Gone to seed

We have a poverty problem in the United States. Too many of our declining middle class did not rise to the next strata, falling instead, to near poverty and into poverty. Yet, we do not talk about this problem enough. We have let their ladders out of poverty, go to seed along with their environment.

Poverty should be succinctly defined, as it is often misdefined along with simplistic diagnoses. Quite simply, poverty is the lack of money. The causes are many and complex, so the solutions must be holistic.

Some like to say it is due to lack of virtue. Some like to say it is due to lack of work ethic, while others may claim it is due to drug use or alcoholism. When I work with people in poverty, I witness hard working, often pious people. I see people with a lesser propensity to do drugs than general society.

If we recognize the simple definition of poverty as lack of money, we can focus our attention on providing ladders out of poverty. We can invest in the communities that have gone to seed, both with economic and social capital. We can start with redeveloping depleted assets. The term coined with a successful program in Atlanta is ABCD – Asset Based Comminuty Development.

ABCD could focus on repairing and not closing a community school, recognizing the during and after school value it offers. Or, it could be redeveloping a gone to seed golf course or empty textile or tobacco mill. Or, it could be repurposing a mall to be a school, church, charity or governmental building. Replacing or refurbishing blighted assets makes a huge difference.

Coupled with these investments must be education and career development, or social investments. Jobs and careers are scarce in too many areas. Opportunities must be introduced and nurtured to make them sustainable. STEM education, apprenticeships, trades skills are part of an all of the above tactical strategy,

But, we must be mindful of four negative trends in areas that have gone to seed – crime, opioids, food deserts  and single families. Community policing by people living in the community is key. Targeted help with the opiod epidemic is important. Better food choices must be available as they may not have a grocery market. And, we must have holistic sex education and access to planned parenthood tools and birth control.

What we cannot have is kicking tens of millions off health care insurance. We cannot reduce an already minuscule food stamps program. We need to think about improving the minimum wage.

These are just a few ideas. But, first we need to address what people in poverty lack – money.

 

 

 

All the President’s Men

Not to overstate the obvious, but it would behoove those who serve the President to remember the famous title of the Watergate movie – “All the President’s Men.” While President Nixon was pardoned for any crimes that led to his resignation, over twenty of his colleagues went to jail.

Our current President has many challenges that continue to be problematic. His biggest character flaws are his large ego, thin skin and disdain for telling the truth. Yet, what makes these attributes even worse is he cannot remain silent when that would be the wiser course of action. As a result, he has unforced errors.

A month ago, the bookies in London had the odds at even money, this President would resign or be impeached before his first term ends. My guess is the odds are now better than 50/50 that he won’t make four years.

While the proof has yet to be found, this President is acting like a guilty man with respect to Russia collusion. But, what may also be his undoing is his vast number of conflicts of interest. I personally believe he is using the Presidency to make more money, as caring for others has never been his modus operandi.

So, I would recommend people to stop lying for this man and start doing their job. They will stay out of trouble that way.

Personal Finance Education is Essential

Attending a recent Board meeting for an agency that helps working homeless families obtain sustainable permanent housing, a thought struck me. We partner a licensed clinical social worker with families to help them on their journey while we offer temporary rent subsidies based on the client’s ability to afford 30% of the housing and utility costs relative to their monthly income,

Much of what these social workers do is help with budgeting for “needs” and prioritizing less “wants.” Yet, another key element is to require the parent(s) to attend classes on personal finance training. We partner with another agency to do just that.

The thought I had is we should require high school students to take a semester course on personal finance. One of my sons took this course as an elective, so I know the curriculum exists at least in our public schools. And, he benefited from it.

This course could run the gambit from monthly budgets to checking/ savings accounts to investments to credit/ loans to ID theft prevention. We are largely a financially illiterate nation. This would help educate people to make more informed decisions.

