When writing about how growing up in poverty contributes to the recidivism rate, it’s easy to talk about the statistics. There is a lot to discuss when it comes to how to resolve this issue through the funding and distribution of resources needed to set children in poverty up for success. And citing sources and doing my research made it even clearer to me how easy it is to acknowledge the issues in society that contribute to poverty.
However, to acknowledge this and to experience it are two very different things. And in order to fully understand and see the bigger picture, it’s important to have an idea of how these people become mere statistics. Despite my passion and dedication to lowering the recidivism rate and fighting to distribute resources to those in poverty, I knew that I needed more to fully understand.
So I turned to the founder of RED, David Windecher. He was able to break down to me what it was like to grow up in poverty, to be thrust into the system, and how he was able to break out of it, recently being named the lawyer of the year by the Georgia Hispanic Bar Association.
David was arrested for the first time when he was twelve years old after he made the decision to steal a peg for the bicycle his father had bought for him and his brother. The two boys shared the bicycle, but the pegs were broken and they could never arrive at the same place at the same time. David knew that asking his father for the money to buy new bicycle pegs was not an option, and he needed them in order to get himself and his brother around. So, he decided to steal them.
He was caught pretty much right away and was immediately taken into custody. He then stood in front of a judge, where he was labeled as deviant and assigned to community service – a fee that his parents had to pay. David was caught in a cycle of being called a troublemaker, put directly into the school-to-prison pipeline, and was in and out of the system a total of thirteen times by his eighteenth birthday.
David grew up in Argentina until he was ten when his family moved to the U.S. He explained to me that in Argentina, all the kids wore uniforms to school and played together afterward, not understanding the concept of poverty. Migrating into the U.S. made his socioeconomic status abundantly clear though. From the clothes he wore to the neighborhood he lived in, he knew he was labeled as poor in Miami.
David explained that not only was the area he grew up in divided by socioeconomic status but racially so as well. The community was dominantly Black and Brown families, with white families living on the other, more affluent side of the county. Each person stuck with the people that looked like them, further segregating the community. Eventually, David joined a gang for protection and income after he witnessed a murder of a boy around his age.
However, David is a success story. He earned his GED, scoring nearly perfect on the test, and attended John Marshall Law in Atlanta, becoming a criminal defense attorney. When I asked him what resources he thought would have impacted his life in a positive way sooner so that maybe he would not have had to go through the obstacles that poverty ultimately led him to, his answer was simple – a program like RED.
His journey and the obstacles he overcame inspired him to form a nonprofit organization that works tirelessly with nonviolent offenders and juvenile youths, aiming to teach them skills to get a good job, become an entrepreneur, and contribute to society in a positive way that benefits them as well. David’s story is inspiring to all of us, and gives hope to those in similar situations, showing that it is possible to overcome the obstacles of poverty that can ultimately lead down a path no one dreams of going down.
Poverty In The State of Georgia
The national poverty rate in Georgia currently sits at 16.9% – higher than the national average of 14.6%. This means that with just over 10.5 million residents, nearly 1.5 million are living in poverty, dominantly in rural areas. Resources are difficult to access, and they are considered temporary fixes, or simply not enough to support a family that has children in a meaningful way.
Black and Brown people are far more likely to live in poverty in Georgia than white people are, with Black residents making up nearly a quarter of those living in poverty but only making up 30% of Georgia’s population. Hispanics make up almost 28% of the poverty rate while only accounting for 9% of the population in that state. In contrast, white people make up 11% of the poverty rate but have the highest population rate in Georgia at 52%.
With the average income in the state of Georgia being just above $61,000 and the national poverty rate being just under $13,000 for a single-person household, it is easy to assume that more people than not are struggling, living paycheck to paycheck. When someone is not making enough money to support themselves or their families, what is one to do?
Can you tell me you wouldn’t steal food to feed your family? That as a child, seeing your parents struggle to make ends meet, you wouldn’t do anything to help, even if that meant being labeled as deviant? Children that grow up in poverty are more likely to live in poverty their entire lives. If “deviance” is what surrounds you, if your normal is seeing drugs being dealt or having a dealer ensure that your family has food and a place to live, wouldn’t this seem like the best option, like the right footstep to follow in?
Turning to crime and deviance is not a personal choice for many of these people – it is a basic necessity to ensure that they and their families are taken care of. It is more often than not the only option people living in poverty have to ensure that they have food to eat, a roof over their heads, and enough money to support themselves and their families.
What Can Help To Change This?
Increasing Minimum Wage
This is the one we all saw coming. The minimum wage in Georgia is only $7.25 per hour. Working 40 hours a week means a minimum wage worker earns $290 a week. Doing a little more math, this means that worker earns $1,160 a month and $13,920 annually. Of course, this is all before taxes and social security are applied to their paycheck.
Minimum wage keeps people just above the poverty line, denying them access to many resources they may still need. These people work jobs that contribute to society as a whole, such as bagging your groceries or making the fast food you pick up on your way home from work. Living in American society, we are programmed to believe that these jobs are less important, that the work isn’t difficult, and that people are paid these wages because that’s what they deserve.
The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in the state is $1,042. A month’s income for a minimum wage worker hardly covers this, much less the cost of food and other necessities. However, these jobs are necessary in all of our everyday lives. Since COVID-19 hit, there’s been an increase in shortages in these fields of work and we’re all feeling it. We experience longer wait times at restaurants, lines up the aisles at grocery stores, and see “Hiring Now” signs at nearly every establishment. The pandemic gave many people the opportunity to build their skills and enter career fields they knew would make them more money. Those living paycheck to paycheck were constantly being told that if they want better pay, get a better job.
This is exactly what millions of people did, but now we all feel the repercussions of it. Even during the height of the pandemic, when everything was shut down and we were confined to our homes, the minimum wage jobs were the ones labeled “essential”. These were the people who woke up every day and performed their jobs at an increasing volume and pace in order to make life easier for the same people who told them they didn’t deserve a living wage.
Increasing the minimum wage will make these jobs more appealing and ultimately make all of our lives function a little bit easier, allowing for people to afford life and the luxuries that come with it.
Investing in Education
Education is one of the most crucial resources to ensure a prosperous future for individuals. However, the system is broken. Between the school-to-prison pipeline to the underfunding of primary and secondary schools to the enormous amount of student debt hanging over our heads, the school system does not set those in poverty up for success.
When in school, David told me that he was labeled a troublemaker because he did not want to complete his work. He was put into SARP – the Students At Risk Program. He sat in the same classroom all day, given assignments that he could complete in half an hour but were expected to last him all week. David knew he could complete these assignments easily, but they were so far below his grade level that he didn’t want to waste his time. He was neglected and ignored by his teachers, administrators, and the school system as a whole.
Schools placed in lower socioeconomic communities more often than not receive less funding and are provided fewer resources. Books are outdated and whitewashed, access to computers is limited (if available at all), and the turnover of teachers is constant. However, if we took the time to invest in all schools, no matter what district they’re in and what kind of students attend, success rates in schools would be higher, juvenile delinquency would be down, and students would learn how to contribute to society in a positive, meaningful way.
All our lives, we are told that if we want to be successful, we need to go to college and earn a degree, preferably a Master’s. However, unlike many other industrialized nations, this sort of education is only obtainable with money. College costs people tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands, as I’m sure many of you know. This allows for members of elite wealthy families to obtain their college degrees with ease, while the majority of Americans must pull out mass amounts of student loans that accumulate more interest than any of us could have thought imaginable. Even when degrees are obtained, the student loan payments alone cost hundreds of dollars every month, making people with good-paying jobs feel like they’re back at their minimum wage job.
On the other hand, if someone chooses not to attend college, their job selection can be limited. Becoming an entrepreneur is enticing and many people have the skill set to own a business, but this requires the right amount of funding needed by loan companies, which many people are not eligible for.
Overall, if we ultimately eliminate the cost of obtaining a college degree, or even just reduce the cost, this would allow for more people to obtain a college education. Many people argue that affording the cost of a free college education is not within reach, based on what that would cost the government. However, if we allocate more funding from other places, such as the police force or military, it could be possible. This idea is controversial, but overall, the allocation of funding to free college would benefit society as a whole, allowing more people to enter the workforce and exit poverty.
Paid Sick Time & Parental Leave
When we get sick or need surgery or have a baby, we need time off from our job. While taking this time off, we may need to visit the hospital or a doctor, ultimately accruing debt to pay while not working. Many jobs offer sick days that are paid, but those days are numbered and often accrued in small increments. We use our sick days wisely, that way we only use them when we need them. When we have children, months of recovery and adjustment are needed.
And more often than not, women are the only ones who receive paid time off and this is typically only for a short amount of time. Many other industrialized nations allow up to a paid year off, if not longer, for both parents. When living on a wage that pays very little, taking time off for anything is never ideal. Women push their bodies so they can return to work sooner, their partner may never take time off at all, and the added expense of childcare often puts people in a bind. Do they return to work to make money just for their paycheck to go to daycare, or do they stay home with their child and sacrifice that paycheck?
Paying parents while they stay home with their children allows for even more benefits. Doing this allows for better bonds to be made and results in more dedicated work upon returning. In America, we often have to choose between caring for ourselves and our families or keeping our jobs. Our jobs and the companies we work for let us all know that we are replaceable. But if these companies invest in their employees, and allow them time to be with their families and take care of their bodies and health, this ultimately leads to a happier, more productive workforce.
Organizations Like RED
RED works with nonviolent offenders and juvenile youths to lead them in the direction of obtaining careers, contributing to society, and creating a life for themselves that may not have been otherwise possible. David and everyone else working at RED dedicate their lives to helping these individuals and showing society that rehabilitation is possible.
Pulling individuals out of poverty and out of the prison system helps make society stronger, improves lives, and allows for a second chance that everybody deserves. But we can’t do this alone. We see more organizations popping up every day that have the same goals as we do.
And every one of you that takes the time to read this, makes a contribution, or simply follows us on social media and shares our posts helps to make a difference. Together we can make the change that we all want to see. So share this article with your friends and family. Fight for those that can’t fight for themselves. Help us spread the word about the recidivism rate, and help to educate others. If we all work together, we can make a difference and allow for a better society for everyone.
Every person deserves a second chance, to show that just because we were dealt a certain hand or made a bad decision doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve to be given an opportunity. We appreciate every single one of you that continues to support us and helps us to end recidivism.