The price of poverty

Last weekend, the New York Times ran a column by Robert Putnam titled Crumbling American Dreams.
Here’s an excerpt:

But the story of Port Clinton over the last half-century — like the history of America over these decades — is not simply about the collapse of the working class but also about the birth of a new upper class. In the last two decades, just as the traditional economy of Port Clinton was collapsing, wealthy professionals from major cities in the Midwest have flocked to Port Clinton, building elaborate mansions in gated communities along Lake Erie and filling lagoons with their yachts. By 2011, the child poverty rate along the shore in upscale Catawba was only 1 percent, a fraction of the 51 percent rate only a few hundred yards inland. As the once thriving middle class disappeared, adjacent real estate listings in the Port Clinton News Herald advertised near-million-dollar mansions and dilapidated double-wides.

Coincidentally, the same day Putnam’s article ran in the  Times, the Daily Gazette of Schenectady ran a report about how food stamps in my area were being used to pay for rent and the electric bill.

Does the widening income gap bother you?

AFT President Randi Weingarten noted the impact of poverty in her keynote address last month. She praised educators and public employees who “have become the first responders” in addressing the needs of students living in poverty.

Every teacher, bus driver, secretary, faculty member I know rails about the impact of poverty on schools. They know hungry kids don’t learn as well as kids who have been fed.  They also know families struggling to pay for food, often don’t have enough funds to buy books or magazines. It’s why NYSUT joined with First Book and AFT to get books into the hands of students who live in poverty. Every local union with which I am familiar runs a book drive of some sort to help fill this gap. Here’s a report about the United Federation of Teachers — NYSUT’s largest local — giving away 40,000 books in the Bronx in June.

Any number of New York cities, both small like Kingston and large like Buffalo, face increasing challenges because of the income gaps reported by Putnam.

Things get even worse when you consider that the House of Representatives wants to allow states to cut Title 1 funds and allow districts to allocate fewer total dollars to high-poverty schools compared to more affluent schools. In addition to volunteering time at a food bank or a United Way program, there’s another thing you can do to try to make sure low-income students get programs or resources they need. Take the time to contact your national lawmakers about how ESEA should be reauthorized. Here’s a handy link to help you do it through NYSUT’s Member Action Center.

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