Not unlike the famous book “Six Degrees of Separation,” most things are interrelated at some level. They may not be cause and effect related, but if you look hard enough, you can likely find connections where you did not think they existed. I have used this example on a few occasions, but it is not uncommon or ironic to see someone in a social services capacity fail to recognize a problem with one of his or her clients and something bad happens. Invariably, the newspapers and public will be alarmed and say “how could you possibly let that happen?” Yet, when you find out the social worker is handling 160 clients, when a more effective number of clients might be 16, you can see how budget cuts have caused people to do more with less and a case falls through the cracks.
There is a similar example that is being highlighted in a HBO Documentary film called “Gideon’s Army” which focuses on a vastly overworked group of public defenders. A link to the website is as follows: http://gideonsarmythefilm.com/. These folks are so overworked and underpaid, they cannot do their job and save people who have been given a raw deal or honor the defense of people who have done what they are accused of. As a consequence, justice is not well-served and innocent people or people whose crime is not as significant as portrayed, are put into a prison system and are lost. These big-hearted, hard-working public defenders should be applauded and given more support, both financially and emotionally. The problem is we end-up with an over-crowded prison system including people who should not be there and who will tend to commit more future crimes by having been in the prison system.
Crimes committed by people in poverty are another good example. If we do not educate and mentor kids they may seek paths forward that are not fruitful. If we do not counsel teenage girls and boys on sex education and give them means of birth control, unwanted families will occur. I have shared before there is a strong correlation between family size and poverty. There is also a strong correlation between teenage mothers and poverty. And, with only one parent and a young one at that, it places the children in harm’s way. Parents, just like you, these kids are going to be tempted and want to have sex. You cannot stop them. Feel free to preach abstinence, but also teach your teenage girls how to say “no” to a teenage boy. Mothers and fathers teach your teenage boys to respect girls. But, also give both of them condoms. The message is I would prefer that you not, but if you do, please (have him) wear this.
Poverty manifests itself in many ways. Lack of education is a key reason for poverty be it not having a high school, GED, two or four-year college degree or skilled in a trade. Lack of a job above minimum wage is another key reason. The minimum wage jobs perpetuate poverty as people cannot live as an individual, much less feed a family, on these jobs. The absence of healthcare or poor healthcare insurance is another reason. This is the leading reason for personal bankruptcy. We must invest in our people. That includes keeping them alive through food stamps and unemployment benefits. That includes giving them access to affordable healthcare.These programs actually reinvest dollars into the economy. Yet, we must help educate people to gain better jobs. When crime evolves out of poverty, all of society pays the price. If we can invest in these communities and education, dividends will be paid to the community through a more robust economy and greater number of taxpayers and consumers.
Also, our communities need a safe and flourishing environment. I see a huge ROI in treating the environment well. Health (including mental health) care costs will improve, infrastructure won’t be as degraded if we build in an environmentally supportive way and cleaner jobs will lead to longer lifespans. Some folks may scoff at the improved physical and mental healthcare costs, but there are strong correlations between asthma, autism and other diseases and chemical toxins in the environment. Since a child’s brain does not fully form until he or she is in their 20’s, the kids are more prone to be impacted to these toxins being closer to the ground, mouth breathing more, and placing their hands in their mouth more times per hour than an adult. Also, there has been observed increases in pre-mature births in more toxic areas and since the lungs are the last organ to fully develop, these pre-mature births make the babies more prone to breathing abnormalities down the road perpetuating the problem.
I could go on, but let me end with a comment about obesity. If you are overweight, you are a train wreck waiting to happen. It may not occur until you are in your 40’s or 50’s, but if you do not take care of your body, it will cause a problem. Doctors are not surprised when many people have heart attacks, strokes, joint pain, diabetes, liver malfunction, etc. and are overweight. Your obesity will cause you problems in a vast many ways. It will also affect you financially, as there are these things called deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance. Plus, there is a correlation between depression and obesity. You cannot treat the latter without treating the former. So, if you eat better, drink less and exercise more, it will improve your health, mind and pocketbook. But, go see a mental health professional if you are overeating due to being depressed, disappointed, stressed, etc.
I mention these interrelationships as examples as we need holistic solutions to our many problems. This is not the movies and there are no silver bullets. We need to spend our money judiciously and in several areas where improvements can be made. Like many issues, the improvement may not be overnight and it may take a long time, but if we identify problems and underlying causes, develop a plan, determine what success will look like and when it might occur, develop milestones and measures and invest in our future, we will have a better chance of success. Things are interrelated. If we don’t understand that, we may not solve the problems.