Early investment in children earns dividends

20150714_SCHOOLS_AV_01Story written by Emily Adams.

COLUMBIA – Columbia resident Amanda Crawford expected her child to learn the ABCs at preschool but was surprised to discover her daughter had a talent for math – and a budding love for learning.

Crawford said her daughter, now 5 years old, didn’t go to daycare as a toddler. Columbia’s Title I preschool, which she began attending at age 3, was her first real exposure to other children.

“She was either with Mom or Dad,” Crawford said. “Going to preschool helped her pick up on social cues from other kids.”

The early exposure to education isn’t a guarantee that Crawford’s daughter will be successful in school, but it increases the odds in her favor, said Mary Rook, Columbia Public School’s preschool director.

“If they’re successful in preschool they’re more likely to be successful in kindergarten,” she said. “They’re more likely to be successful in 3rd grade. They’re more likely to be successful in high school.”

It’s an opportunity Crawford said she would not have been able to afford for her daughter if not for Columbia’s Title I preschool program, which served more than 620 kids in the past year.

Funding for the program comes from the federal government and covers full tuition at twenty-six Columbia classrooms. Annual funding is based on the number of students in the district who qualify for free or reduced price lunches and is supplied in hopes that students will meet state standards.

Community support for the program was reflected by voters’ approval of a recent bond issue that will pay for a new preschool building, due to break ground this month, Rook said. The building will host 10 preschool classes and seven early childhood classes in addition to special education and therapy services.

Students are not the only ones who benefit from the Title I program, which also seeks to support low-income student’s families. Fran Grant, a preschool teacher at Battle High School, teaches four days a week. The fifth day, she meets with parents.

“On Fridays we conduct mostly family visits. We bring education activities and materials for the family to use at home. We also discuss behavior, family situations, and developmental questions” said Grant, who also introduces parents to programs offering affordable food and clothes if they are in need.

In the classroom Grant teaches a “Golden Triangle” of language, social, and self-help skills that will prepare her students for kindergarten.

“(Elementary) school is a very different thing. It moves fast and has a lot of transitions. The kids have a kindergarten teacher, a music teacher, an art teacher, and many other adult staff who direct them throughout their day” she said. “By helping our students develop strong language social and self-help skills, they can be more successful in their new school setting.”

Crawford’s daughter, one of Grant’s former students, attended her first formal class this year in summer school. Crawford said her daughter wasn’t as excited about summer school as she had been about preschool, but picked up concepts much faster.

“She is really good at math and is even starting to pick up on words and sounds,” she said.

Rook, the preschool director, said the Title I program has expanded significantly since it began with a single classroom. But it still is not available to everyone.

To be eligible, low-income families must complete a screening at the Title I office at Eugene Field School in Columbia. The screening assesses the child’s development.

“The children who have the highest need developmentally, that’s who we offer preschool to first,” Rook said.

Even with free tuition, some families can’t take advantage of Title I schools because they don’t have transportation. Federally funded preschool programs Head Start and Title I together only cover about a third of low income families, said John Wright, a former state representative from Columbia.

Wright co-sponsored House Bill 1689, which goes into effect this school year, as an attempt to help school districts cover attendance gaps in preschools.

“In the first year only a subset of schools, those with unaccredited status, can qualify for funding under the bill. In the second year funding is expanded further to provisionally-accredited districts,” he said, explaining that unaccredited districts are prioritized so students can improve to meet state standards.

Rook, the preschool director, said funds spent preparing children for school save money down the road, reducing the likelihood that children will end up in jail or need other social services.

“For every $5 you put in early childhood you get $10 or $15 back,” she said. “We are saving money on prison beds by investing in children.”


MU student struggles to balance school, work and live within budgets

Story written by Daniel Perreault.

COLUMBIA — During her classes McKenzie Lockett may look like an average MU senior studying psychology.

She listens to music with headphones as she walks down the street wearing sunglasses. Her life outside lecture halls and labs tells a far different tale.  Lockett works at a clothing store in downtown Columbia, a research center on campus and at a local crisis center. Lockett works 25 to 35 hours each week. 

