Brookfield Basics

A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.

Child Poverty in Milwaukee

Brookfield Now blogger Kyle Prast posted an article this week entitled Whatever Happened to Truth?

I thought of her post when I read the Crossroads Section of Sunday's Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel, which has a major article on the subject of child poverty in Milwaukee.  The article consists of comments from seven community leaders who represent a cross section of education, social work, health care, charity organizations, and the Church.

I don't claim to have their level of knowledge or experience regarding the problem of urban poverty.  But I have seen poverty and worked amidst it, both here and in the deep South.  I have seen enough to know the heartbreakingly difficult conditions that virtually imprison thousands of inner city kids.  And the only thing more heartbreaking than this reality is the twenty-five year history of policy and debate that has chosen to IGNORE the primary issue behind this plague.  

The primary contributing factor to urban childhood poverty is the explosion in the number of kids born into situations which lack even a semblance of family structure, a topic I first wrote about several months ago.  The policies of our local, State, and Federal Governments, however well intentioned, have unwittingly subsidized and encouraged this behavior.

Brink Lindsey of the CATO Institute recently published a book entitled The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture.  Part of the book includes a penetrating analysis of how well-intentioned but misguided policy has fueled and abetted the cycle of urban poverty.  He discusses the repeated cycles of failing to stay in school, failing to live within the law, failing to marry or stay married so as to provide children an integrated structure of stability and nurture.  He succintly comments "the presence of all these pathologies reflects a dysfunctional culture that fails to invest in human capital".

Now these are tough words, but the fact that they are tough doesn't mean they are not true.  Critics might say that I am here in cozy and comfortable Brookfield, and can AFFORD to hold these views.  They might say I am too middle class, too suburban, and let's say it, too WHITE to qualify for this debate.  And of course, they are right; I am all of these things.   

But isn't it more than just a matter of what we can "AFFORD" to believe.  Shouldn't it also be a question of what is TRUE and EFFECTIVE to believe?

Every one of the issues that the seven people in the article point out are real and warrant discussion.  But to ignore the eight-hundred pound gorilla in the room - the utter implosion of the urban family and neighborhood structure, and to turn a blind eye to the devastatingly toxic effect of thousands of kids without parents, and in particular, a male authority figure to train them and raise them up, is to fight this battle un-armed.  

By all means - lets talk about education and the development of jobs; that is a legitimate part of the debate.  And by all means let's try to personally connect with and alleviate in some small way the sub-culture of poverty that exists only MINUTES AWAY FROM OUR FRONT DOOR. 

But it is time for America's urban leaders to address the WHOLE story.  And in particular, it is time to listen to and encourate a new generation of African-American leaders like Juan Williams and Thomas Sowell, who are courageously throwing off the chains of decades of smug and hollow rhetoric, and are raising up this issue as well as all the others.     

The implications of urban poverty are real - they are serious - and they are potentially catastrophic.

And that is why we must have the courage to tell the ENTIRE story.

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