Mayor Rahm's antipoverty program: Cruel to be kind



One of many Rahm-related protests
Mayor Emanuel returned from his skiing vacation in Utah just in time to find a few thousand teachers, students, and parents taking to the streets to protest his school closings.

Hundreds of activists are getting ready to protest his mental health clinic closings.

Students at Lane Tech have been protesting CPS's confiscation of Persepolis.

And ministers, priests, and rabbis are protesting the water fees the city now charges charities and other nonprofits.

You know, with all these protests, I wouldn't blame the mayor if he said, "Get me back to Utah!"

But give him some credit. Apparently, he put his time on the slopes to good use, coming up with a compelling reason for closing 54 schools, most in black neighborhoods.

Noting that there's a particularly high dropout rate among young black men, Mayor Emanuel said, "Locking kids into a school that, year in and year out, is failing their full potential—is unacceptable."

In other words, many black students are doing poorly in the public schools, so what he's going to do is—convert uncrowded schools into crowded ones.

'Cause nothing helps students learn like going to crowded schools.

His school-closing strategy is similar to the one he devised for getting kids to read more by cutting library hours.

He backed off from that proposal when north-siders took to the streets. Until then, the mayor apparently thought that all north-siders got their books off Kindle.

It's pretty obvious to me that poor people in Chicago never had it so good as they do in the Mayor Emanuel era, even if the mayor has an unconventional way of showing his love for them.

In particular, I'm thinking about comments the mayor recently made at a housing forum in New York City.

That's where he described the obstacles in educating children from poor families.

"The real problem is not just the education of our children," he said. "We have parents that can't be parents.

"We have too many kids, literally, from a broken home."

And . . .

"We have a lot of kids who aren't ever going to, at home, get soft skills: showing up on time, dressing appropriately. All that comes with the work experience.”

And . . .

"[We] have too many kids in homes where none of that value structure, and the pieces that come with it, get there," he said. "What is missing here is that parental piece in helping us."

Here's the full story, if you're curious.

So according to the mayor, the problems are greater than any one mayor's ability to deal with them, and what we need is a multigazillion dollar investment in everything from job training to housing.

If the mayor feels this way, critics ask, why did he close six mental health clinics and fire a bunch of therapists who might help poor people cope with the issues that plague their lives?

See, that's the thing about critics. They don't see the bigger picture. In this case, they don't realize that Mayor Emanuel's actually made life better for poor people—bad parents included—by closing the clinics that are more conveniently located to where they live.

Because you really can't appreciate a heart-to-heart session with your mental health therapist unless you've spent several hours riding across town on buses and trains to get to it.

Speaking of which, how 'bout Ventra, the new CTA pay-card scheme Mayor Emanuel's cooked up?

That's the one where those who don't have enough up-front money to load their cards (i.e., poor people) pay a higher fare to subsidize the lower fares of the people who do have enough up-front money to load their cards.

The Ventra card is all part of Mayor Emanuel's larger antipoverty program, where he does what he can to make poverty even more miserable than it already is so that people have a greater incentive to get out of it.

Presumably by working at minimum-wage jobs.

At the moment, I'm not sure the mayor's figured out an explanation that justifies threatening to put homeless shelters out of business by hitting them with water and sewer fees. But give him another week on the ski slopes of Utah, and he'll come up with something.

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