The calls for increasing the minimum wage continue to get louder with four more states voting for measures to raise their minimum wages last Tuesday, bringing the overall number of states that have passed such laws to 29. While there is little doubt that raising the minimum wage is long overdue and an essential step in assisting individuals and families escape poverty. It is but one step up the socio-economic ladder. Real and sustainable progress toward eliminating poverty necessitates a multipronged approach. Two critical outlets to genuine economic empowerment, education and workforce development training, should both be fully embracing and provided adequate funding.
The first and most important step to accomplishing this is ensuring that those individuals who have the power work tirelessly to remove inherent barriers to economic opportunity for all. This will not happen on its own, people effect change and in this country one of the most powerful ways to that is at the ballot box: Peter Edelman expressed that exact sentiment in a New York Times opinion article on July 28, 2012 in which he said:
“A surefire politics of change would necessarily involve getting people in the middle — from the 30th to the 70th percentile — to see their own economic self-interest. If they vote in their own self-interest, they’ll elect people who are likely to be more aligned with people with lower incomes as well as with them. As long as people in the middle identify more with people on the top than with those on the bottom, we are doomed. The obscene amount of money flowing into the electoral process makes things harder yet.”
“The change has to come from the bottom up and from synergistic leadership that draws it out. When people decide they have had enough and there are candidates who stand for what they want, they will vote accordingly.”
THE CALL TO EMBRACE EDUCATION
“These children and their parents know that getting an education is not only their right, but a passport to a better future – for the children and for the country.” — Harry Belafonte
The website DOSOMETHING.ORG lists 11 facts about education and poverty in America, the one common thread that runs through all 11 is that those living in poverty have a higher likelihood of failing academically and thus remaining in poverty. https://www.dosomething.org/facts/11-facts-about-education-and-poverty-america
Study after study has shown that education is one of if not the key factor in escaping poverty. A child’s desire to learn must be encouraged at an early age and continually stimulated as they grow. It is crucial that adults from family members and local educators to business leaders and politicians shoulder the responsibility of ensuring that there is both a sound home and educational environment where a child’s innate desire to learn and discover is cultivated and that funding for education is a top priority.
Of course everything comes with a price and education is not free. Money is needed to provide the type of quality education that children need today to compete in the increasingly competitive global economy and yes it is true that you can’t simply throw money at every problem and hope that fixes it, education being no different. But you can make smart decisions about where the money is thrown and in the case of education when money is used smartly more is never less. Elaine Weiss, the national coordinator for the Broader Bolder Approach to Education (BBA), wrote that Kids who are living in poverty need more, not less, of the supports that help upper-class children thrive. These include small classes, challenging, rich curriculum, individualized instruction and supportive responses to emotional and behavioral challenges. It also means ensuring a meaningful “floor” – in terms of school readiness, physical and mental health, and nutrition – on which they can stand in order to viably learn. http://billmoyers.com/2013/11/06/the-real-21st-century-problem-in-public-education-is-poverty/.
THE CALL TO FUND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
A well-educated, highly skilled workforce may be the most important ingredient to strengthen our economy and ensure a high quality of life.
As more children learn how to download and use an app on their smartphone and tablet before they learn their ABCs it is becoming increasingly clear that advances in technology are creating a job market that many Americans are simply not prepared for. Communities must continue to push for and demand that funds are appropriated for workforce development programs that as Senator Bob Portman, one of the co-authors of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), said “modernizes and improves existing federal workforce development programs to be more responsive to the needs of employers, and more effective in connecting the unemployed with good-paying jobs”.
The bipartisan (yes that word still exists) Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 22, 2014 is a start. As the President stated:
“The bill I’m about to sign…will give communities more certainty to invest in job-training programs for the long run.” He added that the bill will help bring those training programs into the 21st century by “building on what we know works based on evidence, and based on tracking what actually delivers” for those who enroll in the programs — more partnerships with employers, tools to measure performance, and flexibilities for states and cities to innovate and run their training programs in ways best suited for their particular demographics and particular industries.
There is no question that the road out of poverty is a very long one and will require continued vigilance by all. We must continue to make our voice heard by calling for increases in the minimum wage but we also must not lose sight of the other paths out of poverty that must be paved if we are to truly see its end.