Roots and Branches

One of the most difficult lessons for those of us raised in individualistic cultures is recognizing the difficulty of solving problems that are symptoms of broken systems.

A recent report from NPR offered a great illustration.

Research shows that kids who have tough childhoods — because of poverty, abuse, neglect or witnessing domestic violence, for instance — are actually more likely to be sick when they grow up. They’re more likely to get diseases like asthma, diabetes and heart disease. And they tend to have shorter lives than people who haven’t experienced those difficult events as kids.

When University of Florida Dr. Nancy Hardt consulted Medicaid records, she made a map that showed exactly where Gainesville children were born into poverty. Eventually, she showed the map to show it to Alachua County’s sheriff, Sadie Darnell, who—it turned out—also had a map. Hers was a thermal map of high crime incidence, and it showed that “the highest concentration of crime in Gainesville was in a square-mile area that exactly overlaid Hardt’s poverty map.”

Those crimes included significant levels of domestic violence, child abuse and neglect.

A visit to the area turned up numerous health-related issues: poorly maintained subsidized housing, with tarps covering leaky roofs. Mold and mildew spreading across stucco walls. Poor families that often had trouble getting enough to eat.

There was also an almost total lack of services, including medical care. (The closest place to get routine medical care for the uninsured–and most people in the area were—was the county health department, a two-hour bus trip away.)

The doctor and sheriff also teamed with civic groups to open a family resource center in 2012. Its play area is open to children all day, and there’s a food pantry, free meals, a computer room, AA meetings, and a permanent health clinic.

Initial reports suggest that these measures are improving health and reducing the incidence of crime in the area. But as heartwarming as this story is, it also offers a stinging rebuke to policymakers who refuse to invest public dollars in systemic efforts–who seem unable to grasp the human and fiscal costs of persistent social neglect.

We have copious research confirming that the dollars spent on systems that help children—abating environmental hazards like lead contamination, combatting urban asthma, addressing food deserts, providing safe and enriching early childhood care—ultimately save many more dollars that we don’t have to spend later on medical care, remedial programs, welfare payments and prisons.

We also have depressing research confirming how difficult it is for those born into poverty to escape it; despite those Horatio Alger stories, admonitions about “pulling oneself up by ones bootstraps” and belief in the “American dream,” social mobility in the U.S. is far below that of industrialized countries that do provide these social supports.

Farmers understand that the crop you get depends not just on the seeds you plant, but also how well you fertilize and water them. It isn’t so different with children.


  1. And Indianapolis has charter schools asking for more money from the dwindling IPS budget covering vouchers. This takes much needed educational tax dollars from areas in this city most needing public assistance. How many of those children with vouchers and in charter schools return home to the poorest neighborhoods needing services? Yes – the poor areas in need of services and IPS schools are connected. The once middle class neighborhood where I grew up is a prime example of need; the 10-12 year old Riverside School #44 has an 8 foot tall chain-link fence around it for protection from crime in the area. The area is bounded by Indiana Avenue (previously Stadium Drive) and west 30th Street; Montcalm Street and Riverside Drive. How many other areas of this city share these same problems?

    The City promised an almost total renovation of the east side around Tech High School before the Super Bowl; somehow those plans were scuttled and a relatively few improvements materialized. Look at the areas IMPD and groups of ministers are attempting to resolve gang and crime problems and you will find these same conditions where the very issues Sheila lists are sorely needed by families harboring the problem youth and being victimized by them at the same time. Two more shooting deaths last night. The young adults who are the victims and also the criminals are those children she refers to; unwatered, unfertilized and unnurtured, grown to adulthood to become the slaughtered or the slaughterers.

  2. The times which the conservative mind chooses to live in were quite a bit different from today.

    1 or 2 families per square mile. Skills for survival were definitely required but that’s all. Humanity was still an insignificant problem for nature. Work was table stakes and those who failed at work and/or defense exited quickly. God was a necessary ally and often your only friend. Knowledge other than for survival only served to make you wonder, and nobody’s survival was enhanced by wondering. News of the rest of the world was mostly gossip.

    Nobody flourished then but only the physically and mentally strong survived.

    But, of course, now is not then and what was important then no longer even works. That’s why everything today touched by conservatism is failing. And why conservatives fail to even recognize that, nor are able to react to the change in times. They, like we imagine of the dinosaurs when the environment changed and they didn’t, roar at the gods in pitiful attempts to intimidate the inscrutable.

    Conservatives will go extinct. They will lose their battle with reality. We know that. But, in the meantime we have to ensure the survival of humanity and our home.

    So conservatives are only a temporary problem. The permanent problem is the power for sale that caused conservatives to abandon reality. The pseudo media. The culture farms over the air that captured and retrained minds to imagine the past rather than the future.

    The power to create culture is the basis of neocapitalism. It’s dirty little secret. Now that weapon of mass destruction has been taken over by those who have the material rewards of unfettered capitalism but crave not the trinkets but the power.

    The capture of conservative minds was a demonstration of their threat. Democracy now is the only defense capable of withstanding their onslaught. But it must be practiced rigorously and faithfully.

    By all of us who escaped the demonstration.

  3. There is a circle that would have education and living wage jobs as part of it. You can have a good education but if the available jobs do not pay a living wage , you will still have poverty. When I was more of a political person I would deliver door to door our brochures. I went into some poor neighborhoods. I was struck by the dilapidated conditions of the houses and property, broken sidewalks, etc. If you were making maybe $50 or $60 K a year, you could probably set aside some money to fix the house up. If you were making $25K a year or even less, setting aside money for repairs would probably be impossible. If you have decent jobs the choice to avoid a life of crime is a logical one. If there are not decent living wage jobs then choosing crime as a profession becomes easier choice even with the risks.

  4. Sheila and Louie have put their fingers on the problems. Good housing, health, safety, education, AND jobs are necessary to thrive, and as Sheila notes, to survive as long as those who have those necessities.

    When we had manufacturing jobs that provided middle class wages, health care benefits, and pensions to those with and without high school educations, Detroit had the highest per capita income and standards of living in the country. Many other communities and their businesses, all levels of government, financial institutions, schools, housing, neighborhoods, and health care benefited as well. While the 1950’s were far from perfect, plentiful jobs and research put us on an upward trajectory. Creativity and discovery led us to put men on the moon and still more discoveries.

    America’s self-identity for exceptionalism is closely tied to our pride in creativity and discovery. That’s led to mechanization and employment of fewer employees. If we really want America to thrive, why not focus research on a whole new goal of what CREATES rather than eliminates jobs? As Henry Ford learned, job creation with good wages also enriches the 1%.

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