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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

 

But for the grace of God

by Tom Sullivan

Lauren Scott, a single mother and homeless, goes for a job interview:

Sixty-nine stops on a bus; a nine-minute train ride; an additional 49 stops on a bus; a quarter-mile walk.

Scott carries a spiral notebook with her “Plan of Action for the Week.” The Washington Post chronicles her struggle to find work in Atlanta. It would have taken 27 minutes in a car. It is a four-hour round trip on the bus. Getting to the interview is just one of the obstacles to climbing out of poverty. Rising prices in the city are driving low-income residents further from where the jobs are.

But even as their ranks have grown, the deeply impoverished in the Deep South have also increasingly found that they are on their own: They are less likely to receive the help of a spouse — or the government. Five of the six states with the highest proportion of single parents are in the Deep South. Meanwhile, policymakers have dismantled the cash assistance programs that used to provide critical support for the jobless with children. Those like Scott not only have less access to jobs, but also less of a safety net when they are unemployed.

It's a good thing she doesn't have to take a drug test before getting a bus pass. Scott had been self-sufficient, even if only hanging on. Her life was a Jenga game with too many pieces gone. Having a child brought it crashing down. There was no cushion left.

Other factors add to the difficulty of the poor finding work. Those who can’t afford to live in city centers often must depend on walking, hitching rides or laborious public transportation commutes. A 2011 Brookings Institution report ranking public transit in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas found that 15 of the weakest 20 systems — judged by coverage and job access — were in the South. They included systems in Birmingham, Ala.; Greenville, S.C.; Baton Rouge; and Atlanta — where, in earlier decades, majority-white suburbs voted against the expansion of a transit system they viewed as being primarily for black residents.

Let's see. So suburbanites insist poor people get jobs they can't get because they can't commute to where the jobs are because they don't have cars because they don't have jobs. And the poor can't use public transportation to commute to jobs they can't get because suburbanites don't want to pay taxes to expand public transportation they see as primarily benefiting poor people who can't afford to move closer to jobs and the suburbanites don't want them living in their neighborhoods anyway. This Catch 22 situation is a product of a moral failing on somebody's part. The comfortable are pretty sure it's the shiftless and slovenly Poors' failing. Good luck finding support for a "basic income" upon which to build better futures.

Ask Janis Adkins about that. She wound up homeless in Santa Barbara after losing her nursery business. No wonder Trump's faithful are so worried about immigrants and their own futures. Deep down, they know they could be next at the bottom of the ladder. Until then, no grace for those already there.

Maybe America needs a moratorium on saving souls until it finds its own.