A generation of poor



The Iowa Department of Education released a chart showing the top school districts for free and reduced-price lunches. Six of the top 10 districts are meatpacking towns, Storm Lake coming in at No. 4 with 73.4% of its students eligible for meal assistance. The others: Postville (No. 1), Perry, Denison, Columbus Junction and Marshalltown. The 25 leading districts for this key indicator of poverty are rural (Laurens-Marathon, LuVerne and Gilmore City-Bradgates are prominent).

One conclusion to draw is that few people work harder than food processing employees but they have a harder time getting by. The Urbandale, Johnston and Dallas Center-Grimes school districts do not make the Top 25. It also is true that major manufacturing towns like Fort Dodge, Clinton and Davenport are on the list, as they have fallen into serious decline since the North American Free Trade Agreement watched all those jobs drain south of the border.

And, Des Moines is No. 2 on the list, where 76% of the students are eligible for food assistance.

Jobs not requiring skills do not pay well. Those are the jobs available in rural areas and inside Des Moines. Incomes are soaring in Dallas County through the knowledge economy but not in busted old river town Clinton, or in Denison. We subsidize lower-wage jobs with food assistance, housing tax credits to build low-income apartments, and various other means that never seem adequate to the need.

Iowa’s manufacturing wage has declined steadily since 1975 in real terms. In the 1980s the unions were busted. Food processing workers need unions, but dues are a hard sell to folks who can’t fully feed their children or fear being identified for deportation. Council Bluffs is on the poor school list, and its hopes are pinned on a casino. Burlington has been on red alert for plant closings for 25 years.

That’s the truth about Iowa. Its rural areas are its most impoverished. If you live in the suburbs, you rock, but if you live near Des Moines North it’s a whole different enchilada.

Oelwein was not impoverished 50 years ago. It is today. The Quad Cities are home to John Deere, but Davenport is poor — 62% are, anyhow. We are raising the majority of an Iowa generation, in many places, in a state of food insecurity in what should be the richest place in the world.

Many presidential candidates say the system is rigged against these hard-working people and places. The school chart suggests they are right.

Another political stunt

President Trump delayed for a couple weeks his planned immigration raids of major cities, in which he said he would deport “millions.” The Department of Homeland Security, caught off guard by his surprise announcement at a campaign event in Florida, said that the raids planned for last weekend would involve “thousands,” and not millions, of undocumented immigrants. Trump then cancelled those raids, saying he would give Democrats two weeks to accede to all his demands. What those demands are nobody knows, including perhaps the President himself.

Even if Speaker Pelosi could figure out exactly what Trump does want, he could blow up the deal anyway just to keep the fight alive. Democrats agreed to give him several billion for his wall, and he blew up the whole conversation.

Trump announced the raids and then the pullback to create fear and panic among the undocumented, and to satisfy the core of his base. The President has accomplished what he needed to: Immigrants in Storm Lake are in fear.

The Democrats cannot in good conscience accept his demands, especially to disregard international law on asylum and refugees. The Administration knows it. Trump threatened the raids to get the buzz. The Administration knows it cannot round up all the undocumented but it will hit cities where Trump has weak support anyhow.

Trump promised to make immigration the issue of the 2020 campaign. That is what his show over raids was all about last week. If he fixed the problem he would have no fear to stoke. There will be no deal before the election, because there would be nothing in it for Trump.

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