Sunday, April 02, 2006

Here's my "mean-spirited" rejoinder

The Journal Sentinel editorial board thinks that it is not a coincidence that Milwaukee has a high rate of child poverty and a high rate of teen pregnancy.

I agree.

But they've got causation backwards. The board says:

It's clear, the single best preventive measure to combat teen pregnancy is eliminating poverty. That means meaningful, targeted economic development that can get at pernicious joblessness and hopelessness.

A better way to put it would be that eliminating teen pregnancy and the social dislocation that flows from it would result in an employable population that could escape pernicious joblessness and hopelessness. As it is now, no amount of "targeted economic development" is going to benefit folks who are virtually unemployable (that's part of the critique of W2) because they have not finished school and have been trapped in a generational cycle of dysfunction.

It may well be, as the paper suggests, that these kids just don't have the knowledge of, or access to, contraception. I guess I'd like to see some proof of that. Poor people are generally not as ineffectual and clueless as white liberals like to think they are. If a person can obtain "access" to designer shoes, Starter jackets and all manner of illegal drugs, he can probably also "access" a condom. I am not convinced that the problem is that teens don't know how babies are made as much as it is that they do.

It may be that what needs to be "accessed" is middle class values and repudiation of the notion that those values are "acting white."


Billiam said...

Well said Rick. Unfortunately I am not optimistic about a change in that regard.

Jay Bullock said...

I deal with these issues every day, and too many of them are maddeningly circular: Teens in poverty have higher pregnancy rates, but teen mothers are less likely to escape poverty. The best remedy for poverty is a good education, but poor children are harder to educate. Our tax base can't sustain investment in job creation because we don't have enough people with jobs paying taxes.

You're right to an extent, Rick, that poor minority teens do know what condoms are and have access to them; they make consicious decisions to have children. Rarely have a met a pregnant girl who doesn't seem to have weighed the options and opted for having a child--either setting out to get pregnant on purpose or choosing to keep the child once accidentally pregnant. This despite thorough knowledge of the biology and of the financial consequences. Problem is, the girls' role models (and the role models of all those "baby daddies") have modeled this behavior. It is what they see around them, and what seems natural.

It has nothing--nothing--to do with conscious rejection of "middle class values" or the idea of "acting white." I have never met a student in a decade of teaching in the inner city who accused someone else, or was himself accused, of "acting white." But the culture of the schools--in part, becuase students see educated people failing in life and uneducated people finding success--is just different from what you'd see in a place without poverty, joblessness, homelessness (or transience), or challenges of language and developmental disabilities.

It's like the findings of that program in Chicago a decade or three ago--Paul Soglin talks about it all the time--that moved poor minority families into suburbs and showed that educational achievement and financial status started impproving right away. Change the surroundings, change the outcomes. But Milwaukee the city is not changing, and it outcomes are not changing, either.

The editorial board is absolutely right, though, that single best solution to a myriad of Milwaukee problems--from education to crime to teen pregnancy--would be if somehow we woke up tomorrow and poverty was gone.

That miracle won't come from changing the schools, nibbling around the edges of the economics, or writing editorials. I don't know what it will take, really, but I keep doing what little I can with my own little corner of the problem.