FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Death and Opportunity in Rockford, Illinois

by

Our children are dying. We know it. We live and work among the ashes of yesterday’s tragedy, footsteps burdened by levity in every make-shift attempt at dressing, each tomorrow’s horizon bearing a new depth of grief to which we have become accustomed. In Rockford, Illinois, our children are dying.

Our children are dying. Rockford saw 27 murders in 2016. Ten of the victims were under age eighteen, with much of the crime driven by young people. Children are orphaned. Families are irrevocably devastated. The death and destruction cycles into daily life, with a significant increase in violent crime, in general. In September, the FBI declared that according to 2015 statistics, Rockford Illinois, the “Forest City” 75 miles west of Chicago, displaced Little Rock, Arkansas as the most dangerous city in the United States with a population of 100,000 to 200,000, with the most dramatic increases seen in robbery and aggravated assault.

Our children are dying. Not to be outdone by crime, our poverty rate holds its’ own significance. Presently, the poverty rate for African-Americans is 43.3 percent. Part-time workers have a poverty rate of 32.2 percent. For black men between 20 and 24, the unemployment rate is 70 percent. In the absence of stable jobs, many young men turn to drugs, alcohol and crime.

Our children are dying. As a local community activist and labor organizer here in my hometown, I’ve had the conversation a lot lately, in the coffee shop down the street, in the grocery store, and across the backyard fence. The question is always the same. What can we do? Something needs to be done, but what can we do? Neighbors compare stories of the guy with the clipboard who knocked on their door and asked them to sign some paper, promised change was coming, and never came back. Campaigns begin and end. Good people try. Good people stay and, yes, good people leave.

Our children are dying, and we feel powerless to stop it, yet, we can take steps that stand to have a direct effect on their lives. Paraproffesional workers, support staff, cafeteria workers, and school bus drivers employed by Rockford Public School District 205 have been in contract negotiations with the school board for months now. The issues are nothing new, workers are faced with health insurance they cannot afford, while making poverty wages. Families need more. The School Board says “no.”

A Paraprofessional staff person works almost nine months a year. Unlike teachers, they do not have an option to be paid during the summer. Unlike construction workers, they do not have access to unemployment during the “off season.” The average annual salary for these workers is $14,000 a year. With little if any wage increases in sight, the School District has proposed significant increases to employee health insurance costs.

There are approximately 275 school bus drivers, 500 paraprofessionals, and 165 cafeteria workers employed by Rockford School District. 32% of the workers live in one of Rockford’s four poorest neighborhoods, the same neighborhoods that saw the city’s highest percentage of violent crime in 2016. The students they serve are spread throughout the city, however much of their interaction is with at-risk or special needs youth.

Our children don’t have to die. Rockford has an opportunity to make a systemic change and end generational poverty in our most depressed neighborhoods, simply by tapping into the role of responsible employer. In May 2016 the White House released a study indicating that higher wages for entry-level workers has been demonstrated to correlate to a 3 to 5% reduction in overall crime. According to the study “Higher wages for low-skilled workers reduce both property and violent crime, as well as crime among adolescents. The impact of wages on crime is substantial … a 10 percent increase in wages for non-college educated men results in approximately a 10 to 20 percent reduction in crime rates.”

The money is there. Financial documents demonstrate that the Rockford Public Schools, District 205, is in good financial condition and should be able to afford reasonable and justifiable employee compensation increases.  The District has experienced strong revenue growth, a budget surplus in each of the past six years (also forecast for FY 2107), and the District maintains a high credit rating AA- from Standards & Poor’s.  The rating agency cited the District’s diverse local economy, strong financial performance, large fund balance, and low debt burden.

Now is time to rule the senseless murders and absolute fear that grips our community as unacceptable. 2017 can be the year we shed this overwhelming burden of death and rise to be a community of possibility. When I have those conversations, the ones with the question “what can I do?” I won’t sit silently and shrug. I’ll tell my neighbor, my mechanic, my friends, my postal carrier, my city: contact the Rockford Public School Board. Tell them to pay workers a living wage.

Our children don’t have to die.

Sara L. Dorner is Staff Representative for AFSCME Council 31.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
Gregory Barrett
“Realpolitik” in Berlin: Merkel Fawns Over Kissinger
Louis Yako
The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq
Graham Peebles
Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
Ezra Rosser
The Poverty State of Mind and the State’s Obligations to the Poor
Ron Jacobs
Andrew Jackson and the American Psyche
Pepe Escobar
Fear and Loathing on the Afghan Silk Road
Andre Vltchek
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
Lawrence Davidson
On Hidden Cultural Corruptors
Christopher Brauchli
The Routinization of Mass Shootings in America
Missy Comley Beattie
The Poor Need Not Apply
Martin Billheimer
White Man’s Country and the Iron Room
Joseph Natoli
What to Wonder Now
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong: the Chinese Meant Business
Thomas Knapp
The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences
Nyla Ali Khan
Borders Versus Memory
Binoy Kampmark
Death on the Road: Memory in Tim Winton’s Shrine
Tony McKenna
The Oily Politics of Unity: Owen Smith as Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary
Nizar Visram
If North Korea Didn’t Exist US Would Create It
John Carroll Md
At St. Catherine’s Hospital, Cite Soleil, Haiti
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Singaporean Conjucture
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Trump: the Birth of the Hero
Jill Richardson
Trump on Cuba: If Obama Did It, It’s Bad
Olivia Alperstein
Our President’s Word Wars
REZA FIYOUZAT
Useless Idiots or Useful Collaborators?
Clark T. Scott
Parallel in Significance
Louis Proyect
Hitler and the Lone Wolf Assassin
Julian Vigo
Theresa May Can’t Win for Losing
Richard Klin
Prog Rock: Pomp and Circumstance
Charles R. Larson
Review: Malin Persson Giolito’s “Quicksand”
David Yearsley
RIP: Pomp and Circumstance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail