In what was perhaps one of his most profound speeches, Bobby Kennedy underscored the power of an individual to create change when he stated, “Each time someone stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Kennedy’s words ring true today, particularly in regard to a paradox we can no longer ignore: an alarming poverty rate in a city as wealthy as Dallas.
Our city is an economic powerhouse. And yet in 2013, nearly 1 in 4 Dallas residents (24.4 percent) lived below the poverty line. That year, about 123,000 children lived in poverty, enough to fill AT&T Stadium nearly 11/2 times. This statistic also gives Dallas the unfortunate reputation of having the second-fastest growth rate for child poverty among large cities. Over the same period, the median family income for single mothers in Dallas dropped to less than $20,000 a year.
These statistics are often the result of working parents earning the minimum wage. Half of the 2.8 million Texans working minimum-wage jobs are parents supporting families. The current minimum of $7.25 an hour means $15,080 a year. At the same time, working families are facing cost-of-living increases.
Simply put, wages in Dallas are stagnant while inflation grows. As a byproduct, poverty is going up fast.
The effects of these circumstances don’t stay at home. They venture into the classroom, where at times not even the strongest lesson plan can break through issues such as the worry about moving — yet again — to a more affordable home or the fear that the electricity will be cut off by the time a child gets home from school.
Make no mistake: Providing a quality education to all students, regardless of their circumstances, is the best way Dallas Independent School District can ensure our children succeed. But to ignore the impact of poverty on educational attainment is a self-inflicted wound.
Though poverty and its effects are a difficult challenge, we are not powerless against this epidemic. Dallas ISD can do its share to send forth a ripple of hope.
Our school system should ensure that all district employees earn a living wage — one that makes it possible to afford housing and basic necessities. Further, Dallas ISD should require that all contractors and vendors that want to do business with our school district also pay their employees a living wage. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates Dallas’ living wage for a single adult at $10.37 an hour. This calculation provides a good starting point to build on.
A living wage can help ensure that the parents who put in a full day’s work for Dallas ISD aren’t worried about whether they can put food on the table.
Admittedly, a wage increase by Dallas ISD alone is not a panacea for the city, but it is a start. Enacting a living wage for all Dallas ISD employees is estimated to affect about 700 workers and their families — no small number. Further, as one of the largest employers in Dallas, the district has the potential to initiate a ripple effect. Enough ripples can amount to a current that would affect tens of thousands of workers and their families.
By providing a living wage for all district employees, and requiring contractors and vendors that want to conduct business with the district to do the same, Dallas ISD can lead by example and influence change that would make our city a shining example of economic prosperity.
Taking care of our own workers is just a beginning, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Miguel Solis is a member of the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees. Reach him at email@example.com.
Learn more about Miguel Solis: http://latinocentric.com/latino-leaders/listing/miguel-solis
Source: Dallas Morning News – http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/latest-columns/20150914-miguel-solis-dallas-isd-can-lead-on-reducing-poverty.ece