Friday, August 9, 2019
I’ve been thinking a lot about pie charts lately. I had an epiphany when reading an appeal to the community to donate school supplies. The writer, a local realtor, related that the cost to outfit a student with the requisite supplies would cost about sixty to eighty dollars and that there were many families in Howard County that couldn’t afford that.
Suddenly a light bulb went off in my head. (Or, over my head. Whatever they do in cartoons.)
This is not as simple as saying “we have poor people in Howard County.” Much of this is probably connected to what is called Housing Insecurity. And this is where that pie chart comes in.
Imagine that the whole pie is a family’s total income. The sections are expenditures they are required to make: food, housing, medical, clothing, etc. If, as in Howard County, the cost of housing takes up too big a chunk of the total, it will render the family unable to meet other obligations. Like school supplies, for instance.
In this way, housing insecurity is actually creating poor people. If the amount of money spent on housing were in a reasonable range in relationship to income, the pie chart would change. Families would be able to buy school supplies, among other things. Making sure that we have opportunities for housing available at different price points is crucial to resetting those pie charts, if you get my analogy.
A word to the people who say, “You shouldn’t live here if you can’t afford it.” Let’s say we remove those people, then. Who is going to do the jobs they are doing right here in Howard County? Not you. You couldn’t afford to live here on those wages. Well, these are working people. They have jobs that contribute to our local economy. If you think of the entire local economy as an enormous pie chart, they have a place.
They have a place. And the way things are right now, we require them to be poor.
You think they should live some place cheaper and commute in? Then you are adding transportation costs into the mix. And traffic on the highway, and carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
I love how our community chips in to help students start school with the supplies they need. I’m not discouraging that. But when we work on that sliver of the pie chart every year without addressing the overall pie, we are perpetuating the cycle in which others will need our charity. Don’t stop giving. But think bigger than backpacks. What can we do to reset the cycle?
It’s not an either/or. We will always have community members who need a boost. But it should definitely be a both/and. Howard County can both help students get a good start for the school year and address issues of housing insecurity which put their families in such precarious financial situations.