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 assistance.

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."

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