GENE ROBERTSON: How to truly help those who need it the most

Monday, January 10, 2011 | 6:17 p.m. CST

Insensitive political deals and compromises don’t help the most vulnerable citizens. The millions of unemployed or underemployed citizens who have more than a 100 weeks of unemployment are getting no relief from the 13-month extension of unemployment.

A valid win-win compromise includes rather than ignores the most vulnerable citizens. Leaders, legislators and service providers who do not address this segment of our society exhibit a callousness that ought not be tolerated. Those ignored live a different reality. Many are homeless, some are veterans, others have medical problems or are senior citizens with limited incomes.

We are no different. This group includes relatives, friends, neighbors, and you and me. As more of us are facing the financial abyss, the question of what our lives may be like is asked. Too many of us are marginalized and relegated to the underclass.

This dreaded category doesn't just include minorities. The actual numbers show a high number of whites and a high number of minorities. Ben Stein notes that 45 percent of black teenagers are unemployed. The marginalized members of our community encompass a broad and diverse population. They include those of no support or those of us who have suffered financial setbacks.

The paths out of this condition are not straight and direct. We are faced with a labyrinth that must be negotiated from darkness into light. All along this maze might be words telling us how to survive and to be patient and have hope. The words are as frustrating as the maze.

We see no bailouts or programs for us. Careful attention is being given to the words, policies and programs directed toward all other segments of our society. We are ignored. Many of us have never experienced this level of living. And helplessness. 

We may persevere, but many of us will never reach our previous standard of living. We thought we were a large part of the people who were inspiring the Obama campaign and election. Hope and change were powerful words, which vibrated not only in our ears but in our hearts and souls. Jobs, medical benefits and education opportunities could impact us physically and mentally. The impact of our condition does not just affect us; it impacts every relationship and interaction we have.

It is like a cancer. Disasters are not gradual. Disasters hit us like a ton of bricks. A trickle-down process of assistance lasting years or decades will be too late for us.

It is important that the promised hope and change occur with as much drama and speed as the 2008 elections. We need to feel the programs and policies that are supposed to help us. Stimulus policies and programs should not just affect leaders, legislators and their private constituencies.

We can be motivated by solid action on our behalf. We cannot afford mere promises.  We can’t afford the toxicity of a static moment. We can’t survive without resources or opportunity. We can’t write checks of toxicity that our children must pay in the future. Human lives are more than theories, ideologies or compromises. 

It is imperative that those who are addressing our reality address it with understanding, respect and care. These professionals must be screened, trained, motivated and accountable. Unless those programs and policies include everyone, our value and our country’s future all are lost. We are our country’s base.

Quote: "Who ever heard of integration between a mop and a banker?" — Kenneth Bancroft Clark, “Dark Ghetto.”

William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and an MU professor emeritus.

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