Things to Read While I Write: Realities of Poverty Edition

Reaching the hellacious end-of-book period where I do nothing but merge endlessly with my computer. Thus, low on new content. So you can read this stuff instead.

First, check out "Little House in the Ghetto" which will be going on my blogroll just as soon as I figure out how to change my blogroll.

Waking up from this entrancement and becoming aware that options exist has given me opportunity and motivation in my own life. As hobo poet Vachel Lindsay remarked, "I am further from slavery than most men." This has been an unexpected gift from downshifting (dropping out) from mainstream consumer culture and exploring what can variously be called simple living, "green", diy, urban homesteading, welfare and poverty, community, or even paradise. As Greek philosopher Heraclitus noted, we must expect the unexpected, or we'll never find it.

The wealth we hold may not be obvious. Indeed, it takes an eye for beauty to see the wealth that abounds in my neighborhood. Our wealth lies not in consensus reality dollars, but in our collective security and abundance. We have each other, and we will always have each other. As governments fall short on cash and their enforcers (police, zoning, etc.) disappear, our freedom increases. We use this freedom to create realities that make sense in light of the world we inhabit. We invite homeless people to squat the houses that are falling down from neglect. We scatter seeds of plants that nourish ourselves and the community of life in vacant lots and alley ways. We rediscover handy skills in the dumpster of history. We raise animals and build structures that do not fit into zoning's view of safety, but that do fit into a paradigm of making sense. We raise our children with the knowledge that another life is possible, and provide them the tools they need to make a living in the economy of community. "

The New York Times has a good piece, I think, on the way for-profit educational programs are profitting from the recession - without necessarily returning anything of great value. I worry about all the people who think that going back to school is the solution to their problems - most of them are going to take on considerable debt in the assumption that by the time they are done, things will be better and there will be a job for them.

They tell people, 'If you don't have a college degree, you won't be able to get a job,' " said Amanda Wallace, who worked in the financial aid and admissions offices at the Knoxville, Tenn., branch of ITT Technical Institute, a chain of schools that charge roughly $40,000 for two-year associate degrees in computers and electronics. "They tell them, 'You'll be making beaucoup dollars afterward, and you'll get all your financial aid covered.' "

Ms. Wallace left her job at ITT in 2008 after five years because she was uncomfortable with what she considered deceptive recruiting, which she said masked the likelihood that graduates would earn too little to repay their loans.

As a financial aid officer, Ms. Wallace was supposed to counsel students. But candid talk about job prospects and debt obligations risked the wrath of management, she said.

"If you said anything that went against what the recruiter said, they would threaten to fire you," Ms. Wallace said. "The representatives would have already conned them into doing it, and you had to just keep your mouth shut."

A spokeswoman for the school's owner, ITT Educational Services, Lauren Littlefield, said the company had no comment.

More debt, for most people, is not going to be the solution to their problems. Moreover, most community colleges will offer similar programs for vastly less money than the private for-profit institutions. In most cases, entry into these kinds of programs is a bad idea, and I hope all my readers will discourage folks from making that kind of desperate bid.

Meanwhile, as the stripped down, pathetic version of national health care we might even get totters towards failure, we learn that Maternal mortality rates have doubled in the US in 20 years, almost all of them preventable. Oh, and just for a real shocker, African American women die three times as often in childbirth as white women.

White women have a mortality rate of 9.5 per 100,000 pregnancies, the CDC said. For African-American women, that rate is 32.7 deaths per 100,000 pregnancies.

"This has been known for a while and no one has a good handle on it," said Dr. Elliot Main, chairman and chief of obstetrics at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. "This is a national disgrace and a call to action. Both numbers are a call to action -- maternal mortality and racial disparity."

The CDC analysis shows that deaths during pregnancy and childbirth have doubled for all U.S. women in the past 20 years.

In 1987, there were 6.6 deaths for every 100,000 pregnancies. The number of deaths had climbed to 13.3 per 100,000 in 2006, the last year for which figures were available.

A report called "Healthy People 2010" by the Department of Health and Human Services says that number should be around four deaths for each 100,000 pregnancies.

Statistics for other highly industrialized countries show that the U.S. goal of four deaths for every 100,000 pregnancies is attainable. Great Britain, for example, has fewer than four deaths for each 100,000 pregnancies, Main said.

"Women's health is at risk," said Strauss. "We spend the most, and yet women are more likely to die than in 40 other countries. And that disconnect is what makes it such a problem."

Note that this is tucked way, way down on the CNN front page - way below the news about a few Prius owners and their problems, way, way, way below the Death of Peter Graves or the induction of Abba into some hall of fame. Decline and fall stuff always is.

