A new direction for Dayton: invest in our own social capital

NCR is leaving the building.

If you’re poor and living in Dayton, you probably don’t care. Sure, there will be a few less people wanting to hire you to clean their house, detail their car, or pay taxes to support your local government that is doing little to help you out of the poverty cycle. And your life will continue, as it has, for the last several generations.

The cycle of poverty that holds a larger proportion of our population out of the go-go economy, is also holding the rest of us down. Don’t get me wrong, Atlanta has its share of poor folks too, more than we do, but as a proportion of the population of the bigger city of Atlanta, it’s easier to ignore the problem.

Like it or not, we only have so much social capital in Dayton. When 25-35% of it, in the city proper, is having a hard time making ends meet, it’s like an anchor weighing the rest of us down- but, we have chosen to minimalize it. As long as our Philharmonic plays, our Opera bellows and our Ballet prances, we can claim to be high culture- while in fact, those organizations are all starting to struggle too. It’s easy when the rising tide raises all boats to ignore the guys scraping the barnacles- but, when the tide falls the other way- all of a sudden, our boats don’t float anymore.

We’ve been chasing “jobs” for the last 15 years or so, and like the proverbial dog chasing a car- we’ve never known what would happen if we caught one, or got run over- which is now the case. All our attention to “economic development” – or “corporate welfare” as I prefer to call it hasn’t done much for us. The City claims to have spent $50 million pursuing “jobs” when in fact, what they’ve been chasing is new taxpayers- ignoring the ones who are here and have been paying the bill.

Had we spent that $50 million providing services to the taxpayers instead, what could we have done?

For instance, had we embarked on something I proposed when I was young, naive and green and running for Mayor- which was subsidizing child care for City residents who were employed within the city limits- we might have helped 2 generations out of poverty.

First, we would have created jobs for child care workers, a field that is a necessity for growing communities. To have organic population growth, you need people to be able to afford to work and have children. At the bottom rung of our economic ladder, this child care the biggest obstacle that stops people from joining the workforce- work and pay it all in child care, or don’t work to take care of your kids and receive assistance.

Secondly, it would also give us an opportunity to engage kids and their parents in early Head Start enrichment programming. If we want to see our school system improve without throwing more money at it, the key is having better prepared kids. Geoffrey Canada has been proving this works with his Harlem Children’s Zone where he is breaking the cycle of poverty. Because both the child care workers would be employed, plus the parents would be employed, we’d have double the taxpayers we have compared to the current welfare state.

Of course, companies already in the child care business would scream about having to compete with government (and rightly so) however, luckily- other than Charter Schools, none of them are very well backed or organized (at least in Dayton proper). We could include subsidizing their tuition as well, as long as they meet standards for Head Start-type programming.

In terms of attracting jobs to Dayton, this approach would make it easier for employers to have reliable low-wage employees, something anyone who has run a fast food establishment will tell you is a major issue. It would also make it easier for young parents to attend Sinclair Community College and improve their skill sets.

While the idea of attracting low wage paying jobs doesn’t sound as sexy as attracting those vaulted “white collar” NCR type jobs with their bigger salaries and tax base, the reality is, it’s easier to work with the social capital we have instead of chasing others in a very competitive market (thanks to the no-win handouts by government to major employers at the expense of the minor ones).

Had we taken this path over the last 15 years, with $50 million dollars, how many more jobs would we have? Would we have fewer problems with gangs, crime and homelessness? If a rising tide does truly raise all ships, shouldn’t that be the goal of government with our tax dollars? Help the greatest number, for the greater good? Corporate welfare, chasing the elusive “new jobs” while ignoring those that are already here has failed us massively.

That’s why I’m running for Dayton City Commission. I know times are tough, and I promise to run an efficient campaign, so if you can, please consider donating a few bucks to help me bring a voice of the people and of reason to our Commission. If you agree with this kind of thinking- please forward this article to ten friends, and ask them to contribute as well.

It doesn’t have to be much, $5, $10 or $25 goes a long way in social media. Also, I’ll need legions of people to knock on doors and talk about this message, so please, sign up to volunteer as well. Thank you.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed! If you wish to support this blog and independent journalism in Dayton, consider donating. All of the effort that goes into writing posts and creating videos comes directly out of my pocket, so any amount helps!