The Poverty Paradox

The Poverty Paradox

By Phillip Newswanger

The dichotomy between the number of available of jobs and the 16 percent poverty rate in Norfolk staggers the imagination.

In Norfolk, in April, there were 6,341 unemployed and yet there were 12,297 job openings, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.  And not all these jobs demand rigorous cubicle canoodling and are accompanied by fancy titles.

Construction workers and laborers top the list, followed by carpenters and panoply of office workers. High wage jobs, such as computer and information systems managers, are also in demand.

Yet it’s easier to start a career as a dope dealer than it is to get a working man’s job.  The risk is high, considering the job responsibilities, but so are the rewards, and the application process is a breeze.

Apply for a regular job and the applicant is subjected to a background check, a credit check, and often asked if they have a valid driver’s license. Often, many firms demand that an applicant fill in boxes online and submit the information, never knowing if someone will actually read your embellished experience, background and skills.

In July, Mayor Fraim’s Commission on Poverty Reduction is expected to submit its findings and recommendations to City Council. The Commission, a coalition of community and political leaders, began their descent into poverty February, 2013, when the Commission was launched.

It is a worthwhile intellectual exercise, but there is no panacea, no silver bullet for Poverty and the ramifications of poverty on education, society and our worth as human beings.

The de-concentration of poverty is the highest priority, so far, for the Commission. It is a notable recommendation, but it’s a rather redundant observation.

The Commission also gave high priority to access to career education and pre-school education – another hackneyed recommendation.

It is not my intent to demean or torpedo the work of the Commission and its recommendations. Yet it is apparent the Commission’s thinking and actions are predictable.

Of course, Norfolk needs to de-concentrate poverty.

Of course, our children need pre-school education and our adults need access to career education.

Norfolk is rife with “workforce development” efforts. They are rampant. Most of the organizations and city departments and political subdivisions in the city have some form of “workforce development” department, office or individual.

What are they doing? What are the results?

Perhaps that’s the problem: we have too many organizations off on their own chasing a fool’s errand.

How do we connect the workers with the jobs?

Hold job fairs where there is the highest concentration of poverty, perhaps. Don’t sit in your office and expect the poor to pore through your door. Get into the community. Talk to people on the street. And see how others are getting involved.

A group in Philly is addressing “the difficult issue of poverty by focusing on improving education and economic development and reducing violence.”

None are elected officials.

One of the organizers, Rahim Islam, a developer, said his group notably does not include elected officials because the grassroots organization needs to be able to present its agenda to political leaders, according to Philly.com.

In New York, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York and the UJA Federation are conducting a joint study and seeking ways to help lift people out of poverty, according to business publication Crains New York.

In Cedar Falls, Iowa, author Ruby Payne told the United Way’s Women’s Philanthropy Connection that every discussion about poverty should include the poor, according to the Waterloo Cedars Fall Courier.

“If you want solutions for your community, you have to have people from poverty at the table,” Payne said. “We never invite them to the table to help discuss solutions. We assume we know that reality, and we make decisions, and then when they don’t work, we say, ‘Ah, there’s something wrong with those people.’”

“Imagine a conference targeted at improving the status of women but filled with only men. The men brainstorm, come up with solutions, all of which inevitably fail.”

“Then, imagine that society turns to the women and blames them for the failure,” Payne said.

That scenario is akin to what society does every day to people living in generational poverty, Payne said.