On not getting by in Dayton

The long-term effects of poverty

By A.J. Wagner
I have been penning “Law and Disorder” for the Dayton City Paper for more than three years. In that time, one of the subjects that has been at the forefront of my interest is the important issue of poverty; an issue I intend to spend more time working to improve. For the next two issues, therefore, I am going to sum up where we’ve been and where I hope we are going on the subject of poverty.

The Current Population Survey, sponsored jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is the primary source of labor force statistics for the population of the U.S. There are 48 different thresholds set out in the official definition of poverty and determined by the number of persons in a household and their ages. If there is one individual in the house, that threshold is in the neighborhood of $12,000. Where there are two household members and one is under eighteen years of age, the poverty threshold begins below an income of about $16,000.

I was stunned when, just a few weeks ago, the Census Bureau reported the poverty rate for children in Dayton is now over 56 percent. More than half of the children in Dayton are poor. The implications of this statistic, which is up about 12 points from last year, are disastrous. With poverty comes poorer academic performance in schools, a higher likelihood of illegal activity and a lower likelihood of graduation from high school, which have profound effects on the future employability of today’s children in Dayton. When more than half of the children from our core city face such great instability, so does the city itself.

For Montgomery County, the child poverty rate is about 30 percent, while statewide almost 23 percent of children live in poverty. According to a study done by the Equality of Opportunity Project and entitled “Where Is the Land of Opportunity?” The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the U.S., out of the 50 largest metro areas in the U.S., the Dayton Metro Area ranks 47th in upward mobility. Children from our area who live in poverty have less than a 5 percent chance of making it to the top fifth percentile of the economic ladder. Some will make it, but for most the cycle of poverty will continue.

So, how do laws passed by a legislative body impact poverty? Start with the minimum wage. The current federal minimum wage sits at $7.25. That means if one has a minimum wage job and works 40 hours a week, without taking unpaid vacation, that person will earn $15,080 a year. This places a single mother with a child in the poverty column even before we consider day care expenses and how unlikely it is the job will be full-time.

During the Great Depression, our governing bodies created jobs that built an amazing American infrastructure. These jobs lifted people out of poverty and rebuilt our nation. After the Great Recession of the 21st century, Congress tightened its belt and eliminated tens of thousands of government jobs, adding stress to local economies while denying relief to those looking for jobs.

One of the more insidious causes of enduring poverty is the imposition of life sentences on young offenders caught with minor amounts of illegal drugs. In an effort to be tough on crime, we now impose on drug offenders almost 500 different civil sanctions that never expire. A 20-year-old arrested with a piece of crack the size of a pencil eraser will likely be poor the rest of his life even if he never touches the drug again. There are many jobs for which he will never qualify, many licenses he cannot obtain, scholarships he will be denied, government benefits he will lack and opportunities that will be closed to him when he has to admit he was once convicted of a felony. He will even be denied matrimony when the mother of his child says “no thanks” to his proposal because he cannot provide for a family.

This may be one of the biggest reasons for the breakdown of the family structure. A single mother with one child who realizes she can’t afford another mouth to feed will reject a man who cannot get decent employment. For those who are lucky enough to find a job, it will likely be low-paying and the chances of promotion will be negligible.

These are but a few areas where lawmakers have assured the growth of poverty and, thus, the rising inequality of America. Our government is bought and controlled by oligarchs who have no interest in sharing the wealth to improve the lot of the poor even though doing so would result in a stronger economy and improved social structure.

More next week …

Disclaimer: The content herein is for entertainment and information only. Do not use this as a legal consultation. Every situation has different nuances that can affect the outcome and laws change without notice. If you’re in a situation that calls for legal advice, get a lawyer. You represent yourself at your own risk. The author, the Dayton City Paper and its affiliates shall have no liability stemming from your use of the information contained herein. 

A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth St. in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at 937.223.5200 or at AJWagner@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth Street in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at (937) 223-5200 or at AJWagner@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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