Monday, February 23, 2009

The GOP Urban Agenda: Low-Income Families by Akindele Akinyemi

Michigan’s low-income working families are struggling to get by, too often forced to make impossible choices among food, housing, and health care. Government safety nets were reformed in the mid-1990s with the promise that work would pay. But that promise remains unfulfilled for many families. Part of developing a GOP Urban Agenda is to explore the challenges these vulnerable households face and suggest ways to protect them and help them thrive—urgent goals with far-reaching benefits for our children, our families, and our economic future.

Low-income working families face the greatest risks in today's unpredictable economy. The loss of a job, a cut in work hours, a serious health problem, or a rise in housing costs can quickly push these families into greater debt, bankruptcy's brink, or even homelessness. Few have an economic ladder to climb because the wages of less-skilled workers have on balance either stagnated or fallen over the past two decades. Most cannot save for a rainy day when earnings can't be stretched to cover even the everyday basics. Most do not receive group health insurance coverage from their employers or qualify for unemployment insurance if they lose their jobs. Neither employers nor the government gives them much of a safety net.

With so many so vulnerable, urban Michigan needs new policies that make work pay in today's economy. Training or retraining can help parents advance to better-paying jobs. Other services can help parents struggling to get a secure foothold in the labor market find and keep employment.

This is where silver rights come into play. Keep in mind that everyone on a bridge card or on welfare benefits are not the poor, Black or White baby producing mamas that many conservatives like to paint. In fact, some of these people I know have masters degrees and are willing to work. However, the majority rules and if we are serious about an urban agenda for the GOP we need to look at it from this angle when we are discussing helping low-income families.

First, when we are talking about this let's teach people about their core values. Did you see Madea Going to Jail with Tyler Perry and Derek Luke? You saw how the prostitute in the movie (played by Keisha Knight Pulliam) used her body for profit but as we found out in the movie that she was bright and very smart? It took her old friend to do that (played by Luke). We cannot push people aside because they live "on the other side of the tracks" (like Luke's so-called wife was doing throughout the movie).

We have to be able to take the same concept and demonstrate to people that they do not have to remain trapped on welfare. We have to be in the process of education. We know that education is the ultimate poverty eradication tool. That individuals don't need to necessarily make more money, but rather, to "make better decisions with the money they make.

The focus also should not exclusively be on or about urban Michigan's low to moderate-income, or any particular ethnic group but those who have experienced poverty in their lives - be it spiritual, mental, emotional or financial.

As we push forward on a GOP urban agenda we must focus on an inclusive policy, aimed at empowering the low-income families of Michigan regardless of race.

Within this agenda believe there must be a new class of Michigan citizens called the stakeholders. The stakeholders will be comprised not necessarily of or by individuals that make more or less money, but make better decisions with the money they make.

The GOP urban agenda is targeted at those individuals who prefer "a hand up to a hand out," and actively promote programs aimed at helping people, people help themselves.

The power of conversion is critical in a GOP urban agenda when it comes to helping people in poverty because without conversion there is no movement. We have to be able to convert check-cashing customers into banking customers. Convert renters into homeowners.

Convert small business dreamers into small business owners. Convert minimum wage workers into living wage workers. Converting the economically uneducated to the economically literate, and empowered. Helping people help themselves, and creating more stakeholders in Michigan.

There is no way in the world that the GOP should fall asleep at the wheel on this issue. Our job is to show our local communities that ownership is necessary to pull themselves out of poverty.

As long as we continue to talk about eliminating welfare completely without having a back up plan we will continue to beat a dead horse when it comes to urban outreach in Michigan.

1 comment:

Andrew Simon said...

Very well said. I've been pushing for the reconceptualization and doubling down of our party as the party of the hand up, not the hand out, as the key to connecting to the sort of people who grew up in my kind of neighbourhoods. It's a message that gets a lot of lip service support, but it does feel good occasionally seeing I'm not the lone voice in the wilderness who genuinely believes in it.

I've never understood how it could be so difficult for so many to understand why a single struggling mother who isn't sure if her children will be coming home safe from school won't be sold to vote republican over "drill baby drill" or because "Obama's a socialist."

I instruct public speaking professionally and am a former World Public Speaking Champion. Let me know if there's anything I can do to be of service to your cause. You've got a message that I think has been long overdue, and I'd love to help spread it.

Feel free to drop me a line at