The issue of how to break the cycle of poverty first requires an acknowledgement of how poverty is defined, and whether or not it can be disrupted, eradicated or even mitigated at all. The words "poverty" and "poor" are often used synonymously, incorrectly so. In my opinion, poverty is a reflection of one's economic state, and poor is a state of mind. Poverty is a reflection of substandard education and under-employability fueled by a capitalistic system and unfortunate personal decisions. Poor is a mental dependency that has created generations of seemingly helpless and hopeless individuals and families; they don't know any better, and therefore don't want or work for any better.
Regardless of what any statistics say, a walk or drive through any random neighborhood in the city of Detroit confirms that poverty is more than prevalent here. Equally present are those who are "poor." This combination creates a challenge in tackling the varied contributing factors to both.
While the call for more jobs is loud and clear and masked as the solution to poverty by way of employment, the missing message is about preparation. The creation of jobs alone will not solve this or any issue other than... creating jobs. The reality is that most of those who are unemployed are unemployable to some degree.
Statistics undeniably tie poverty to the lack of education, and reflect unbearably high numbers to single female-headed households and African-Americans. In Detroit, like most other urban cities, we now see the results of a failed school system that for years has graduated students who were academically unprepared.
Substandard education, poor public and mass transit opportunities are major contributors to the creation and sustainability of poverty in Detroit. Lower paying, less-skilled jobs in the suburbs are inaccessible to those who could take them due to lack of transportation.
Another disappointing factor is that those who are charged with leading change feed into an emotionally charged mindset rather than speak up and out logically and rationally about the things that would truly make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate. Many elected leaders over time seem more fearful of offending their constituents than doing what is right by and for them. Repeated promises and misguided accusations divide an already fragmented and fragile community.
No one speaks about the personal challenge of excellence, in education and service delivery; there is never any discussion about why we should not try to maintain those city "jewels" that we don't respect and can no longer maintain; and, nowhere is there any outrage for substandard performances -- in school, business or community. Mediocre is well and fine, and has become the acceptable norm as a result.
While the bigger picture reveals the veins of a capitalistic society, our local systems prepare too many people for poverty, and our leaders help to sustain the poor mentality that keeps them there. It's how society was structured, and how it is institutionally maintained. The wealthy and those elected benefit the greatest from those who need support and assistance the most.
While government is not the solution to poverty, it shouldn't work to sustain it by exploiting the uneducated and emotional voter, nor should it see monetary assistance as the sole solution. It is not. Passing out dollars alone without addressing the whole person is like replacing carpet in a home with a hole in the roof. It doesn't solve the problem.
To change the circumstances, we must change the mindset of everyone -- we must first stop believing that the less fortunate are not our problem. They are our problem, and responsibility. We must also establish a level of excellence and accountability across-the-board relative to service delivery, especially in the areas of education, preparation and public service. In doing so, there must also be a level of engagement and exposure that shows those who don't know what the possibilities are and offers hope. People can't strive for something they don't know exists. Social deficiencies should be repaired, not exploited.
A dizzying matrix of contributing factors and facts, poverty is a state of economic compromise where the uneducated, uninspired and hopeless find themselves; poor's what keeps them there.
This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America, and Money in Politics.
HuffPost Live will be taking a comprehensive look at the persistence of poverty in America August 29th and September 5th from 12-4 pm ET and 6-10 pm ET. Click here to check it out -- and join the conversation.
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