It’s admittedly hard to take our eyes off the monumental train wreck in the nation’s capital, with each day bringing additional evidence that America as we have known it is being systematically dismantled– but things aren’t so reassuring on the home front, either.
The newly energized wing-nuts who populate our state legislature are proposing bills to criminalize abortion and allow unrestricted, unlicensed gun ownership. (“Step right up, ladies, gentlemen, psychopaths, domestic batterers… Here’s a lethal weapon for you, no questions asked…”)
Of course, Hoosiers are used to seeing our state lawmakers focus on social issues at the expense of humdrum things like infrastructure repair and job creation. In Indiana, it is at the municipal level, in the cities, where the genuine work of government must be done.
Case in point: The Indiana Business Journal recently reported on the extent of poverty that co-exists with the more visible prosperity in the City of Indianapolis.
- From 2000 to 2014, the percentage of the population below the poverty level swelled 80 percent, from 11.9 percent to 21.4 percent.
- From 1999 to 2014, inflation-adjusted household incomes fell at least 10 percent in 75 percent of the city’s census tracts. Inflation-adjusted incomes fell at least 30 percent in 48 percent of the tracts. In contrast, only 5.9 percent of tracts reported an increase in inflation-adjusted household incomes.
As the IBJ editorialized, addressing our pockets of poverty will take a concerted push and the involvement of many stakeholders in business, education, government and the not-for-profit community.
As the editorial also noted, that involvement–and that stakeholder collaboration–is underway. Mayor Hogsett’s initiative, EmployIndy, is focusing on assisting low- and mid-skilled workers with a mix of job training and career planning that should improve their employment prospects . The Central Indiana Community Partnership is increasing the reach of Ascend Indiana, an initiative that connects employers with skilled workers and helps with training to provide workers with those needed skills.
Then there’s the recently approved transit referendum—which clears the way for the City-County Council to impose an income tax to improve bus service. Right now, only 33 percent of Marion County jobs can be reached via transit in 90 minutes—a huge impediment to improving the job prospects of the unemployed and underemployed.
I don’t have a crystal ball, so I will refrain from predicting the success or failure of this coordinated effort, but I will state what should be obvious: this is the way issues are addressed in a rational society.
The nature and extent of a problem should be established by credible research. Research and analysis should identify barriers to solving the problem–in this case, inadequate education or skills, lack of transportation to job sites, and lack of access to information about jobs. Co-ordinated public and private efforts should then be directed at removing the identified barriers.
This approach relies upon a consensus that poverty negatively affects everyone in a community, not just those who are in need, and upon a recognition that there are no magic bullets or bumper-sticker solutions–that ameliorating poverty will take time, resources and hard work.
What a contrast to the approaches being promoted by the “lunatic caucuses” of both the U.S. Congress and Indiana Statehouse, and by the incoming Executive branch clown show. Both are populated by people who consider research “elitist” and knowledge unnecessary, who prefer privatizing/contracting out to the hard work required by partnerships with responsible private-sector organizations, and who consistently privilege ideology over evidence.
We have spoiled toddlers running state and federal offices, but at least adults run the cities.