Although the amount of hours she works may vary depending on the week, one thing remains certain. Lockett’s busy work schedule leaves little time for anything else.

“It’s very hard to balance work, school and my social life,” she said. “I am more devoted to my work than most college kids,” Lockett said. 

If all that isn’t enough to keep Lockett busy, for the past year she has worked on an unpaid research project. Lockett is studying post traumatic stress symptoms in college students and how they affect the way they are able to find meaning in things such as religion.

Not everyone can handle it as well as Lockett. Cavill Thompson, an MU junior, works at a Kohl’s in Columbia on top of his job in the Army ROTC. Thompson said he struggles to handle his jobs and school. 

“Most nights I get very little sleep,” he said. “But it’s what you have to do to make it by.”

Throughout her time at MU, Lockett has learned to be grateful for everything that has. Lockett has a friend who went to college with a nearly identical situation, but Lockett got a couple of scholarships from MU.

Although the scholarship money was not much, it was the difference between the life she lives today and dropping, which her friend did after one semester.  

Lockett said her story isn’t anything new on the MU campus because many students she knows work multiple jobs. 

MU Campus Dining Services runs the nine dining halls on campus and follows the university policy that prevents students from working more than 28 hours in a week. Tony Soots, an MU senior who works at one of the dining halls, said that because of this cap, “a lot of students have to work a second job.” 

Family overcomes poverty with help, resources from community

Food lines the shelves of The Central Pantry, Thursday, July 15, 2015. The pantry is a service of The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Food lines the shelves of The Central Pantry, Thursday, July 15, 2015. The pantry is a service of The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Story written by Madeline Jarrard,

COLUMBIA – Success for some is simply finding a point in which they feel they can comfortably provide for their families.

Patsy Bulington, 66, recalls a time seven years ago when her family struggled to make ends meet. Her success story is not one of extravagant wealth, but of finding stability.

The Bulingtons’ financial struggles began when their lives were changed in an instant: A car accident left Bulington’s husband, Thomas Bulington, in serious condition. Her son was knocked unconscious in the crash, and both of Thomas Bulington’s feet were crushed.

“He was trapped,” Patsy Bulington said.

Her husband was completely immobilized for six months. He had been a truck driver before the crash, but he was now unable to move, much less work.

“They didn’t come right out and say it, but (the doctors) said that he would be lucky if he ever walked again,” she said.

She dedicated much of her time to caring for her husband, which impacted her job as a cook at the local school. To add to the family’s stress, her contract was not renewed the following spring.

“We were both unemployed for a year and a half,” she said.

That period of time was one of the hardest the family, including the three grandchildren Patsy Bulington was raising, had ever faced.

“We didn’t go anywhere or do anything,” she said. “We scraped money together.”

During this trial, the Bulington family found help at their local La Plata, Missouri, food bank. Without it, Patsy Bulington knows “the kids wouldn’t have had a whole lot to eat.”

Food lines the shelves of The Central Pantry, Thursday, July 15, 2015. The pantry is a service of The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Food lines the shelves of The Central Pantry, Thursday, July 15, 2015. The pantry is a service of The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Patsy Bulington was also thankful for friends who brought food from the food pantry to her house when she had to stay at home.

Sean Ross, supervisor for the Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri in Columbia, said that he has seen many situations like the Bulingtons’.

“We help them right away,” he said of people that come to the food bank for the first time.

Ross said he has seen thousands of success stories in his 11 years at the food bank. The common theme he sees in these success stories is persistence.

The key, he said, is “recognizing you’re making progress.”

Although it took about four years for the Bulingtons to see tangible progress, they were persistent.

“Our future was uncertain at the time,”Patsy  Bulington said. “We took it one day at a time. … We had to start all over.”

The money was hard to come by. When foreclosure loomed, the Bulingtons fought to keep their house.

“We paid the bills and clung onto what was left to make ends meet,” Bulington said.

However, the sacrifices that the Bulingtons made paid off in the end. After six months in a hospital bed and three months rehabilitating in a wheelchair, Thomas Bulington returned to driving his truck.

In 2012, the couple applied for a job transporting campers from factories to the dealerships. Today, their finances have stabilized and they have traveled throughout 48 states and Canada moving trailers.

