Poverty in Australia

Growing Up Poor

Four Corners (2013)


In contrast to Decadence: The Meaninglessness of Modern Life, which highlights life in the Australian middle class, Growing Up Poor is a heartbreaking TV documentary about the children of a government subsidized housing project in Claymore, a suburb southwest of Sydney Australia.

The children talk quite poignantly about what it’s like to be bullied at school, to have parents who constantly argue and/or hit one another, to constantly confront the random violence associated with alcohol and drug abuse and to frequently hear and see police helicopters hovering overhead.

Claymore has the largest proportion of children in Australia. It also has a teen pregnancy rate that’s double the national average.

What I found most striking about the film is that Claymore children under 12 are still optimistic about having a future life different from their parents. By 12, they have given up hope and are resigned to a future life of poverty and chaos.

The former Labour government recognized the mistake of concentrating extreme poverty in a single suburb and launched a project to gradual board up Claymore homes and relocate the families. Tony Abbott’s government halted the process, claiming there was no money to continue it.

Instead they have built a multimillion dollar performance center at the local high school. By inspiring Claymore teenagers that “anyone can be a rock star,” they conveniently repudiate any responsibility for addressing the root cause of their poverty.

Black Girls Matter

black girls matter

Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected

Kimberlé Crenshaw (editor) 2015

(Free PDF)

Black women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population. Black Girls Matters summarizes the research linking Zero Tolerance schools with the growing percentage of black girls and women in the criminal justice system. It fills a big gap in a narrative that mainly focuses on the effect on black males of the “school to prison pipeline.”

While Zero Tolerance policies and high rates of school suspension and expulsion greatly increase the risk of incarceration. as Michelle Alexander writes in The New Jim Crow, the mass incarceration of black males is more directly linked to discriminatory treatment by the police and courts. The crowing percentage of black females in the criminal justice system relates more directly to Zero Tolerance school policies that subject them to high rates of violence, arrest, suspension and expulsion.

The report starts with six extremely alarming examples:

1. The 12 year old girl who faced expulsion and criminal charges in 2014 after writing the world “hi” on the locker room wall of her Georgia middle school.
2. The Detroit honors student suspended for her entire senior year in 2014 for inadvertently bringing a pocket knife to a football game.
3. The 16 year old girl arrested in 2013 when her science experiment caused a small explosion.
4. The 12 year old threatened with expulsion from a private school in 2013 unless she changed her “natural” hair style.
5. The 6 year old arrested in Florida in 2007 for having a tantrum in school.
6. The 16 year old arrested in California in 2007 for dropping cake on the floor and failing to clean it up to a school administrator’s satisfaction.

In their research, the authors found that Zero tolerance schools provide extremely chaotic environments that are neither safe nor conducing to learning. A heavy law enforcement and security presence (ie metal detectors) make girls much likely to attend school. Researchers also found that black girls get much less attention from teachers, due to the expectation that they’re more socially mature and self-reliant than boys. Despite lip service given to zero Tolerance, these schools fail to protect girls from bullying and sexual harassment – then punish them for defending themselves.

School age black girls tend are often likely to have a history of sexual and physical abuse. In the absence of school counseling services, they can often act out in response to personal trauma. In addition, black and Latino girls are more likely than boys to be burdened with family caretaking responsibilities.

The tendency to separate and stigmatize girls who are pregnant or parenting in ways that decrease their motivation to stay in school.

The report also makes the following recommendations:

• State and federal government need to include girls (as well as boys) in their outcome research and programmatic interventions.
• School administrators need to help black girls feel safer at school without relying on harsh discipline that negatively impacts their motivation, achievement and attendance.
• Schools need to genuinely enforce zero tolerance of bullying and sexual harassment.
• Schools need to end policies that funnel girls into the juvenile justice system (such as arresting six year olds for tantrums).
• Schools need to expand programs that support girls who are pregnant, parenting or otherwise assuming significant family responsibilities.

Below the 2009 documentary The War on Kids, provides more background on Zero Tolerance schools:

Teen Pregnancy: Do Your Part

pregnant teen

Skyrocketing population growth is one of the most serious threats to the fragile biosphere that supports human existence. Fertility rates in most of the industrialized world have slowed dramatically over the last decade. Except for the US. Thanks to high rates of teen pregnancy (the highest in the developed world), US fertility rates remain higher than many other countries.*

 In July, under a US District Court order, the FDA authorized pharmacies to sell Plan B One Step tablets over-the-counter (without prescription) without age restriction.** Plan B One-Step, also known as the “morning after pill,” is designed for women who, for a variety of reasons, engage in unprotected intercourse. Thanks to the new rules, all women of reproductive age should be be able to find the tablets on the shelf of their local drug store, like any other product. Unfortunately many pharmacies still aren’t compliant with FDA regulations and either keep Plan B tablets behind the counter or in locked cabinets. As evidenced in the following video:

As part of a national pressure campaign, The Reproductive Justice Reporting Project of the Media Consortium is asking members of the public to help by completing the “Where’s Your Plan B?” survey.

The next time you visit your local pharmacy, please complete the form provided at Where’s Your Plan B?

If you have a smartphone, you can fill the form out while you are still at the drug store. If not, print the form out, fill it out at the store, and transfer the details to the online form when you get home.***

*Fertility rates by country (World Bank)

  • US – 1.89 children per woman
  • China – 1.58 children per woman
  • Italy – 1.41 children per woman
  • Japan – 1.39 children per woman
  • Germany – 1.36 children per woman
  • Spain – 1.36 children per woman

**Studies show that difficulty accessing birth control (such as Plan B One Step) is the primary reason why American teenagers experience the highest rate of unplanned pregnancies in the industrialized world.

***You don’t have to be a woman of reproductive age to complete the form. Overpopulation isn’t a woman’s issue – it affects all of us.

photo credit: cobalt123 via photopin cc