The Connection Between Transportation Planning And Poverty

May 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

In the effort to alleviate poverty there are many areas of American society we can change and improve that will bring relief and greater support to the lives of poor and low-income familes. An option seldom considered is to reform the way planners envision transportation.  Where is it  placed? Where are its on/off stops? What does it cost? What restrictions do we attach to ridership?  But we need to do more than embed thoughtfulness and awareness in the transportation planning process we need to end its long history of entanglement with enduring poverty.

From it’s role in disempowering African Americans during the slave economy, when roadways were controlled by plantation owners and impassable and unsafe for most black people,  to “white only” ridership limitations on railways then busses in the early to mid 20th century, transportation limitations and locations have fueled poverty and disempowerment.  Planned site locations and designated on/off stops have historically hurt or not served minority communities from the building of Transcontinental Railways and the Interstate Highway System to today’s Light Rail and Metro bus networks. 

A main goal of transportation has always been to open up and facilitate commercial markets, expand real estate transactions and development and enable the strength of our transportation industries.  Often absent from planning discussions is the positive role transportation could play in the preservation and enablement of low income and poor communities.  One example of a missed transportation opportunity happened in Seattle, Washington with the building of Light Rail. Crosscut, a local web news source, asked why a planned station stop at Graham street, near low income and minority neighborhoods, was not being built. A Sound Transit executive said that the stop “didn’t add ridership…” and would only “serve the convenience of people already there.” You may be scratching your head about that statement as I was. Isn’t the convenience of people the reason for transportation?  But Crosscut saw the real goal. A stop at Graham wouldn’t spur development like other planned stops on Light Rail and that is how transportation fails to serve minority and low income communities. The people who anticipated the Graham stop now have to walk, if they can, significant distance for their transportation. Why are we neglecting the complete value of our transportation systems by stranding people who really need its service in favor of market expansion? Does that really make civic sense?

Programs that could aim to make transportation more accessible for poor and low income families, such as help buying cars, are also lacking at the Federal level.  In fact, A Los Angeles Times feature on the working poor notes that the Federal program, Cash for Clunkers, had the unintended consequence of making it harder to find low cost used cars by taking thousands off the roads.  How many people need cars? A 2006 Maryland Study found that 30% of the state’s low income individuals didn’t have a car and that lower income workers in general were more likely to walk, bike, or take the bus. Bus service is, however, expensive and inconvenient for many low income communities in urban and suburban settings. It is non existent for nearly 40% of all rural populations according to a report from the Community Services Network, “The Stranded Poor…” 

Where it exists good, reasonably inexpensive transportation allows people to get  to schools,  jobs, retail stores, meetings and so forth.  Transportation is needed to attend interviews for human services or to visit doctors. Good transportation also supports a healthy diet because access to grocers and healthy food can be difficult with limited mobility. When transportation planners and executives neglect or intentionally bypass service to low income communities they create personal hardship, cost society more through unemployment and illness, and fuel poverty. It’s time to re-envision transportation planning and make improved mobility for poor and low income families part of project goals.

Golden Years Dim For Growing Numbers Of Aging Poor

January 6, 2012 § 1 Comment

If you’re poor or ever have been you know that costs others may take for granted loom and finding aid takes time, patience, and good searching skills. Many places that help require quick action and personal appearances for intake interviews. It’s a challenge for most people but for those with physical limitations, problems with memory or no transportation it’s daunting and aid can go unfound and unclaimed. That’s part of why late 2011 news announcing that 1 in 6 seniors may be poor is so troublesome. How many of those elders aren’t finding advocates who can help? I hate to imagine.

Any senior who faces the hardships of poverty is a tragedy. Old age has many natural hardships and poverty just compounds an already challenging stage of life. Prior to new Census analysis, using the Supplemental Poverty Measure, it was believed that 9% of the senior population lived that tragedy. But the more sophisticated analysis that takes into account things like the cost of medicine found that nearly 16% of our older population are struggling at the poverty line.  

“My health insurance has asked for a raise. I am having $313.00 taken out of my Social Security check now. When you take that away from $900.00 you don’t have much to pay for the rent,” writes a woman in Maryland. “I’m on Social Security disability and I am raising two grandchildren. I don’t have custody of them and I draw no extra money for help. We are living from one pay check to paycheck and still do without,” writes another. They’re two of more than 4,000 elders who contributed their story of economic hardship at One Away in order to help Congress understand financial crisis in old age and the necessity of financial supports.

Struggling seniors are members of America’s invisible community so you may not realize that, in 2010, 3.5 million lived BELOW the poverty line. Feeding America found that even if there was some money to buy food older people often had trouble accessing groceries because of health and transportation problems. Older people also have SNAP (food stamps) cards less often even though they meet eligibility criteria.

Add homelessness to the list of woes in old age. Jobs, houses, and retirement savings lost in the recession are hard to overcome in later years. Though homelessness hasn’t historically been an aging issue The National Alliance to End Homelessness anticipates a 33% rise in aging people without homes between 2010 and 2020 caused by pressures such as: financial collapse, job loss, mental health challenges, discontinued or inadequate public assistance, relationship problems, physical problems and illness or disagreements with family or friends offering shelter.

