Poverty and solutions

Jeff vonKaenel

In this week’s SN&R, Sasha Abramsky explains how Sacramento County denies undocumented immigrants much-needed medical coverage. While nearly all other major California metropolitan areas have somehow found the money, we have not. Sasha then describes the human toll. He interviews Sacramento residents who, because of their immigrant status, cannot receive health care. If Sasha’s story does not move you, I suggest that you get your heart checked out. You may find that it is missing.

Sasha also examines the shortsightedness of not providing preventative health-care coverage. It is an excellent story which I am proud to have in the paper.

But I do not need to tell you about a cover story in this copy of the SN&R that you are already reading. I want to tell you about Sasha’s book, The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives.

Once you read Sasha’s cover story, you will want to read his book. Modeled on Michael Harrington’s The Other America, which helped our country understand poverty 50 years ago, Sasha tells stories of Americans struggling to overcome overwhelming obstacles to take care of themselves and their families.

It is clear that the system is rigged. Foster kids are so likely to end up in prison. Untreated health problems get worse. A high unemployment rate leaves people behind, regardless of how hard they try.

In the second part of his book, Sasha demonstrates that all this is a political problem, not an economic one. Our country has the resources to solve these issues, and we already know what to do. We need to raise the minimum wage, put a small tax on stock sales, eliminate tax loopholes, improve the education system and create government jobs. These are some of the solutions. It can be done. It is being done in other countries.

Poverty is a difficult, complicated, confusing subject with more questions than answers. Sasha, like Harrington half-a-century ago, has made us see the people impacted by poverty, and helped us see the solutions as well. This is no easy chore.

I can see why The New York Times selected Sasha’s book in its list of the “100 Notable Books of 2013.” Our local boy is up there with Dave Eggers, Stephen King, Margaret Atwood and others. Not bad company.

Sasha ends his book by asking, “How do we generate the political will for such an overarching, and holistic, project? We educate. We empower people. We convince enough Americans that no matter how much money from big-dollar donors floods the political system, a democracy as vibrant as American’s can, and should, respond to the fundamental needs of its populace. … And now, knowing the challenges, and hearing the demands of conscience, our task is to act.”

I suggest to you that one of your first steps is to read Sasha’s book.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.