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Archive for June 17th, 2009

One of the main purposes of the Poverty Challenge is to dispel myths and stereotypes about homeless and low-income people and shift our attention to the economic and social inequalities that create and perpetuate the grinding poverty in Buffalo.  A dominant message in our society is that poor people are to blame for their poverty.  That they make bad choices and do not try hard enough to get out of poverty.  Hopefully by taking the Challenge, people will be able to see how difficult it is to live in poverty, let alone move out of poverty with out any outside assistance.

Where do we focus if we shift our attention away from poor people being the cause of their own poverty?  One place that we can focus on is the very intimidating and complex issue of economic inequality.  Obviously there are a number of different sources of economic inequality and it is impossible to separate complex social inequalities from these already complex economic inequalities.

But in his second Poverty Challenge blog Aaron Bartley, of PUSH, touches on one source of economic inequality that has been a major part of Buffalo’s long term economic bottoming out:

Today’s General Motors bankruptcy is symbolic to me of the millions of industrial jobs lost in this country over the last forty years, and all the pain and suffering that continues to cause Buffalonians and others.

A recent Buffalo News article also reported the bankruptcy and what this means for GM workers in WNY.  In “Layoffs slated at GM’s Tonawanda plant”, Matt Glynn reports that the General Motors Corp. engine plant in the Town of Tonawanda will likely face layoffs of up to 261 workers.  Layoffs at this plant are not new; in 1989 the plant employed 4,350 people, in 2003 the plant employed 2,003 people, and after this latest round of layoffs the number could go down to 610 workers.

These were jobs that, through the efforts of local unions, had good wages and benefits.  The kind of jobs that helped build the modern American middle class and kept thousands of local families living comfortably with relatively secure futures.

The loss of these jobs has forced thousands of workers into unemployment and as other industries left the area, local workers were left with few options for employment.  Many of the jobs left in the Buffalo area for high school graduates (which is the highest level of education many people can complete because of financial restrictions among other reasons) are low paying, benefit-less, service sector jobs that are often times part-time.

As Bartley pointed out, the GM’s bankruptcy is symbolic.  It means the loss of even more of what’s left of the well-paying jobs that employed thousands during Buffalo’s heyday.  As made clear through the Challenge, losing income (through both unemployment and the replacement of good paying jobs with very low paying jobs) means not being able to eat and pay the bills; it means that one will be forced into poverty.

Economic changes and inequalities like the layoffs at GM plants are a large part of what has made Buffalo the third poorest city in America.  Policy and action in the area must take into considertaion the loss of  well-paying jobs like the ones that GM offered and strive to create more well-paying jobs.

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