Frog Holler Philosopher: Maybe cycle of poverty can be broken

Home Column Frog Holler Philosopher: Maybe cycle of poverty can be broken
By Ron Huff •

In Hoke County, one of the poorest counties in the state, we have more than our share of poverty. Poverty in the United States can go largely unnoticed by those who are best equipped to lend a helping hand. Those of us not living in the midst of poverty on a day-to-day basis do not understand the sense of hopelessness and resignation that can accompany it. Many feel that poverty is simply a choice made by those who don’t have the desire to work and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. It’s just not that simple!

Poverty, as a definition, is merely a number placed on income, and in our country, even the poor are rich by the standards of some other countries. I lived in poverty for a few years when I was scratching to make it as a musician. It was trying, but I was always positioned to avoid poverty based on my status as a white, educated, motivated male. The luckiest day of my life was the day I was born into a good family in the United States of America. I have heard it said that a child born into that situation was almost destined to succeed without too much effort. Of course, that effort included working each day at getting educated and finding a place in the workforce. There was no guarantee. Other than those with health problems, including addictions of various types, and a few bad apples, most of my socioeconomic class have succeeded to various degrees.

I would say that I have been in a cycle of success, where society has been set up for people like me to succeed. What would have been the outcome if I had been trapped instead in a cycle of poverty? What if I had been born poor and black with little chance for a good education? Of course, no race escapes poverty. The cycle of poverty applies to anyone in it. While we like to believe that in our country, everyone has an equal chance at success, this is not the case, and those who believe that are in some sort of denial.

There is much resentment by those who feel that we spend too much money supporting those who do nothing to help themselves. Why can’t these people just get up and go to work and support themselves? Some could, but many are mired to their knees in the cycle. Many jobs don’t pay enough to live a decent life. What is a child to do who is born with nothing in a dysfunctional situation where they have no control over their fate? If a child isn’t allowed or encouraged to develop, by the time they are four, even before kindergarten, they are already marked for failure, with little expectation of success! Such a child enters kindergarten already behind the curve, often so far behind both educationally and socially that they are immediately categorized as “slow” or “troublemakers.” Only the exceptional ever recover from such a disadvantage.

Conversely, a child born poor with parents who work hard and expect to succeed can overcome poverty. I would venture to say that all children are born equal, with an equal chance of success given equal opportunity.

Experts say that there is not much we, as a society can do to fundamentally change people after they reach the age of eight or so. There is, however, a lot we could do by targeting our resources to intervene with kids from birth to kindergarten to prepare them for success. Unfortunately, our bureaucracy of social and educational programs is not set up to effectively accomplish this.

What if we could start today with newborns and focus on their development until they enter kindergarten? I fully believe that this would allow kids to escape the grip of poverty to achieve success. In a mere 18 years, the cycle might be broken. There is a grassroots movement in Hoke County to explore ways to overcome this problem. This group is called the Citizens for Early Childhood Education. Please support their efforts.

Many want small government so here is a chance to help ourselves by directing our local efforts and resources to break the stranglehold of poverty that dooms many of our children before they can even talk. To many, the American Dream is beyond their ability to break this cycle. Maybe we can give them the tools they need for success.

More later.