of our children living below the poverty line, nearly three times higher than the national average.
Today, the United States has also achieved the distinction of becoming the nation with the highest level of income inequality among advanced countries.
In a recent speech on “Why Inequality Matters,” Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics, said, “America has become the advanced country not only with the highest level of inequality, but is among those with the least equality of opportunity—the statistics show that the American dream is a myth; that the life prospects of a young American are more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in other developed countries. We have betrayed one of our most fundamental values. And the result is that we are wasting our most valuable resource, our human resources: millions of those at the bottom are not able to live up to their potential.”
Stiglitz explains that this inequality is not accidental or natural. It is the result of political choices. He says, “ Inequality is largely a result of policies—of what we do and don’t do. The laws of economics are universal: the fact that in some countries there is so much less inequality and so much more equality of opportunity, the fact that in some countries inequality is not increasing—it is actually decreasing—is not because they have different laws of economics. Every aspect of our economic, legal, and social frameworks helps shape our inequality: from our education system and how we finance it, to our health system, to our tax laws, to our laws governing bankruptcy, corporate governance, the functioning of our financial system, to our anti-trust laws. In virtually every domain, we have made decisions that help enrich the top at the expense of the rest.”
The re-creation of life in Detroit must begin with the basic question of how do we develop ways of living that enhance the lives of our children? What will enable them to become fully conscious, socially responsible, productive, and joyful adults?
Until we collectively face this question, all the talk by policy makers in Mackinac will only further erode the basic foundation of our city and our country.