“We survived and got through it,” Bulington said. “I think it just made us stronger in the long run.”

King’s Kids gets boost from local agency

Erica Fagala gathers the children enrolled in King's Kids Friday, July 17, 2015. Fagala started the day care center with the help if the Community Action Center. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Erica Fagala gathers the children enrolled in King’s Kids Friday, July 17, 2015. Fagala started the day care center with the help if the Community Action Center. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Story written by Sasha Keenan.

Erica Fagala keeps a watchful eye on 16 children, juggling Band-Aid requests and tummy-ache complaints. She chuckles every so often — the kids have a tendency to make amusing comments.

For as long as she can remember, Fagala, 31, has been passionate about child care. A single mother at age 20, she said she was barely making ends meet and depended on food stamps and Medicaid.

But she always knew that she wanted more. She said she felt hopeless trying to get there.

“It was just trying to figure out how to get started,” Fagala said.

Three years ago, Fagala had a breakthrough. With the help of a roughly $25,000 micro-loan from Central Missouri Community Action, she was able to open a day care center on Fay Street called King’s Kids.

“The joy and the reward in my job is meeting people like Erica,” said Teri Roberts, the center’s micro-economics director. Roberts has helped three others start new businesses, such as the Show Me Heart Youth Sports Association.

King’s Kids takes up a section of the first floor in the Youth Empowerment Zone: a house-turned-business space with creative, recreational and educational areas for kids and teens. Fagala works with children ages 5-12 both during the school year and the summer.

The kids take swim lessons, work with tutors, and play games outdoors. Fagala has developed designated daily activities for the summer program, such as Thinking Thursday and Field Trip Friday.

Erica Fagala gathers the children enrolled in King's Kids Friday, July 17, 2015. Fagala started the day care center with the help if the Community Action Center. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Erica Fagala gathers the children enrolled in King’s Kids Friday, July 17, 2015. Fagala started the day care center with the help if the Community Action Center. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Fagala strives to instill values and develop skills in the children. She believes excellent childcare is crucial.

“Most kids will spend more hours in their childcare setting than at their home, so it’s important for those hours to be quality,” Fagala said.

She smiles when she tells stories about times that her kids have learned something, from a few words in Spanish to how to treat other people.

Recently, she devoted a Wednesday to teaching them about entrepreneurship. The kids started their own “business” and exchanged play money. Soon enough, they were using terms like profit and service, Fagala said.

King’s Kids has a waiting list of 45 children hoping to enroll. When asked if she expected that kind of success five years ago, Fagala replied without hesitation: “No. Not at all.”

However, getting where she is today hasn’t been easy.

Fagala was raised by a single mother and didn’t always have a stable financial situation. She said her mom was an entrepreneur but not always a successful one.

After graduating from high school and then getting pregnant at 19, Fagala found herself struggling. At one point, she was balancing motherhood, attending school at Columbia College, and working.

“I can’t say there weren’t days I didn’t say, ‘Do I just want to give up?’” Fagala said.

Eager to move beyond her circumstances, Fagala decided to call Roberts.

At first, Fagala was nervous. She was used to being treated as incapable of self-sufficiency.

“A lot of times when you’re in that poverty state, you just assume that everyone is going to approach you like you’re needy,” Fagala said.

Despite Fagala’s apprehension, Roberts said she saw something special in her.

Roberts sees hundreds of people with business plans pass through her office, she said, but very few possess what Fagala has — a willingness to work hard.

At the Community Action center, Roberts coached her in business classes, helped her put together a plan and acted as her supporter.

“With her, I never had a doubt because I saw her passion,” Roberts said.

Watching her interact with the children, Roberts remarked that Fagala was meant to do this.

Fagala agreed, “I feel empowered every day.”

Motivation to volunteer comes from within

Food lines the shelves of The Central Pantry, Friday, July 17, 2015. The pantry is a service of The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri. CULLEN ECOFFEY/MUJW

Food lines the shelves of The Central Pantry, Friday, July 17, 2015. The pantry is a service of The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri. CULLEN ECOFFEY/MUJW

Story written by Cullen Ecoffey.

