Published On: Tue, Mar 21st, 2017

Caribbean Generational Poverty

Jacob Gelt DekkerLast year, the World Bank published a report on chronic poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean. One out of every five Latin Americans—about 130 million people—have never known anything but poverty, according to the report. At least 130 million are subsisting on less than US$4 a day throughout their lives. ("Left Behind": Vakis, Renos; Rigolini, Jamele; Lucchetti, Leonardo. 2016.)

Generational, as distinct from situational poverty, is the most complicated form of poverty to tackle. Note: Generational poverty is poverty for at least two generations, whereas situational poverty is caused by crisis, like environmental disasters, divorce, or severe health problems. It is mostly self-correcting, after a while.

Caribbean islands suffer mostly from stubborn generational poverty, often stretching out over five to eight generation. Lack of education is the primary cause of generational poverty. The reason why poverty continues throughout generations is the specially restricting culture of the poor. The cumulative effect of generational poverty, lack of education, single parent families, and besides crisis situations like teenage pregnancies and long-term liabilities caused by consequences of crime, lead to hopelessness. A culture of hopelessness paralyzes every initiative and effort to improve one's situation.

“ Why bother, it does not make any difference for me anyway.” Giving up, or not even trying and making an effort, chronic tardiness, lack of motivation, becomes the modus operandi. People caught in the cycle of generational poverty are focused on mere surviving. In daily life, an attitude of indifference and apathy prevails.

If education does not matter in a family, then that indifference is firmly passed on to the next generation. Soon a culture of anti-intellectualism dominates the clan. Social control, often with the intimidating use of ridiculing, elbowing and bulldozing, makes sure that the children follow in the footsteps of their failed parents. Over 50% of children of generational poverty families drop out of school before the age of fourteen, hardly able to read and write, leaving them as functional illiterates for the rest of their lives. Without a high school diploma, chances for employment are significantly reduced.
The paradox, “ those who benefit most from education, reject it most,” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, but planning ahead seems impossible. The poor don’t plan for the future. Why bother? The future is not in their control. When they get money, they rather spend it quickly on flashy new shoes for their kids, or a night on the town for themselves.
Without hope, the belief that life can be better, the motivation and energy needed to break the cycle, the chances for success are minuscule.

The most efficient way is to break up the culture of poverty by displacement and out-placement of entire communities and neighborhoods. Migration, temporarily or permanent, become life changing experiences. Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, of the 1.3 million poverty-stricken survivors of New Orleans, many never returned and found new rootings elsewhere, which they considered superior to their former hometown. Uprooting entire slums in Brazil for the Olympics has proven to be very effective in fighting poverty.

Once out of their paralyzing environment, the apathy of the generationally poor is forced into skills of grit; grit needed to survive and plan ahead in a new environment without the suffocating social control of the clan.

Uprooting entire communities on Caribbean islands is far more complex for obvious reasons. Migration combined with the opportunities created by mass tourism is more and more the ultimate solution for generational poverty in the Caribbean. Of many islands, more than half of the populations live either in Europe or the USA. This trend appears to be continuous and is producing great lasting successes, although it also takes at least one more generation.

By Jacob Gelt Dekker
Opinion columnist Curaçao Chronicle

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