From Rep. Bruce Hunter’s newsletter:
An historic snowy winter in northern Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota has turned into record flooding across a wide area of Iowa and Nebraska along the Missouri River.
Viewing this disaster on the television and talking with my fellow legislators who witnessed the flooding in person, I have been overwhelmed and sometimes even amazed at the scope of the devastation that has befallen parts of our state. I have been even more amazed, however, with the speed and magnitude that Iowans have helped Iowans overcome this tragedy. People came from all over the state to donate and help deliver food and water, to assist in the cleanup efforts, to bring hay and other supplies for starving farm animals and to do whatever was needed to help recover from the devastation.
Tragic events such as this touch us deeply as they reveal to us just how vulnerable we human beings are to sudden catastrophe. And so why do we respond so generously – almost compulsively – when tragedy strikes our fellow man? Because it is the right thing to do. Such is the heart’s logic and mandate that together we stand in the hour of need with compassionate care for those who cry out for our help. For who knows when we may find ourselves on the list of the lost, the injured, the bereaved or the dispossessed. I am proud and I think the whole state should be proud of how all of Iowa has responded to this disaster.
In contrast to such outpourings of compassion in high-visibility tragedies is the pattern of benign neglect, indifference or programmed unawareness of perilous problems all around us. Conditions we would consider intolerable if the consequences broke out in a flash of sudden mass destruction we tend to ignore when they occur in little tricklings of slow death here and there. The stroke or the heart attack we surely notice, but not necessarily the silent killers like blood pressure or the accumulation of plaque in the blood vessels.
Poverty is one of those silent killers in the life of our state. Its cumulative effect is just as devastating as floods, blizzards or tornadoes. More people die each year from poverty-related causes than the combined casualties from war, natural disasters and homicide. The daily death toll from poverty-related diseases of body, mind and spirit points to an epidemic in slow motion. The impact of poverty, while less dramatic, less visible and rarely reported, is nonetheless lethal. It puts the lie to all our notions of equal opportunity, denies us the unimpeded creative potential of families and neighborhoods, and leaves in its wake costly social consequences, which ultimately affect the fabric of the whole community. Poverty is the real weapon of mass destruction in our midst. But it is a weapon of mass destruction we can eliminate.
Over the last decade, this state’s priorities have led to increased poverty, low wage growth and a slowing state economy. That was confirmed by a panel of Iowa budget experts that downgraded the state’s revenue estimates for next year.
While unemployment rates are historically low in Iowa, workers actually saw their hourly wages decrease by 0.2% last year. In fact, today’s real average wage has about the same purchasing power it did 40 years ago. Unless, of course, you are in the top 2% of wage earners. This has been especially harsh for Iowans in rural areas with population loss, lower wages, school closings, and reduced health care access.
United Way has recently issued a new report in which it found that 457,044 Iowa households, or 37 percent of the state’s total, are unable to meet basic needs. In addition, the report found that single parents make up 62.1 percent of Iowa households below the basic needs level. The average single-family household makes about $20,000 less in actual income than they need to be self-sufficient, the report noted.
The report noted that 16 percent of white working households are below the self-sufficiency line, compared to 28 percent Hispanic households and 30 percent black households.
For all the great strides Iowa has made, and the lists of desirable places to live that it tops, a community as a whole cannot thrive when a segment of it struggles so disproportionately.
But instead of working to improve the lives of everyday Iowans, the recent priorities of the majority party have been focused on massive tax breaks for the wealthy, corporations and special interests. Legislation has been passed by the Republican lawmakers that lowered wages, increase the cost of health care and even raise costs for higher education and job training.
Instead of lowering wages, we should be raising the minimum wage to 12.00 an hour to start, with a cost of living increase each year to keep pace with inflation. This will start to dismantle this weapon of mass destruction for almost 300,000 people.
Instead of protecting the wages of the wealthy and out of state corporations through massive tax breaks, we should be protecting the wages of lower and middle class workers through wage theft and gender pay gap legislation.
Instead of increasing the cost of health care we should be dismantling privatized Medicaid that has so dramatically failed the people Iowa.
Instead of raising costs for higher education and job training, we should be investing in education – both K through 12 and secondary – to make one’s future path out of poverty affordable.
I believe it is time to make the state budget work for everyday Iowans again. It is time to make sure a job is a bridge out of poverty, an opportunity to a make a living from work.
We should not have to wait for cataclysmic events to awaken our sense of responsibility for our less fortunate neighbors. Nor should we require floods or tornadoes to motivate us to make a sacrifice for the homeless, the ill person without health care, or the father or mother who cannot make enough money to provide for their children.
Iowa is a state of givers. Iowa is a state that believes in living by the golden rule. As legislators, we need to take a lesson from the people we represent.
If you are economically comfortable—can you imagine how you would feel if, after working two or three jobs, you still could not earn enough money to make ends meet or provide the basic needs for your family? This is the question the Golden Rule would require us to answer. The Golden Rule presses us to take such actions on behalf of others as we would demand that action be taken on our behalf if we also lived in poverty. Those who are responsive to its challenge would experience poverty as a disturbing crisis. There would be no need to wait for the next natural disaster or a terrorist strike. We would already be digging out from the rubble of policies and practices, which have buried the hopes and aspirations of fellow Iowans in the deadly grip of impoverishment.
It’s time to invoke the Golden Rule. It’s time to dismantle the weapons of mass destruction threatening almost 500,000 of our fellow citizens. It’s time to deal with a disaster as great as any flood or tornado that has ever hit this state.
It’s time to end poverty in Iowa.