Teaching Children the Harsh Realities
Common Courage Press -
Political Literacy Course, November 1999
Is it true that the cuts in public services seen across the
United States affect all classes equally and that the rich and
upper middle class are suffering along with the poor? If we are
to believe many of the current crop of U.S. politicians from either
major party, the answer is a resounding yes. After all, according
to those men and women, the government can no longer afford to
fund programs designed to ameliorate poverty. Nor, say the more
hard-hearted ones, should it. Harking back to the social Darwinists
of the robber baron age of capitalism, these leaders echo former
president Ronald Reagan's philosophy that the poor of today are
poor because they choose to be and consequently do not deserve
In "Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience
of a Nation" Jonathan Kozol provides a disturbing answer.
In 1994, when Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York cut the city
budget, those cuts included terminating "15,000 workers,
5,000 of them in the agencies that offer social services".
"Caseloads of social workers, already as large as 200 children
to one worker in some instances, are certain to grow larger."
The results of these cuts could be seen immediately in the public
hospitals used primarily by the poor: "'more frequent' delays
in care and 'dirtier hospitals' and longer stays in 'waiting areas'",
to cite a few examples.
After making the cuts public, the mayor told "a group
of children from a segregated high school that they'll have to
learn how to manage without public help. 'I think you have to
help yourself. Look at what there is and take advantage of it,'
he advis(ed) them, but cancel(led) 11,000 city jobs for children
of their age." As for privately funded endeavors designed
to make up for the cuts in public services, these occur only where
there are private funds to be had: "In midtown neighborhoods,
privately purchased sanitation services have made a 'stunning
difference,' says the president of the Times Square Improvement
District, which have also hired private guards in order to discourage
beggars and drive out the homeless*." Meanwhile, in poor
neighborhoods like those in the South Bronx which Kozol writes
of, "hundreds of broken elevators, (and) trash heaps where
rats may thrive" will increase.
These same cuts, which have been mimicked across the nation,
were accompanied by tax cuts which were supposedly designed to
"spur investment" and prevent "wealthy people"
from "abandon(ing) New York City." The tax cuts themselves,
advertised as helping all working New Yorkers, in reality primarily
benefited "the five percent of the population who have incomes
higher than $100,000." As to the "further flight of
business from the city" if taxes weren't reduced, a lawyer
with whom Kozol spoke stated, "'They're being killed by personal
income taxes," in speaking of some of his business colleagues.'"
One of Kozol's protagonists in the South Bronx replies to this
plaint: "'There's killing and there's killing. I don't think
the man you talked to knows what killing means."