Streetlife isn’t meant for anyone but it’s especially hard on elders. In San Diego county in 2009 25% of the transitional housing population were 51+ and 28% of the local emergency shelters were over 51.   Homeless advocates view 50 as old in terms of homelessness. Many people living on the street don’t reach 62 and living outside will progress aging significantly.

Life is not getting easier or mellower for a shockingly significant percent of the aging population.You can help by contacting elected officials about saving benefits for older people and protecting Medicare and Social Security which are often the only sources of income and health protection people have. Take good care of parents, grandparents and aging relatives. If your neighbor is aging check in occasionally to see what may be needed. Aging isn’t easy. Aging with worry and financial stress is hard. Your care and support won’t solve poverty but can make someone’s life more tolerable.

Coming Out In A Still Hostile World

October 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

October 11, 2011 is National Coming Out Day. That’s a day for supporting friends and family who are Gay, Lesbian or Transgender. It’s a day to press for equality. It’s a day when LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) members are encouraged to “come out,” be open, and share the full spectrum of who they are.  But for many LGBT low income and homeless people full disclosure of sexuality leads to hate and discrimination in places where they go to seek shelter or support.

Recent reports from The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), New York based Queers For Economic Justice (Q4EJ) and Anti Violence Project pour out incidences and harsh experiences that homeless and low income LGBT people face.  On this day promoting visibility of all that we are these studies highlight the risk and complexity that minority communities face when they are visible and do stand up for their experience.

In Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth: An Epidemic of Homelessness,  the NGLTF finds that family conflict over gender identification is a primary factor driving youth into homelessness.  Estimates from counts across the nation suggest that LGBT youth comprise upwards of 20 and as high as 40% of  the more than 1 million homeless youth in our country. Youth continue to find hardship on the streets and are 7 times more likely to become crime victims. Safe shelter is hard to find. In New York, for instance, 60% of shelters are run by a facility that repeatedly threatens and abuses LGBT youth because of their sexual orientation.  Despite large numbers in the homeless community very little federal funding, targeted programs, or appropriate housing is provided for LGBT youth.

Queers for Economic Justice’s report: A Fabulous Attitude: LGBTGNC People Surviving and Thriving on Shelter, Love, and Knowledge reports that LGBT homeless youth often stay homeless or low income into young adulthood. In this report, using studies and interviews with 200 respondents, Q4EJ writes, “Survey takers contend with harassment from landlords, evictions, and egregious conditions in shelters. LGBTGNC (Lesbian, Gay,  Bi, Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming) people who are homeless negotiate unprofessional, discriminatory, and dangerous treatment in many vital social service agencies, including being denied services (40%), falsely arrested(24%) and physically (22%) and sexually assaulted (10%).”  

Sadly a 2010 report by The Anti Violence project concludes that LGBTQH (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender, Queer, HIV affected) communities with long histories of discrimination and violence faced increased rates of violence in 2010 noting that murders in the community are at the second highest level in a decade. Their findings of abuse and indifference within the system were consistent with NGLTF and Q4EJ. 61% of 362 victims interviewed said police attitudes toward them were indifferent, abusive or deterrent. 

Please join me today in pledging to support more funding and research directed toward LGBT low-income and homeless communities. Consider “liking” the Anti Violence Project on Facebook or donating to the  Human Rights Campaign. If you know someone who is LGBT let them know today that you appreciate and support who they are.

Worrisome signs of cognitive risks in poverty

June 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m skeptical of studies that find children living in potentially stigmatized environments are cognitively at risk. But I concede that a growing number of good studies observe that our children living in persistent poverty seem to experience cognitive impacts.  The worst news:  This affects 15 million children and, consequently, America’s future. The better news: some studies suggest that  learning impacts that may exist can be countered if we can develop effective school interventions. Others believe that parenting support may make a difference.

The three studies I’m referencing are:

1) In 2009 Wired Science portrayed results of a study of 195 white kids this way: “A long-term study of cognitive development in lower- and middle-class students found strong links between childhood poverty, physiological stress and adult memory.” The researchers tested memory at 9, 13 and 17 years of age. They conjectured that early life stress, such as that experienced by many children in persistent poverty, has an impact on brain structure.

2) In 2011 more studies were announced.  In January, researchers tracking 750 pairs of fraternal and identical twins  determined that by age 2 cognitive differences were emerging between children of wealthy families and poor families.

3) In April, the National Library of Medicine, Medicine net, and many Science publications  reported on results of a British study following approx 19,000 children at 3 months, 3 years and 5 years of age.  Science Daily writes, “They conclude: ‘Persistent poverty is a crucial risk factor undermining children’s cognitive development — more so than family instability.'”

Persistent poverty is the risk factor not family instability. In other words poverty and not people living those lifestyles are what puts our nation’s children at risk. We’re no longer simply fighting to give equal education to all kids we’re talking about saving the intellectual capabilities and potential of all children. Poverty hurts. Now we’re learning new ways that it harms. Won’t you join me in giving time and energy to alleviate persistent poverty.  Help the children. Give them a chance for future success by getting involved in a local poverty relief program.

