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Katrina Puts Poverty Back On The Agenda

Katrina Puts Poverty Back On The Agenda

A recent report in the Investor's Business Daily says poverty is a class issue; not one of race. Prompted by the tragedy of hurricane Katrina, it describes how those left behind in New Orleans were not only largely black and poor; they were largely women and children.

According to the Cato Institute, in New Orleans the out-of-wedlock birth rate is roughly 60 percent. Michael Tanner wrote in the Washington Times, " Study after study has shown the link between welfare payments and out-of-wedlock birth. Louisiana's welfare policies seem oblivious to this connection. Not only does the state have no cap on benefits for additional children born out of wedlock ” a program found to reduce illegitimacy in other states ” but the state continues to offer benefits to set teen mothers up in homes of their own, "independent" of their parents."

Sound familiar? Louisiana's policies are the same as New Zealand's.

In the wake of Katrina, many Americans are calling for more to be done about the levels of poverty in New Orleans. The opposing view is that literally trillions have already been spent on poverty programmes and the situation has only become more dire, with many black families condemned to greater dependence and vulnerability.

The report conjures up unavoidable parallels with New Zealand society. We cannot avoid that unmarried (or unpartnered) women with children are the poorest amongst us. Households with one parent and dependent children have the lowest weekly incomes in New Zealand - only 43 percent of the average.

Disproportionate statistics for the US black population mirror statistics for our own Maori/Pacific Island population. Of course, illegitimacy is a somewhat dated concept favoured by conservative Americans. Here, its use is met with the objection that many children born out of wedlock are still living with their co-habiting parents. So let's look at actual households.

At the last Census, 44 percent of Maori children , 31 percent of Pacific Island and 20 percent of NZ European were with a sole parent. If numbers on a benefit are any indication, the Maori figure has risen since 2001.

The report goes on to ask the question: Is the poverty of blacks the result of racism and a legacy of slavery? No. It is the result of welfare destroying the family, "by replacing the adult male as the father figure and main provider in the family and then rewarding illegitimacy with a bigger cheque."

A legacy of slavery aside, the same question could be posed here. The answer remains the same.

Willie Jackson maintains, on his Eye To Eye show, that poverty is a race issue. It isn't. The safeguards from poverty are education and a stable relationship. These are as important (and as available) to Maori and Pacific people as they are to any other group.

Unfortunately, and Pita Sharples has recently highlighted this with his "benefit-mad" comment, Maori in particular, are overly dependent on welfare. Which brings me to another parallel invoked by the US report.

The looting that took place was linked to the fact that neighbourhoods with a high rate of illegitimacy have a high rate of crime.

The links between fatherlessness and crime are beyond dispute. Our prison population reflects the higher rate of fatherlessness among Maori. Encouraging fatherlessness is cruel and yet we persist.

The Investor's Business Daily recommends that part of the recovery effort should be to remove the growing stigma against marriage and give minorities the means to escape failing schools.

In a sense we have experienced a "civil" disaster here. It's just been happening over a long period of time. The remedy is still the same.

Lindsay Mitchell Petitioner for a Parliamentary review of the DPB


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