Published On: Tue, May 30th, 2017

How to fight poverty

Mr. Eugene Rhuggenaath, the new PM of the Island State of Curacao, said that his priority is fighting poverty.

”We will be training the unemployed, so they can eventually work in construction and hospitality.“

Beach Improvement and Maintenance, another governmental program, would also provide some employment for those living near the coast.

All politicians love to decree measures to fight poverty, but do these actions ever work? Will the poor cooperate? Have the poor been waiting for the Government before going to work?

The illusion is that “if pushed, the poor can become self-sufficient through work.“  Unfortunately, this turns out to be a delusion.

The most popular and effective method to fight poverty of any kind is migration. Yearly, millions of people around the world migrate to areas where they expect a better future for themselves and their children.

These poor are mostly economic migrants or refugees, people in a setting of Situational Poverty.  Situational Poverty arises when disaster, like an earthquake, a local war, a flood, an epidemic, etcetera, wipes out the economic base of the victims. After the departure of SHELL-refineries on Curacao, in 1986, about 30-40% of the population migrated. Although the statistics vary somewhat depending on classification, at least 85.000 out of 300,000 of the former Netherlands Antilles moved out permanently.

Another strong motivation to migrate is a lack of confidence in local governments and politics, like in 1975, upon the independence of Suriname. More than 50% of the population migrated and settled in another country.

Much more challenging is Generational Poverty (at least two generations, or more, live in poverty).

These people have an infinitesimal chance of succeeding in a new environment after migration, so they will only move if a rich package of social security benefits awaits them.  Amongst the Generational Poor, elaborate scams are employed to take advantage of such Welfare Payments.  Early pregnancies  (14-16 yrs-olds) of single mothers is by far the most popular set-up.

Supposedly, education breaks the cycle of poverty, but most generationally-poor strongly reject education and will also discourage their children to finish school.  The Generational Poor will not  undertake anything to change their situation since they are convinced that “ for them, it does not work.”

Schooling is interrupted by poor motivation and discipline. Training for local programs is often even sabotaged. Welfare employment projects are often plundered to the point that they are no longer functional (see FEFFIK, a governmental adult training program on Curacao).

Generational Poverty has a culture dominated by anti-intellectualism, present-oriented behavior, fatalism and lack of ambition. Parents in Generational Poverty will raise children with that same culture; both generations end up jobless and poor.

The generationally poor refuse to plan for the future; they live today. All the money they can put their hands on today will be spent today, on consumption, and never on savings for children and education.

So, the Culture of Poverty makes inter-generational transmission of poverty more likely.

Mr. Prime Minister, without changing work ethics, discipline and most of all, breaking the Culture of Poverty of the poor, your  “Fighting Poverty Emergency Program” will be just another nice photo-op to benefit politicians and not the poor.

By Jacob Gelt Dekker
Columnist for Curaçao Chronicle

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