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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Poverty is not the problem.

I caught another episode of 20/20 the other night. It's the first time I've tuned in since the stellar piece on North Korea I blogged about a little while ago. Friday's piece was about poverty in downtown Camden, NJ. Within a short drive from my front door there are children who go hungry daily and people who live without electricity in slums with roaches. Camden is one of, if not the, poorest city of it's size in the country. It is in the top three consistently for most dangerous city in the country. However, if these statistics were not bad in and of themselves the fact that Camden is surrounded by some of the largest and most prosperous counties in the entire country is enough to make one sick. Here is Jersey- a notably liberal state under the watchful eye of the so called champions of the poor, the Democrats, with a city ravaged by poverty. I should mention, Atlantic City isn't doing to good itself but that is another post. Homeowners in NJ have the highest property taxes in the country; we beat New York and California and we're less than half their sizes. The average homeowner in Glochester County, just north of Camden, pays $6000 a year in property tax. The local and state governments have tons of tax money coming in and tons of programs yet, Diane Sawyer met a family who used watered down coffee creamer as toddler formula when they had no money for milk. The grandfather opened a handful of those individual little creamer cups, poured them between two bottles and added water to calm his two crying grandchildren. The whole situation makes me want to scream and cry at the same time. Is it any surprise the backbone of the local downtown economy is drug dealing? Dealers pay up to $10,000 a week to 'rent' a corner for pushing. Yes, $10,000 A WEEK. An article in the South Jersey paper the Courier Post suggested more 'programs' were needed to help inner city residents but gave few concrete suggestions. Absent from any reporting is the fact that until the people living in cushy suburbs outside Camden give a damn, nothing is going to happen. Suburban residents are slow to embrace any tax relief that may cause cut backs in any of their communities' services or child's school programs. Meanwhile homeownership in Camden, in even the roughest areas, is almost impossible because of high property cost and taxes. It is simply too expensive to live in NJ unless you make almost a white collar salary. It seems almost a hopeless situation, and it will continue unless some radical changes take place. Most of which rely on a change of attitude more than anything else. Poverty is not the problem. Money is not the answer. People who don't know what to do with the little money they have, will not be able to spend large amounts of money any better. So long as people view their situation as hopeless and themselves as failures they will amount to nothing. For all the kids that go into drug dealing to make money and make life better for themselves what do they do with it all before they're shot? Spend it on junk food, expensive clothes, pimped cars, gadgets and guns. And I don't think any of them are any happier. You can live happily with very little money when it is well spent. How many wealthy people know how to manage money? How many of the people in the suburbs of Jersey carry more debt on the homes, cars and credit cards then they make? How many of them toss and turn at night over the bills? It is the relentless pull of materialism that fuels debt, unhappiness and feelings of failure when we cannot provide name brands and bling for our family. Happiness is not always wanting something else, it's wanting what you got.
We need to give the poor hope. We need to provide them with meaningful work or skill that provides them with a fair wage. We need to teach them how to save and spend wisely. We need to free them from the desire of unnecessary material goods. We need to have clean, safe, affordable housing. We need to create neighborhoods were people take pride in their homes and on the appearance of their public areas. We need to create safe outlets for young people and children under the watchful eye of caring adults. We need to encourage abstinence as the only option until marriage. We need to wean people off of public assistance when possible and teach them to provide for themselves and their family. These are not things the state can do. These are things only the community can do for itself with guidance from churches and laymen. Love of work, love of self, love of family, love of home and love of neighbor; this is what we must teach one another and especially those without hope. This is how people will learn to live happily in Camden and drive out the drug trade. You will not buy drugs if you love your life, you will not sell them if you can make enough money to afford what you need through more enjoyable means.
This all seems like common sense but try explaining it to anyone in Trenton. Most people in the state are so removed from the problem they would much rather start a new program that hires other people to deal with 'those people.' Until suburbanites start getting out of their media rooms and into the soup kitchens, the burden will fall on the select few who answer the call to serve.