To illustrate my point, there was an economic study in New York several years ago called “Class Matters.” The study demonstrates that people in a lower socio-economic class ask fewer questions of advisors, bankers, lenders, etc, when they should be asking more. I call it the “suit and tie” effect. This is how people can sign up for mortgages they cannot afford, how they can succumb to predatory lending on car loans or make the mistake of using a pay-day lender. These folks are preyed upon because of their financial illiteracy. This also is one of the reasons for the 2007 housing crisis as lenders provided mortgages to riskier lendees.

I am not saying mandatory personal finance training will end homelessness or poverty, but it will arm our graduates to budget better and ask more questions. Avoiding 23% car loans can impact a budget in a major way.

If you agree, please reach out to your local papers and politicians. To me, this a sustainable and impactful change.

When fear mongering is your main argument


It is hard to back away from an erroneous point, when fear mongering is your argument. Let’s face it, fear sells. This is why politicians use it and why it is used in commercials to push product.

Politicians tend to use it most when their arguments are poor or the data goes largely against their points. Some of the Presidential candidates have said the Affordable Care Act will cost us millions of jobs, when, in fact, it has not and is working pretty well, but could stand a few improvements. Same with the economy, as some Presidential candidates say it is horrible, yet it is doing pretty well.

In my home state of North Carolina, our General Assembly passed an unconstitutional law that restricts the rights of LGBT citizens, in general, but specifically targets transgender people by restricting them to the bathroom based on their birth gender.

This law was passed and signed in twelve hours in an especially called General Assembly session. It was designed, but went further, to overturn an ordinance in Charlotte which mirrored 200 similar laws nationwide permitting transgenders to use the restroom of identification.

To sell the law, fear was used. Direct fear that any man could choose to go in the restroom with your little girl. Indirect fear is implied that transgenders must also be perverts, which is not based in fact. These are people trying to find themselves. They are discriminated against based on lack of understanding.

Yet, in 200 cities that have these laws, examples of inappropriate use are hard to come by. The fear has been sensationalized to the point it is hard to reason with someone. It also made it difficult for the General Assembly to back away as they know they screwed up.

A similar law was ruled unconstitutional by the Court of Appeals in Virginia, which would oversee an appeal of the lawsuit against the state. The Attorney General for the state refuses to defend the law in court, which he has done before on laws that were ruled unconstitutional passed by this GOP led Assembly.

The law has received a huge backlash from business with canceled expansion plans, canceled conventions, canceled shows and reduced turnout at the spring Furniture Market in High Point. It is expected that the fall market will be decimated as the designers had  already committed to the spring show.

Even with these concerns, the law will make things worse on the restroom issue and is unenforceable unless each restroom will use a policeman. Many transgender people look like their gender of identification, so being required to use the restroom of gender birth will be a problem. Also, some have had their gender legally changed and they would run afoul of the new law.

This law was rushed through in twelve hours. Many folks did not know the LGBT restrictions were added, which are discriminatory by themselves. It was passed on fear. So, these lawmakers who know they screwed up have boxed themselves in.

We need to protect the children of the world (to protect ourselves)

There is one constant across all people, religions, and cultures. We love our children and want to protect them, nurture them and give them opportunity. Yet, we need to do a better job of protecting not just our children, but all children of the world. There are too many strident and zealous people who provide challenges to this goal. And, there is too much corruption among greedy leaders who stand in the way of helping.

Our missionary friend in Nigeria notes in his view the three greatest challenges we have are climate change, global poverty and global corruption. The latter seems out of place, but it is a major cause of disenfranchisement everywhere in the world, even in western countries. It stands in the way of getting resources and help to those in need and lays the groundwork for terrorist groups to find a way in to help. It is only too late, when the people realize the terrorists are far worse than the leaders.

Terrorists are very good at brainwashing adults and children leading them to extreme beliefs. Just as bigotry has to be carefully taught, so does hatred and zeal. It has to be nurtured and the terrorists are good at recruiting innocents and creating new generations of haters and using them as their army. It should not be lost on anyone, that the young impressionable person is strapping a suicide vest on, not the teacher.

