At a meeting on Thursday, June 23, 2011, at the Macon County public library, Senator Jim Davis met with an assemblage of local residents, composed largely of educators, to answer questions regarding the implications of the recently passed State budget, which implements millions of dollars in budget cuts to public education and other spending.
Currently, 40% of the K-12 students in North Carolina are living below the poverty level. As one meeting attendee pointed out, this statistic should be of concern to every North Carolinian because numerous studies show a direct correlation between academic achievement and socioeconomic status. It’s hard to concentrate in school with an empty stomach.
When asked what he thought the greatest impediment to public education is, Senator Davis cited the disintegration of the American family that has taken place over the past 40 years. This time period directly corresponds to the implementation of neoliberal economic ideologies, which Senator Davis repeatedly endorsed during the meeting, that cut taxes for the wealthy and reduce public spending. Another feature of this period is that while 40 years ago, a family could be supported by one parent’s salary, in most families today both parents must work just to make ends meet.
Citing a statistic that 75% of the babies born at Angel Hospital are under Medicaid, Davis said, “We are rewarding people to be parents who shouldn’t be parents.” Davis cited the Medicaid figures as a symptom of what he believes is learned dependency, or a belief that people in poverty get used to public handouts and become unwilling to engage in meaningful and productive labor, instead choosing to live off the public dime.
Davis’ disdain for the poor is nothing new. President Ronald Reagan famously maligned “welfare queens,” who he accused of riding around in Cadillacs, while taxpayers supported their lazy lifestyles. In reality, most of the people living in poverty in the United States are hardworking individuals, many of them working two or more jobs paying less than subsistence wages just to get by. When this fact was pointed out to Senator Davis by an audience member, he responded that people who couldn’t afford to pay their bills shouldn’t have babies.
In Senator Davis’ apparent worldview, only 25% of Macon County’s population is qualified to reproduce. He further seems to equate economic status with parental capability, unable to reconcile the fact that many hardworking but poor people make excellent parents. Davis’ perspective is all the more disheartening in light of the fact that within the same budget being discussed all public funding for Planned Parenthood was eliminated. While Davis would deny poor women the right to have children, he also refuses to provide them with the family planning and birth control access that would help them to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Perhaps the most telling statement made by Senator Davis during the meeting was, “If we have 40% poverty level in North Carolina, I don’t understand how I, as a legislator, can fix that.” Senator Davis does not appear to understand his job description. He doesn’t seem to realize that the wealthy private interests that put him in office should not be his only concern. The people living in poverty, for whom he reserves his contempt, are also his constituents.
Kathleen McNary Wood — Franklin, N.C.