Bankole: Governor’s race must tackle poverty

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

If a child goes to bed hungry whether in Detroit or in the Upper Peninsula, it debases our humanity.

A single mother with three kids in the U.P. deserves the same quality of meaningful life no less than a single mother in Detroit, who is going through similar economic challenges. Both are victims of urban and rural poverty residing in communities that are in serious need of good-paying jobs that will enable them and their families to live in dignity.

But it is time for their plight to be a focus of the governor’s race, which tends to heavily lean toward balancing the state budget instead of who can bring the most investments to a state where urban and rural centers are begging for economic transformation.

The candidates — both Democratic and Republican — need to start speaking directly about economic inequality that has reduced some of these communities to nothing but slums with no hope of real recovery. They don’t have the luxury of avoiding this issue any longer because the impact and the implications of economic exclusion that has largely defined life for many communities in the state is self-evident.

For example, the Michigan League for Public Policy, in its 2017 Kids Count survey, revealed that more than 1 in 5 children (22 percent) across the state are living in poverty, a 15 percent increase since 2008.

“The rates are significantly worse for kids of color, with 47 percent of African-American kids and 30 percent of Latino kids living in poverty, compared to 15 percent for white kids in 2015,” the report stated. “Nearly 28 percent of children in rural counties live in poverty, 24 percent in midsize counties and 22 percent in urban counties, although poverty increased at the highest rate for urban areas.”

The MLPP report is just a window into some of the ignored but crucial facts politicians often avoid about the well-being of their constituencies. That is, there are children growing up in impoverished neighborhoods around the state where their chances for success are either limited or non-existent because they and their families are trapped in an endless and maddening cycle of generational poverty.

About 53 percent of Detroiters — and 57 percent of the city’s kids — are reportedly living in areas of concentrated poverty.

That means the next governor must be a bold and courageous voice for these families, whether they are in Charlevoix County in northern Michigan or in Wayne County in southeast Michigan. A new chief executive for the state must articulate a vision that declares that poverty is unacceptable, and work to effectively create the desired investments that will help many families carve a way out of the economic morass they find themselves in.

A governor that cares about poverty should work diligently toward an economic and social policy that is inclusive and help empower people to build a better and productive future.

A governor that believes poverty and inequality are closely linked and subjects people to a state of vulnerability, will view this issue as a moral and ethical imperative, and set in motion policies that will affirm the human worth and dignity of the people in their state.

Because poverty has no geographic delineation, it is not unique to race, religion or creed. But it challenges our individual and collective conscience.

That is why many Detroiters are expecting the four Democratic gubernatorial candidates — Gretchen Whitmer, Shri Thanedar, Abdul El-Sayed and Bill Cobbs — to explain today at a 6 p.m. town hall on poverty at Martin Luther King Jr. High School how they plan to deal with the issue as governor.

It is imperative that Detroiters demand from the candidates — regardless of their party affiliation — real solutions, not just scripted campaign answers to the economic problems facing the city and other parts of the state.

Yes, there are places doing well in the state. That still does not negate the fact that there are many other parts of the state where poverty has left many desperate and waiting for good-paying jobs so they can put food on the table for their families.

That should be the assignment of the next governor.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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