Outside of the extreme example above, we tend to avoid thinking about helping our children. We have far too much short-sighted thinking that stands in the way of doing a greater good long term. We have too much corruption in politics that our profit makers get their way at the expense of others. And, the messages can easily be manipulated, so that blame can be assessed. We are too good at blaming others than looking at the real problem.

Here are few real truths that need to be addressed by leaders:

  • The World Economic Forum in their Global Risks report note the two greatest risks over the next ten years are the global water crisis and climate change inaction. Please ask your leader and want-to-be leaders what they intend to do about it. If they deny these issues are a problem, then do not vote for them.
  • The global maltreatment of women, including in western worlds, is an issue as it affects women and girls. Women must be viewed as partners not chattel, as to do otherwise is not only unjust, it is unwise, as women hold up half the sky. If a region does not value women, then it is competing in a world with half of its resources and intellectual capital.
  • To the first point, a major concern is overpopulation, which will heighten the impact of climate change and water. Our earth cannot support its people if we grow like expected and people consume more like western cultures. Plus, increased family size is highly correlated with poverty, so family planning is essential. The religions of the world need to get their arms around this issue and not prevent holistic family planning.
  • The refugee crisis must be addressed by all, including the US and Russia. Xenophobic fear mongering that is espoused by a few politicians does not serve the purpose. It is a resource issue and one country cannot bear the burden. Our Canadian partners are showing the US how to help, but we have decided to let politicians fear monger rather than help more. Russia needs to be part of the solution, instead of looking to gain influence at others’ expense which is Putin’s goal on most anything. Europe cannot do this alone and we need to get Syria more settled or the problem will continue.
  • When regions are in a state of disruption, little education is occurring. Our children are not getting the education they need if they are too consumed with just surviving. The refugee children are an extreme example of this, but when adults are disenfranchised, education suffers everywhere.

I have noted before that treating women better around the world will have an echo effect. It is not only the right thing to do, but economies will grow, we will be tapping more intellectual capital to solve problems and women do not compete like men do in politics, avoiding zero-sum games and seeking collaborations. I remind folks it took ten female senators to avoid the US from defaulting on its debts in October 2013, when Senator Ted Cruz single-handedly shut down the government.

Treating women better will enhance how we look to help our children. Girls are maltreated just like women, sometimes worse as they are sold as property or stolen. So, this echo effect will greatly help our children, through more stable economies and a greater focus on education. People should not lose sight that some of history’s greatest advancements came out of the Middle East. If we leave entire populations in disarray without education, that hurts us all.

 

 

A few preventive health tips

As a former HR consultant and manager of benefit programs for a large company, I have been involved with health prevention and wellness initiatives dating back to 1994. The impact of early detection and intervention is huge for employees, their families and the company who may offer such benefits. In short, we are all train wrecks waiting to happen, so the sooner we can take stock of ourselves, the sooner we can begin some intervention and keep the train on the tracks.

I have written before about this topic, but do yourselves and family a favor and take some action to understand your health. In the US, we are the most obese country in the world and have been for some time. As we age, this obesity will cause us many problems. We are also the most medicated country in the world, which can be good and bad. The bad is we would prefer to take a pill rather than make a lifestyle change. And, note a pill can lose its veracity over time if the problem does not get better managed.