Poverty is bigger than our differences

June 4, 2011 § 3 Comments

This June people across America will celebrate sexual diversity. As visible as gay, bi and transgendered people will be on our streets many are still invisible in Census data. Same sex couples will be counted—-sort of—- but gay, lesbian, and transgendered singles won’t be noted. So it’s hard to tell exactly how poverty and low incomes impact those populations. But poverty is an issue that affects all communities and our nation and the LGBT community is no exception.

We have some idea of the impact for LGB (Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Sexual) people from a 2009 analysis done by the Williams Institute, a think tank specializing in sexual orientation law and policy. Using Census 2000 data and other national surveys the report found that lesbian couples and their families are more likely to be poor then heterosexual families. Nearly 25% of all lesbian and bisexual women are poor compared to an incidence of 19% in heterosexual women. Lesbian couples over 65 are twice as likely to be poor.  In general lesbians experience poverty more often then gay men.

As with national statistics racial difference is reflected in LGB poverty rates. African American same sex couples are 3 times more likely to be poor than white same sex couples.  White gay men have poverty rates of 2.7%, Asian Pacific Islanders 4.5%,  Black gay men are at 14% and Native American men have poverty rates of 19%!

In a 2001 American Health Association survey gay Latino men in LA, Miami, and New York drew a picture of economic hardship. 61% had run out of money to buy basics, 54% were forced to borrow money, and 45% were forced to find a new job at least once in the survey year. The story of economic hardship gets more intense for transgendered communities. A survey in 2006 by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and Transgender Law Center found that 59% of transgendered respondents were living in poverty, 9% had no source of income what so ever, and  34% were unemployed.

In June LGBT communities celebrate their identities and take a break from the sobering realities of elevated poverty rates around them. They focus on the hope that we’ll understand one another and not on the bias that’s preventing us from clearly seeing the impacts of challenges they must confront. Maybe you never attended a gay pride celebration or don’t think you know anyone lesbian, gay or transgendered but poverty knows all our communities.  Poverty is a national crisis. It’s bigger than any of our individual differences. Let’s unite to eradicate poverty.

Target: 4.5% charitable contributions

May 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

Media often talks about what poor and low income communities cost or take from society and how much help they need.  Considering that, I find the need to talk about the long history of giving in these communities. What we give isn’t just in the form of money, as Jennifer Sherman finds in her study of an economically devastated mountain community,  but the money we give, proportionate to our incomes, tends to be close to or even greater than that of upper classes. In fact, surprisingly, the percentage given by working families with low income, 4.5%, when last tracked, is in line with that of corporate giving!

Charitable contributions are usually thought of in big numbers. Contributions are also easier to track when they’re large because they’re  itemized thus tax deductable. That may be why we forget or don’t hear anything about charitable acts in small amounts. But small amounts add up. Ask President Obama who claims his average contribution was $86.00

Can you imagine the sacrifice involved in giving 4.5% of your hard earned $20,000 away? The dollar amount is much less than 4.5% of $100,000, for instance, but how different is the sacrifice? How different would the world be if we all committed 4.5% of our income to the betterment of our neighbors?  Will you take that pledge?

Poverty and Family Values

May 23, 2011 § 2 Comments

If you’ve ever faced poverty or experienced low income you know that these conditions can create dramatic and painful questions like, “Should I buy food or medicine?” People unfamiliar with the experience of poverty may ask themselves why poor people don’t put more emphasis on earning money to avoid those choices.  Some even suggest that poverty is a problem of values and poor choices.

For insight, turn to sociologist Jennnifer Sherman’s account of interviews with members of an economically shattered mountain community published in her  paper, “Family Values, Rural Poverty, and the Moral Boundaries of ‘Tradition'” and in her book, Those Who Work And Those Who Don’t.  Her work was inspired by a curiosity about why family values figured so strongly in recent national elections but her findings have greater application. They tell us that the constant stress of inadequate money and reactive consequences  (ie: drug use, depression, violence) shift the way members of that community view their priorities.

Middle class whites, Sherman writes, make “sure their children have all the advantages necessary to get ahead” but parents in this poor community, “focus their energies on making sure that their children, and any others in need, are provided the very basics. Oftentimes this does not even mean sufficient food, but simply an abuse-free environment in which to sleep at night and parental figures who will support them in their endeavors.”  In the context of severe economic stress family and tradition are  “…one area left in which its citizens can define themselves and their community as a success story.” 

Sherman’s work  focuses on a unique, mostly white,  rural community but is there a similar effect in diverse urban communities stressed with poverty? How does stress in an urban community affect the choices people make? Do the polarizing either/or “choices” of poverty sometimes influence community members to elevate altruistic values over the pursuit of money? Are choices poor choices when they’re made to give children the best life possible?

Solving poverty is hard but, as a country, we can make progress by simply learning more about economic classes we’re unfamiliar with and suspending our judgements. Encourage others to stop problematizing people in poverty and focus, instead, on problematizing our tolerance of communities and families facing dire financial decisions.

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