This is the time of the year when cities and states are figuring out budgets and how much money is available for education and health care and housing and social services…our most vulnerable children and families and communities. Most recently, I have experienced this process in Philadelphia where city council submits their priorities and the mayor does the same and they all wait with anxiety for priorities (education spending, specifically) from the state.
It’s not a pretty picture and it doesn’t really work. Most choices do not bring significant enough resources to the table to address the root causes of poverty
In an alternative universe, we also are unable to spend enough money to eliminate our fear of terrorism. Now, a definition of terrorism is the use of force or violence for the purposes of political intimidation. I would suggest that the characteristics of poverty very much mirror terrorism. When people do not have jobs and do not have good schools is this not terrorism? When people lose hope, does this not lead to violence?
Here is an idea. We have spent some $791 billion since 9/11 on homeland security, mostly to eliminate fear. This is far more than we spent on the New Deal to create all those social programs during the Great Depression. Let’s take some of that homeland security money and use it to eliminate poverty by creating living wage jobs and good schools including early childhood education.
Think about this. If we spent an additional $5,000 per child to improve early childhood education, this would decrease the need for special education where we spend an additional $6,250 per child. This would increase the possibility of a child achieving in school and not ending up in poverty. One million children could be starting life with a better chance and we could save money! The cost: $5 billion with an immediate and long term direct financial return on the investment. This is real homeland security!
There is not agreement on what it costs to create living wage jobs. But, we have millions of people unemployed and millions of people underemployed working part-time. Our infrastructure is in need of repair. We need teachers and health care workers. We need to support existing small businesses and to create opportunities for new small businesses. Job creation makes good sense and it is real homeland security.
A community reinvestment strategy to end poverty will challenge the very forces of fear that divide our communities. In the great immigration debate, it’s protecting our borders in the name of fear of those people crossing into our country versus the hope of a “pathway to citizenship” where we recognize and support the contributions of immigrants.
By taking responsibility for the terrorism of poverty and making homeland security a community reinvestment strategy, we can create a landscape of hope over fear.
This is a legacy that our children and their children will be proud to share.