COLUMBIA —  Stephanie Tovar and Jason Bradshaw have to experience the realities of food insecurity every day.

Tovar is self-employed and has recently had to rely on The Food Bank For Central and Northeast Missouri, recently to put food on the table for her kids. According to the food bank, one in six people in the region is food insecure.

“It’s good to have places like this ‘cause people don’t have what they need,” said Tovar.

Jason Bradshaw also agrees that the food pantry is quite helpful, but he uses it to stretch his monthly income. By getting bread and dairy products at the food bank, he can use his money elsewhere.

“I think it’s great like the program and everything,” Bradshaw said. “I mean there’s probably more people more deserving than me but I mean I use it to help fill the plate.”

Food lines the shelves of The Central Pantry, Friday, July 17, 2015. The pantry is a service of The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri. CULLEN ECOFFEEY/MUJW

Food lines the shelves of The Central Pantry, Friday, July 17, 2015. The pantry is a service of The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri. CULLEN ECOFFEEY/MUJW

Although they might not have much, people like Stacey Woelfel make it possible for organizations like the food bank to help those in similar situations as Tovar and Bradshaw.

Woelfel has been on the food bank’s board for 19 years and has donated both his time and money to it. He says his donating isn’t always for just to help others.

“We give for ourselves,” he said. “We say, ‘Boy I don’t have to go to bed hungry tonight.’ The notion of giving in that case is to share the stuff I have, to help them.”

By providing food for the kids, the bank also is able to impact the kids beyond ending their immediate hunger.

“A dollar invested in an early childhood nutrition program in a developing country could potentially return at least three dollars worth of gains in academic achievement, and perhaps much more,” according to the Journal of Public Economics.

When kids aren’t hungry, it gives them the ability to perform at a higher level and overcome their economic restrictions.

The food bank provides help to about 114,000 people a month, but without the donations of both time and money to it, many more people would go hungry.

The Central Pantry, Friday, July 17, 2015. The pantry is a service of The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri. CULLEN ECOFFEY/MUJW

The Central Pantry, Friday, July 17, 2015. The pantry is a service of The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri. CULLEN ECOFFEY/MUJW

“We are drawn in by the need,” Woelfel said. “Most of us don’t go to bed hungry, and through volunteering, I feel I’m doing my part to help and fix that for people.”

The food bank’s mission is sharing food and bringing hope to Mid-Missouri. Food Bank Communications Coordinator Mike DeSantis said that giving is a privilege.

“If you’re doing something to help others, and you’re not enjoying it, you’re doing it wrong.”

It’s this sort of attitude toward giving that helps charities survive. And, according to Woelfel, at the end of the day his giving hardly impacts his pocketbook.

“I have a chance to give up a little bit of time or money that I’m not going to miss very much,” said Woelfel. “Obviously that’s a big motivation.”

Columbia thrift store offers alternative to saving, making money

Story written by Breyanah Graham.

COLUMBIA – There aren’t many places where you can find a box with free items, such as a glass with the Playgirl logo, a lawn mower, a vintage sweater, a toddler swing, and an ’80s watch in one location.

But all these items are at Tiger Town Treasures, a thrift store in Columbia. Whether it is for buying, selling, exchanging or donating goods, Tiger Town Treasures offers a valuable service for many residents.

Thrift stores, like the one Connie Furlong manages, have a variety of merchandise for discounted prices. For people who are trying to find ways to adapt to difficult financial situations, thrift shopping offers goods that might not normally be affordable at retail shops.

When setting her prices at Tiger Town Treasures, Furlong said that she “makes sure that I keep ‘em low so people can afford them.”

Thrift shopping has becoming a fad and hobby for individual hoping to stretch their budgets or people earning minimum wage income.

“Minimum wage is not a living wage,” said Angela Hirsh, the Community Services director at Central Missouri Community Action.

Hirsh said that the average cost for meeting basic needs of a family of three in Boone County is $42,000, which minimum wage would not provide.

Such a limited budget does make doing essential tasks, such as buying clothing at retail prices, hard for people who make minimum wage.

For example, the retail price of jeans can start at $12.99 and go higher. However, at local thrift stores such as Goodwill, pants only cost $5.99.

