Letters to the Editor: Pandemic reveals disparity; policy changes help poverty

By , Daily Memphian Published: January 29, 2021 4:00 AM CT

A letter from a pastor laments the chasm between ‘haves and have nots’ in the Memphis area. Another missive, from two high school students, says free childcare and better public transportation would go a long way toward helping poor families.

Letter to the Editor: Houston High students say ‘fight poverty with policy’

4:00 AM CT, January 29

The two of us do not currently live in poverty. By random chance, we were born into privileged families, and this privilege has kept us from hunger, homelessness and financial insecurity. It is not something we deserve, or are worthy of, and it is certainly not an excuse to turn a blind eye to the vastly different circumstances that one in five Memphians live under.

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Here in Germantown, the median household income is $159,000 a year. We have well-funded schools, personal transportation for almost everyone, and a poverty rate one fifth of the national average. This affluence has provided an ‘excuse’ for the citizens in our community to overlook the plight of those around us. Twenty miles north, the citizens of Frayser earn wages in the second percentile nationwide, with 74% of children living in poverty. Our privilege can amplify voices like these. We can no longer afford to stand idle.

The most common misconception in the fight against poverty is that we are doing all we can, that our strategy is working. In reality, however, ‘Band-Aid’ approaches like food drives and welfare are cop-out solutions that provide only temporary fixes and fail to address the root of the problem.

Poverty percentages have reached highs and lows with no real trends or changes. If food drives and welfare stamps are working, it isn’t showing in the data.

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Letter to the Editor: Pandemic widens the gulf between ‘haves, have nots’

4:00 AM CT, January 29

In University of Memphis’ 2020 Memphis Poverty Fact Sheet, Dr. Elena Delavega and Dr. Gregory M. Blumenthal reported that Memphis’ pre-pandemic poverty rate was 21.7%, with a child poverty rate of 35%. Put another way, one in five adults, and one in three children, living in Memphis were living in poverty before the pandemic. These percentages compared to an overall national pre-pandemic poverty rate of 10.5%, and 14.4% for children.

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The pandemic didn’t help. Through the end of December 2020, over 964,000 new unemployment claims had been filed in Tennessee. While unemployment in the state had dropped from over 15% in April 2020 to 5.3% by the end of November, that’s still two percentage points higher than Tennessee’s pre-pandemic unemployment rate. Statistically, Memphis is one of the poorest cities in the United States.

This pandemic has widened the gulf between the “haves” and “have-nots” in our nation: Those whose employment allowed them to quickly shift to working from home, or even from a vacation home, see the pandemic very differently than do doctors, nurses, teachers, law enforcement officers, grocery workers, delivery persons and public transportation drivers who are still on the front lines serving all of our people every single day. Those whose careers and income streams remained intact see the pandemic very differently than those who have lost their vocations and their income, and fear losing their homes.

Students who have dedicated tutors, quarantined learning pods and unfaltering access to computers and internet see the pandemic very differently than students who have no help at home, intermittent or no internet access, or devices to be shared with siblings or parents. Those who are hunkered down with family and whose greatest disappointment of the day is what is missing from the Instacart order see the pandemic very differently than those who are alone or recovering from illnesses. The income, learning, social and security gaps are real.

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