Fight poverty to save the county

For most of my career as a community columnist, I’ve sought to share the good news about our community, because the bad news gets significantly more attention. At times, I’ve tried to flip the bad news on its head and show how it could be taken as good news.

There are some pieces of bad news that, no matter how you spin it, is still just bad news. This is the case with a new study from Harvard economists Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren, highlighted in The New York Times. Chetty and Hendren have long been well-respected in regard to their work with income mobility, but a new county-by-county study of income mobility has bad news for residents of the Valley, and for Trumbull County in particular.

To begin, “income mobility” is an individual’s ability to move from one kind of income bracket to another; in other words, it’s a person’s ability to leave poverty and to make more money. Income mobility is the fancy, $20 word for what we typically call “the American dream.”

The study says that kids living in Trumbull County have significant obstacles stopping them from moving upward in their income, simply by being raised in this county. According to the study, Trumbull County is among the worst counties in the U.S. in helping poor children up the income ladder, ranking better than only about 10 percent of counties nationwide.

Simply by growing up in Trumbull County, a low-income child will lose $2,300 from their income when they turn 26. That’s to say they will make $2,300 less than kids in other communities. In fact, growing up in Trumbull County limits income mobility for kids raised in homes with average or even above-average incomes; the only way living in our county is beneficial to your income mobility is if you live in a home in the top 1 percent of income.

Put simply, those of us in the 99 percent are in trouble.

Time and time again, researches have identified five factors associated with strong upward mobility: less segregation by income and race, lower levels of income inequality, better schools, lower rates of violent crime and a larger share of two-parent households.

The New York Times article says that the best solution for families in both Trumbull and Mahoning counties is to move to Mercer County – for every year a child lives there until he or she is 20 years old, $80 is added to his or her income at 26. They say the best way to get ahead in our area is to get out of area. Yet, this is an answer that I find entirely unsatisfactory, as should every resident of our county.

The good news is, there is a better way. It is most certainly a harder way, but it is a better way all the same. Here are three things we can actually do to make our community a financially healthy place for every child.

First, we need to stop engaging in relief work when it comes to poverty and start doing poverty alleviation. We’ve tried throwing money at poverty at the government and charity level for decades, but have seen little real results. If we want to see our area become financially sound, we need to engage in poverty alleviation – for more on this, pick up a copy of “Toxic Charity” by Robert Lupton.

Second, we need to do everything in our power to make our schools the best they can be. As such, kudos to those who voted in favor of their local school district’s levy. We should spare no expense in making our schools great.

Third, we need to fight for the family. The collapse of this bread-and-butter social institution should be a crisis that keeps all of us up at night, and that causes us to demand our leaders do something, anything, to support families.

Remember: there is always hope. Ours is a big county, but by no means the biggest – and that makes this problem manageable for our leaders in government, charities and churches, to lead us forward into a new kind of Trumbull County. The best years, friends, are still ahead.

Write Kyle Tennant at columns@tribtoday.com.