Poor Miami: More Good Ideas

According to these folks, there's hope for America's most impoverished city

A few weeks ago I invited readers to submit ideas that might be helpful to the City of Miami, which, being the poorest big city in America, needs all the help it can get. This solicitation arose from our two-part series "We're Number One!" (September 26 and October 3). An examination of the city's championship level of poverty, the series was based on statistics from the 2000 U.S. Census. Some highlights:

100,405 people living in poverty (28.5 percent of the population)

29,319 children living in poverty

Three cheers for FIU's poverty fighters (from left): Ginelle Nelson, Alicia Pichirilo, Marika Krausova, Maureen Muhlena, Bianca Escorcia
Steve Satterwhite
Three cheers for FIU's poverty fighters (from left): Ginelle Nelson, Alicia Pichirilo, Marika Krausova, Maureen Muhlena, Bianca Escorcia

17,683 elderly living in poverty

17,220 people unemployed

Not surprisingly, "We're Number One!" was a gloomy thing to read, but it ended on a hopeful note with an article titled "A Few Good Ideas," in which ten thoughtful individuals offered suggestions for alleviating Miami's poverty. My invitation for ideas from readers was an extension of that. As I'd hoped, many of them were intriguing.

Nancy Lee, Miami: If you teach, as I have, you know that many kids are ill-equipped to prosper because, through no fault of their own, they lack socialization skills that should have been taught at home. And if kids are not socialized, they cannot function in society and move out of poverty by getting jobs. There needs to be training during the first year of high school (before kids drop out) in what many of us take for granted. I've fashioned a one-semester course that would include the following:

Writing skills: How to write a simple business letter and how to fill out a job-application form. Advanced students would learn how to create a résumé.

Role-playing for job interviews: When I have interviewed kids, many would arrive without a pen, which alone could be enough to not get hired. All young people should be properly schooled in interview techniques.

Attire: Teach teenagers what to wear to an interview and what to wear to keep a job. Unfortunately image is very important, and a poor image will not get the job. I would bring students to thrift shops to get one outfit for an interview, or I would require the schools to send every student away with one outfit suitable for a job interview.

Manners and hygiene: My course would teach the importance of not spitting in public. Common courtesy, such as saying "thank you" and "please," would be addressed. I would also include basic instructions on hygiene -- teeth, hair, body cleanliness.

Metamessage: This is proper body language for getting a job -- not slouching, not picking at your face, not scratching, and so on. I would teach smiling, eye contact, folded hands (so they don't get into trouble), and nodding at the right time.

Finances: My course would make sure students know how to open a bank account and write a check, which would get rid of all of those rip-off check-cashing joints. Too many people are afraid of banks because they don't know how to use them and are too embarrassed to admit it. I would also offer training on savings and loans so eventually the pawn shops would go out of business too.

Many students leave school without this type of basic knowledge. Without proper preparation, they won't get a job even if they are qualified. Repeated failure will lead them to stop trying. I don't want them to fail when they're so close to success.

Tony Saiz, Miami: Miami is the home of the cruise industry. Those ships employ thousands of crew members, but how many do you suppose are Miami residents? Less than a handful. Why? Because it's easier to hire and train people from overseas (say, the Philippines) than to hire locally. Don't blame the cruise lines. They're making choices that benefit their stockholders. Instead let's figure out what needs to be done to have these employment opportunities made available to our fellow citizens. We could create education programs to train people in shipboard duties. We could obtain an exemption from or modification of federal minimum-wage requirements so local people are cost-competitive compared to foreign nationals. Our goal should be 100 percent employment of locals by local businesses.

Dennis E. Jordan, Hialeah: The City of Miami should concentrate on those issues better left to local control -- police, housing, playgrounds -- and give up to Miami-Dade County those that take kindly to regional control, such as garbage collection and fire protection. This is not without precedent. In the past the city gave up the airport, the library system, the bus system, water and sewer, and Jackson Memorial Hospital, to name a few.

Without those responsibilities the city would find wiggle room for spending on supplemental programs for the poor and a lower property-tax rate that would attract businesses.

Miguel A. Fernandez, Miami: I recently returned to South Florida after living in North Carolina for five years. During that time I worked for the Division of Medical Assistance (the state Medicaid office), where I learned that state and county governments can request waivers from federal regulations governing mandatory minimums, whether they be medical services or minimum wages.

In Miami I would suggest developing a hybrid of Roosevelt's New Deal that would involve a waiver of minimum-wage laws. Included would be a voluntary skills-training program for those poor receiving government assistance. Welfare recipients would work to develop new skills taught by craftspeople in exchange for the federal assistance they are already receiving. These volunteers would also be guaranteed first consideration for permanent jobs that become available within county and state agencies requiring the skills they've learned.

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