As the States struggle with their budgets, the easiest places to cut are with those who have no power - the disabled, the poor, children. The usual first victims. Here's a good example, in Virginia (I'm not singling them out, they just happened to settle their budget the other day):

Funding for schools will drop $646 million over the next two years; the state will also cut more than $1 billion from health programs. Class sizes will rise. A prison will close, judges who die or retire won't be replaced and funding for local sheriff's offices will drop 6 percent.

Only 250 more mentally disabled adults will receive money to get community-based services, in a state where the waiting list for such services numbers 6,000 and is growing. Employees will take a furlough day this year, the state will borrow $620 million in cash from its retirement plan for employees and future employees will be asked to retire later and contribute more to their pensions.

Medical care providers will see Medicaid payments from the state trimmed, and fewer poor children will be enrolled in state health care, although those health cuts could be tempered by anticipated federal funds

States are between a rock and hard place, but refusing to raise taxes on the middle class and upper classes while stripping the most vulnerable of the basics is particularly charming - and fairly typical. I expect New York to do the same, if it can ever pass a budget. Meanwhile, in North Carolina, there's some proof that there's more fat to cut in state budgets - they don't have to wholly screw the poor.

On a more cheery note, I get a lot of questions about vertical farming, and I've often got to explain that the resource investment in hydroponics often is more than it is worth. But this is really cool - a low tech, low investment window garden model for people in apartments:

Willem Van Cotthem is a researcher specializing in combating desertification, an occupation he describes on his other blog, "Desertification". Here lies the origin of his low-cost, low-tech methods to grow plants and crops. Van Cotthem manages to grow vegetables and fruits in the middle of the desert with minimal water (pictures). Apart from the methods using plastic bottles described above, he also uses mini-greenhouses made of trash (yoghurt pots, plastic bags) to produce vegetable and (fruit) tree seedlings. All systems can be used both indoors and outdoors.

What all these methods have in common, is that they hardly use any water, basically by minimizing evaporation. Moreover, because of the low cost (using 100 percent trash), the systems can be used even by the poorest of people. Plastic rubbish is, unfortunately, everywhere. Van Cotthem's blogs can be a bit chaotic to navigate, but his work is definitely worth a look.

Also a nice BBC piece on the history of the Guerrilla Gardening movement. What I think is most fascinating about this is the degree to which most cities encourage and are pleased by people gardening this way - they can't afford to deal with urban blight themselves, but are grateful when it is done.


More like this

I've noticed a spate of articles on studies that seem to suggest some populations (usually poor, Mexican, African American) can't learn because of conditions the schools have no control over. I don't think it is paranoia to note that these discussions are occurring in an environment where school budget cuts are happening. "they can't learn anyway so let's abandon all these programs and save money"

Guerrilla gardening - I was in the UK last summer and a UK friend showed me a local train station where the guerrillas had planted a lovely herb garden on a small plot of soil in front of the station. The plot had previously been bare soil and debris. A sign on the plot encouraged people to pick what they needed judiciously. I also saw trees that guerrillas had planted on areas bordering roads. Really great but not surprising in a nation of fanatic gardeners. We need more such subversiveness.

I always get a bit depressed walking around the corporate parks around here. They use transplants from other continents or other parts of this continent instead of local plants. They pour tons of water onto the grass that can't survive without it since it's a transplant from somewhere that gets rain in the summer. They do all their gardening with power tools that pollute like crazy and they don't grow any food. They dump pesticides on it. I don't know why they can't be a bit more sensible.

I'd do some guerrilla gardening, but they'd just tear it out.

As for the taxes, I'm not very rich for where I live but I'd gladly pay a little more to help with things like healthcare and education-especially if they didn't exclude adults. I do what I can through charities, but regret that these basic rights aren't provided for in this country.

I'm definitely going to check out that vertical gardening design you linked to. One of my shames is not being able to drop my diet soda habit (I can't stand the taste of water and everything else has calories I don't need) and I could use the shade in the windows. My porch has as many pots on it as I can fit, and my landlord won't let us grow food in the yard.

Here in Minnesota the governor has cut medical services for the poor which has caused an uproar. He did this when the legislature was not in session and there are legal questions surrounding his right to unilaterally cut these programs. His decision was appealed to our supreme court which heard the arguements from a legal aide lawyer as well as the governor's legal team this week. The newspapers have characterized this as "David vs Goliath". It also turns out that GAMC was providing needed revenue for hospitals, so they supported their poor clients in their quest for adequate medical services.

The hydroponic system is nice, but the use of plastic bottle is not the way i would do it.
First that plastic bottel will degrade very quickly exposed in a south-facing facade, and will release its yummy PCB's into the growing substrate and root of whatever you happen to be growing. Then because of the photodegradation the longevity of the system is counted in months.
Finally, unless you paint the bottle (more contaminants) you will have a very nice algae bloom in there.
If you really have to use trash to make this system i would suggest glass bottles and tin cans instead.