Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at the Chicago Tribune. Patricia Jackson told an audience in Blue Island Tuesday night about how poverty has affected her family. Jackson, her husband and their three children had to move into the basement of her
Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at the Chicago Tribune.
Patricia Jackson told an audience in Blue Island Tuesday night about how poverty has affected her family.
Jackson, her husband and their three children had to move into the basement of her mother’s home in Roseland. They faced eviction from their apartment before the start of the pandemic last year.
“We paid our rent every month and come to find out the landlord wasn’t paying taxes on the building,” Jackson said.
She works for Catholic Charities and her husband runs a business selling meat and seafood. They had no money saved when they faced eviction, she said, and struggled to find another apartment in Chicago.
“For one, almost every landlord wants an application fee for each adult 18 and over,” Jackson said. Application fees are $25 to $50 per adult. “You’re trying to apply for three apartments and you’re out $150 off the top and there is no guarantee you’re going to get the apartment.”
Jackson appeared via videoconference before a group of about two dozen people attending a listening session at the Blue Island Library. Another 100 or so people participated online.
Judging from the makeup of the panel and the discussion Tuesday night, the commission will fail in its task. The noble effort to eradicate poverty is doomed unless the commission expands the scope of its work.
There is no doubt poverty is a pressing concern. Deputy Gov. Sol Flores presented data about the depth of the crisis in Illinois.
“Before the pandemic, 1.6 million Illinoisans lived in poverty, with 739,000 living in what we call deep poverty,” Flores said. “Of those, 32% were children.”
Poverty impacts Black and Latino people more than whites.
“In Illinois, 13.9% of the children are in poverty in rural areas, 14.8% in suburban areas and 21% from urban areas, said Al Llorens, vice president of the Illinois Education Association, a teachers’ union. “The poverty rate for Black and Latino children is more than twice the rate for white children.”
Society’s youngest and oldest members experience the cruel effects of poverty.
“Poverty does not discriminate as we age,” said Ken Grunke, executive director of Pathlights, an agency that serves senior citizens. “Access to basic needs, or should I say, basic rights that include food, shelter, clothing, medical care, education, transportation and workforce development can all impact each and every one of us regardless of age.”
Dana Kelly, senior public service administrator for the Illinois Department of Human Services, moderated Tuesday’s discussion. Presenters included U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Chicago, and Carol Kusman, community engagement specialist with the Blue Island Robbins Neighborhood Network.
“When I got the call from Dana, I couldn’t believe somebody actually wanted to admit that we have a problem,” Kusman said. “Nobody’s ever said, ‘We know it’s a problem, how do we deal with it?’ If we can sit down and figure out little steps to get there, I’ll be happy. Eliminating poverty is a really hard thing to do, I think.”
Commission members represent urban, suburban and rural areas. They advocate for children and the elderly. They bring to the table expertise on food insecurity, mental illness, housing, veterans, people with disabilities, labor, government and other areas. With all that brainpower, they are sure to succeed, right?
Wrong. The commission will fail unless it includes politics in the scope of its work.
Poverty is not something accidental, like a vehicle damaged in a crash or a structure impacted by a tree toppled in a storm. Poverty exists because upper classes want it to exist. Wealthy corporations want access to cheap labor. The more desperate employees are to keep low-wage jobs, the better.
Poverty exists because right-wing extremists have scared Congress into keeping the federal minimum wage at $7.25 an hour since 2009.
Poverty will persist so long as nearly half the population believes deliberate political misinformation. The commission appears to make no effort to understand why so many members of the upper classes feel a sense of grievance and resentment about government handouts.
“Why should poor people get education, housing and food for free?” they seem to ask. “Those in poverty choose to live in squalor. Their situations are the result of laziness, bad parenting, moral failings, drugs or criminal behavior.”
You can’t fix poverty while there is a well-funded political operation devoted to stoking fears that the government is taking your hard-earned dollars away from you and your children and giving them to others who have done nothing to earn them.
This dynamic has baffled clueless Democrats for generations. Ronald Reagan won the biggest landslide in U.S. presidential history by vilifying a “welfare queen.” His freeloading villain was based on the corrupt exploits of a Chicago woman who drove a Cadillac while receiving government benefits.
The commission will fail unless it tackles generational resentment about government assistance in general. In addition to visiting low-income communities and learning how poverty impacts people, the commission would be wise to spend time listening to folks in middle- and upper-class areas.
The experts ought to ask them how they feel about poverty. They might be surprised to discover there are a lot of misperceptions about people who live in poverty.
Jackson told Tuesday’s audience about how the Family Independence Initiative sustained her family. The nonprofit offers financial assistance with no strings attached. Jackson said her family received $3,200, which they saved and used to rent an apartment in East Chicago, Indiana.
“They give you funds for free,” she said. “You don’t have to pay it back. You don’t have to do anything for it.”
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The commission needs to realize that message is not going to go over well with the aggrieved segment of the population.
When the panel completes its work and writes a report full of recommendations about how to eliminate poverty in Illinois, the blueprint will be worthless unless it includes detailed plans on how to eradicate ignorance and resentment about government assistance.
Because if benevolent socialists succeed in eliminating poverty, political opponents will use that success to fire up their base and boot those tax-and-spend villains from office. Then they’ll use their political power to cancel anti-poverty programs, regardless of how effective they are, because that’s what their base wants.
You can’t fix poverty without addressing politics. The commission is doomed to fail in its work if it ignores the elephant themed party in the room.
Ted Slowik is a columnist for the Daily Southtown.