EDITORIAL: If there is a rising tide, it's hard to see in Fresno County

January 2, 2014 


About 17 health and human services advocates ralled and addressed the media in downtown Fresno on May 14, 2013, part of a state-wide campaign to address poverty and social needs for the state to coincide with the governor releasing his revised May budget.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA/THE FRESNO BEE — Fresno Bee Staff Photo Buy Photo

For the vast majority of families in Fresno, throughout the Central Valley and across America, it's not "trickle down," but rather a steep climb up.

By now, it should be clear it is a cruel hoax to say that if the rich get richer, that inevitably helps everyone else. Trickle-down economics has not created faster growth or broader prosperity, but a level of income inequality that threatens the American dream.

So it is not class warfare to point out that Fresno County's agriculture-driven economy simply isn't doing right by enough people. According to the 2008-2012 American Community Survey, 20% of Fresno County families are living below the poverty line. Among households with children under 5 years old, 29.8% must get by with incomes below the poverty level. And 58.2% of families headed by a woman with a child under 5 in the home are below the poverty line.

Further illustrating the point: 14.6% of Fresno County households must put food on the table and clothes on their backs on less than $15,000 a year. Is it any wonder that our food pantries and charities are stretched to their limits — and beyond?

Creating more prosperity for more Fresno County residents can't be accomplished overnight. Our economic troubles have been decades in the making and may require a generation or more to rectify — if they ever get fixed.

Our region's chronic poverty long has been ignored by political leaders more worried about helping farmers get their crops picked than about helping the folks picking the crops.

We know what the experts recommend: invest in local educational systems, stress to children the importance of graduating from high school and college, and diversify the economy with an emphasis on research and development and professional services.

Meanwhile, the beat goes on in Fresno County as the unemployed scramble to find work and thousands of families try to survive on minimum-wage jobs and food stamps.

This is why it is essential that Fresno County and Central Valley leaders focus their efforts on growing the middle class. And when we say "leaders," we include our representatives in Congress and the state Capitol.

President Barack Obama keeps making the case about helping the middle class. In a Dec. 3 speech, he warned that growing inequality and declining opportunity "pose a fundamental threat to the American dream."

Politically, it is a smart play. More importantly, it is good for the country. There's little else that Obama could accomplish in the rest of his presidency that would be as meaningful as making sure that the rising economic tide does, in fact, lift all boats.


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