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John Florez: Professionals perpetuate intergenerational poverty

Published: Saturday, March 29 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

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The war on poverty was lost because it was the "professional soldiers" that were involved, not the civilians.

The philosophy of the war on poverty was “the maximum feasible participation of the poor” in seeking solutions to poverty. And while we quickly hired the professionals, we never really got around to involving and hiring the poor on their own behalf. As a consequence, we have created the greatest “social industrial complex” that has to perpetuate poverty for its own existence; that for every human problem they have created a program to manage it — not solve it. Manage it.

The intent of the Community Action Programs was to wrest the resources from the “middle men” — the government agencies — and involve the poor in solving problems to end the donor-donee culture. When that began to happen, the professionals quickly circled the wagons and blamed the poor for their plight and returned to the same solutions: more money, more professionals — the perpetuation of intergenerational poverty.

Professionals have created a big “social industrial complex” that deals with symptoms of poverty and not the causes. They have created a vast network of services where the end game is to diagnose and treat the symptoms and refer them along, not knowing or concerned if the poor got to the next agency. However, each agency can take credit for having served the client without solving the underlying problem, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

What the taxpayer doesn’t realize is the “social industrial complex” is sold by professionals on the basis of non-duplication of services, collaboration and communication, which ends up being a monopoly that doesn’t worry about cost, a customer base or quality of service. Can you imagine the vast number of professional poverty jobs created and none for poor? Best example, the Department of Workforce Services takes credit for serving the unemployed, yet it is unable to tell how many they placed in living wage jobs and is more concerned with efficiency than outcomes.

What the “social industrial complex” has done is to fine-tune the donor-donee culture that only fosters dependency and reinforces the sense of futility the poor have had to suffer as a way of surviving. If we are to begin solving the problem of intergenerational poverty, then we must begin creating a culture of expectations in people and involve them in solving their own problems, not perpetuating them. The greatest gift we can give another human being is to believe in them and let them discover that self-esteem is earned, not given.

Intergenerational poverty is a family problem, not an individual one, and must be treated as such. Agencies only treat the symptoms of individuals, rather than the causes and the family as a whole. Each family member often has multiple agencies, with their specialists tripping over each other. One for the mother, one for the children and one for the father, with each agency guarding its turf at the expense of the family and taxpayer. The solution rests in viewing the family as the unit to help and to have one agency responsible for the family that creates a culture of caring and expectations and involves the family in solving its own problems. Now, no agency is responsible.

People may be poor, but like all human beings, they have their strengths. If we are to succeed in ending the cycle of poverty, then we must involve the family and build upon those strengths.

Utah native John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and on the Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: jdflorez@comcast

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