In response to the Benton Harbor article:
There is a whole world of issues this touches on, but I’ll just stick to this one local case.
There are four things that will save a community in deep trouble like this:
1. Jobs—a steady base of jobs across the full range of skill levels, pay scales, and economic functions, and enough of them that most adult residents have a chance to get one.
2. Adequate skills training/education of the residents so that most, at least, are qualified for at least some of those jobs, and that for any given job there are at least one or two people in town or nearby who are capable and qualified.
3. Sound economic reasons for the businesses creating the above jobs to either sprout up locally or move in/branch out from elsewhere, and stay. It won’t work if there aren’t customers to buy the product, the infrastructure (social/institutional as well as physical) needed to support the business, and access to the necessary resources and markets, both locally and out-of-town.
4. Social turnaround: Basically, the people—and institutions—who are screwed up (addictions, criminal activity, ignorance, etc. at an individual level; corruption and incompetence in institutions) need to make the effort to get their acts together, and the people and institutions who already have it together need to pitch in and help effectively. Many in both categories are trying already, but not enough are succeeding.
Government alone—even the best government—cannot achieve number four; that requires effort and coordination from individuals, families, neighborhoods, congregations, businesses, and governments: individuals taking steps to fix whatever their problems are, the next three groups backing them up and occasionally keeping them in line, and the last two mainly as resources for things like an honest job, or drug treatment, or whatever else no one else can provide. Since we’re dealing with human beings, different cases will require different types and degrees of involvement from different groups: one guy may only need a little help from his family and AA to kick the booze; another may need public assistance like food stamps and somebody like police-chief Lange checking in on them to keep them in line. Anyone who has ever known and had to deal with an addict or screwup will know that there will be bumps and backsliding, and that while many can and will straighten out, some can’t or won’t. Making all of this better will take time, years really, and even if you/they/we manage to clean up corruption and change toxic attitudes and help dysfunctional people straighten out and get the kids in the schools actually learning, none of it will stick if there aren’t enough jobs that pay for an honest living for the whole community. You’ll just have more people get frustrated and leave, and more misery for the dwindling few left behind. That’s where 1-3 come in.