So, here are a few tips, even if you feel healthy:

  • If you do not have healthcare coverage, get it. You are one accident away from needing a “Go Fund Me” page. You may qualify for a subsidy under the ACA.
  • With this, get a primary care physician, preferably one within a larger practice, where the doctors and nurses can see you on Saturday or even Sunday, if something arises.
  • Know your numbers. Blood pressure, BMI, weight, cholesterol, etc.
  • Know your history both familial and geographic. The environment you grew up in can impact you as much as your family genes.
  • If in your 50s, get a colonoscopy – there is no better prevention test out there, as the doctor can fix some things during the test and confirm any future problems.
  • If a woman and in your 40s, or sooner if you have a history, get a mammogram. We ran a mobile mammogram program in the 1990s and tested 11,000 female employees or spouses. The tests found 11 cancers. The testers also showed women how to better do a self-exam.
  • Take your medicines all the way through. People usually stop taking medicine when they feel better
  • Walk, walk, walk more. If you don’t like exercise, walk. After dinner, short errands.
  • If you smoke, find a way to stop. Nothing good comes from smoking. And, for you young folks. it does not look cool. It looks stupid.
  • If you self-medicate with illicit drugs or alcohol, see a counselor or your doctor about stopping. I have not had a drink in eight years, as I was an accident waiting to happen.
  • Do not supersize the fast food and reduce the number of fast food meals. Some of these restaurants, actually have healthier options, so check them out.

There are many more things you could do, but if you do a few of these, you will be better off. Note, I am not a doctor, so please do not construe any of this as medical advice.

 

Middle class to poverty – these voices need to be heeded

Politicians are beginning to talk about our poverty problems in the United States, but do not fully grasp what that entails. They do not want to highlight their role in making it so, nor distinguish where their other policy provisions are antagonistic to helping. They feel more comfortable talking about our middle class, which has mostly been pushed downward, yet the same story could be said for their lack of understanding.

The lone voice who is hammering these issues home, which is a reason for his popularity, is Senator Bernie Sanders. Whether you agree with Bernie on his solutions or not, he is talking about the issues that effect us, rather than sensationalizing issues that are less important or feeding an extreme base of fervent voters. So, he deserves kudos for driving home what Americans are experiencing.

Here are few observations from this independent voter, who votes for both Democrats and Republicans. I do tend to vote for collaborators and politicians that can help get things done rather than party, yet I must confess the new GOP has fewer of those folks than they used due to more strident elected officials due to gerrymandering and money. This is a key reason the GOP is in such disarray at this point.

  • You cannot be for helping the middle and poverty classes and not invest in our country. Our infrastructure is in need of upkeep and repair and with interest rates so low, we are letting the ideal time pass. Plus we have deteriorated assets that could be repurposed in various communities.These investments are proven job creators and that was supposed to be mission one in this Congress.
  • You cannot be for helping the middle and poverty classes and not support the Affordable Care Act which, while imperfect and needing improvements, is working pretty well. This is especially true in our sharing economy, where independent contractors can buy coverage. I saw that Congress is suing the president over something else on the ACA. Mr. Speaker, do the country a favor and give it a rest.
  • You cannot be for helping the middle and poverty classes and not favor following many states’ leads and increasing the minimum wage to a living wage of $10 per hour, at the very least. Some cities are doing more, but this bipartisan favored play would help people.
  • You cannot be for helping people without enabling the community college system to help teach and retrain folks. Tennessee has a good idea in paying for two years of community college and the President is paying attention. This has merit for the rest of the country.
  • You cannot be for helping people and ignore climate change and our growing water problem, which is not just short-term. Every major science organization in the US supports climate change as a concern and our influence on it. The fastest growing jobs in energy are in solar energy which has more jobs than coal. Wind and solar are not water intensive energy sources, such as burning fossil fuels or nuclear power, so we must be mindful of water for all.
  • You cannot be for helping people and then restrict their rights to vote when we should be making it easier for them. The only rampant election fraud is paid for by the significant funders who invest in candidates wanting a return on such investment. We must amend our constitution to clearly state money does not equal free speech and change our election laws to make things fair, less costly and accessible to all not just voters you like.

I have other thoughts, but these will do for now. These issues translate party affiliation and affect us all. We need to ask our candidates about these issues and if they do not respond well, do not vote for them. Follow Bernie’s lead as he is on the right track. You may not like his answers, but he is speaking about the right questions.