Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend at Goose Rocks Beach

This weekend we returned to Goose Rocks Beach in Maine for our tenth summer and as always, almost nothing had changed. Our neighbor’s two red kayaks are on the same patch of sand, tethered to the same rock. The general store stocks the same candy and magazines. The tides deposit sand dollars and moon snails on the same stretches of sand.

But we did arrive to one wonderful surprise. Each year the game warden cordons off a few spots by the nearby river to protect the eggs of an endangered species of small birds called Piping Plovers. This year, for the first time, a round circular fenced enclosure had also been put up in front of our house. In the middle, in a small depression scraped in the sand, sit four speckled small eggs; perfectly round, and breathtakingly beautiful.

The eggs had been discovered by a neighbor whose call to the Fish and Wildlife Department set the machinery of protection in motion. The fencing, to keep out predators like foxes and gulls, will be up for a month before the eggs hatch and then another 28 days until the chicks can fly. Warning signs are posted, and a leaflet was hand delivered to surrounding homes with instructions about not disturbing the eggs. The enclosures are numbered and the birds monitored. The community, oblivious to and undeterred by the diversity of political views within, pulls out all the stops to ensure the future of these birds through this investment in the earliest possible intervention.

It’s good to be feathered I guess. There are children within the same region of the Fish and Wildlife Service whose struggle to survive and thrive is almost as great as the Plovers. Their predators will be hunger and poverty. These kids are endangered but because their species is not, we don’t marshal resources on their behalf in the same way. Instead we wait, and debate, or make excuses until the damage is done, sometimes irreversibly. One legacy of No Kid Hungry for which we must strive, is not just increased enrollment in programs like summer meals and school breakfast, or even the end to childhood hunger, but creating a culture of nurture and protection that rallies the entire community around each and every child.

Monday, May 21, 2012

"So Rich, So Poor" Important New Book on Poverty in America

May 29 is the official publication date for an important new book called So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty In America. It was written by Peter Edelman and its hard won accumulated wisdom represents the rare blend of practitioner, academic, and politically savvy idealism that has been Peter’ s career over more than 40 years of American history.

Edelman’s formative experience was working for Bobby Kennedy in the 1960’s and developing many of the anti-hunger and anti-poverty policies that Kennedy promoted. He went on to work in the Clinton Administration, from which he resigned in protest over welfare reform, and is now a Georgetown Law Professor. His unique vantage point enables him to make valuable distinctions between genuine innovations in social policy and mere re-inventions of the wheel.

I was able to read the book over the weekend. In it Peter reflects on his time with Bobby Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta, and the legislative remedies to hunger it inspired. He describes RFK as “a man who – arguably unlike anybody at that level since- was deeply committed to doing something very serious about poverty in this country and the intersection of poverty and race.” Most of the book is a well documented analysis of the ups and downs in the fight against poverty. It employs compelling facts and statistics to balance sobering realism with hope, optimism, and keen political insight.

His key points include:

 “The idea that ‘nothing works’ in the fight against poverty is a canard. The policy gains outweigh the policy losses… The problem is that the policy gains have been nullified by economic trends.”

 The 21st century began with the nation in the best position in poverty in 30 years, 11.3% at end of Clinton Administration, just above the 1973 low point of 11.1%. 15 million were added to ranks of the poor between 2000-2010, now equaling 15.1% of the population.

 Three forces – all unforeseen in large measure in 1968 – account for the course of American poverty over the past 40 years. (1) good-paying, low-skill jobs went overseas and gave way to automation, and low-wage work became ubiquitous; (2) the substantial increase in the number of families headed by a single parent, usually a woman; (3) the fact that race and gender still matter a good deal as to who is poor and who is not.

 An astonishing 20.5 million people lived in extreme poverty (less than $9000 for a family of three) in 2010, up by nearly 8 million in just ten years. 6 million had no income other than food stamps.

 Half the jobs in America pay less than $34,000 a year and almost a quarter pay below the poverty line for a family of four ($22,000 a year).

 One estimate is that we are losing at least $500 billion per year just due to the costs of child poverty.

 “The unwillingness of our national leadership to engage the nation in a straightforward discussion of American poverty is corrosive.”

Edelman concludes with a call to action that should resonate with all of us in nonprofit or advocacy work: “We have to be at it steadily all the time. This means both electoral politics and outside advocacy and organizing. We tend to lurch back and forth. My take on the Obama election in 2008 is that we put all our eggs in the electoral basket and then figured he would do it all and we could go about our business. There were two problems with that. One, he needed our help to get things done, and two, he needed to hear our voice about what he was not doing that he should have been doing and what he was doing that was wrong. You can’t just vote and then disappear for four years. … one lesson, which we seem to learn and then forget over and over again, is that we have to work both the inside and the outside – in the electoral world and from the outside to keep elected officials honest and make them better than they would otherwise appear to be.”

Book events are Politics and Prose on June 9 at 6, Center For American Progress on June 11 at 10:30, National Women's Democratic Club on June 12 at noon, and Busboys and Poets on June 21 at 6:30.