For many low-income people in the community, Tiger Town Treasures is the place to get the goods they need to survive.

“It’s been really helpful. It is my saving grace. I’ve been here when I didn’t have two pennies to rub together,” said Glenn Plotner, a disabled veteran, who is a familiar face at the shop.

The National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops reports that resale businesses, which include both thrift shops and consignment stores, represent one of the fastest–growing segments of the retail industry.

Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, which studies bargain shopping trends, said “the economy is what is making the resale business industry grow.”

As a result, this industry is leading many consumers away from malls and drawing them to resale shops such as Furlong’s. Research from The National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops shows that about 16-18 percent of Americans will shop at a thrift store shop in a year. In the same time, data shows that only 1.4 percent of Americans will shop in factory outlet malls, which is a noticeable difference compared to thrift stores.

“There is always a need,” she said. “I have people who come in here that live in their car. I try to help them out — drug addicts, rehabs and veterans.”

Based on the customers she sees in her shop and in the neighborhood, Furlong said: “There are a lot of poor people in this town and in this neighborhood. They come in here asking for a bargain on things they need. I try to help as much as I can, but I still have to make money to keep the shop open.”

Tiger Town Treasures is not only a valuable resource for people looking to buy discounted items, but also a safe haven for low-income individuals looking to boost their income.

“People come in looking for odd jobs all the time,” Furlong said. “They tell me they just need a little money for gas, and usually I have a job I can give them to do.” Furlong said.

Furlong’s shop also offers consignment sales so that people can earn money for unwanted to unneeded items.

Earning $1.50 here and there doesn’t seem like much, but it starts to add up quickly, especially for low-income individuals who don’t have anything else.

“At the end of the month when money is gone after I pay rent and everything else, I’ll bring in something that I don’t really need and Connie will give me some money for it,” Plotner said. “It helps a lot, even if it’s just a little.”

Missouri ranks No. 1 for predatory lending

Story by Zachary Lanham.

COLUMBIA — Missouri has the highest average annual percentage rate for interest out of any other state in the nation. Missouri has reached an outstanding 451.91 percent interest rate.

Predatory lending is a giant problem in Missouri, which has the second most lenders with 904 licenses issued. There are twice as many payday vendors than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined in the state of Missouri. Because of this, poverty rates in Columbia and Missouri have long averaged higher statistics then in the United States.

“They are a plague to the community,” said Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp.

Trapp said he hopes to restore faith back in the community through shared priorities, common sense and an ability to work together.

He believes there is social class inequality in Columbia and payday lenders use low-income individuals to their advantage.

“It should be a crime,” Trapp said.

The average annual percentage rate for Missouri has increased well over 50 percent since 2001 when former auditor Claire McCaskill, now a Missouri senator, uncovered abusive practices by payday lenders.

In response to McCaskill’s findings, the Missouri legislature enacted a set of changes for small loan companies. The changes made back in 2001 permit unlimited interest rates for small loan companies and remains the current law in Missouri.

Poverty rates have also increased because of the growing number of payday loan operations.

Payday loan borrowers become trapped in a “viscous cycle,” former loan manager Marge Walker said.

“It becomes very hard for individuals to escape the cycle of debt,” Walker said.

According to extended poverty research by MU, three-fourths of all payday loans are attributed to re-borrowers. And only 2 percent of borrowers that take out a loan, repay it, and do not come back for a year.

The average income of a payday loan recipient is $24,607, a number that is well below the $40,000 average in Columbia, according to MU’s extension.

Missouri statues allow up to a 1,950 percent interest based on a two-week loan of $100. With that high of an interest level on such a small loan, the actual amount due by the time you pay off your loan would be the same amount as the actual interest rate at $1,950.

“Many low income areas don’t have the money to pay off the high interest rates, but they need the cash quick or they wont survive.” said Central Missouri Community Action director Angela Hirsch.

As annual percentage rates increase, the number of payday lenders has decreased. In 2009, there were 1,275 payday lenders in Missouri. After six years, the number of payday lenders dropped to 904 stores.

Because a borrower has to focus on repaying that loan, it becomes almost impossible to meet greater basic expenses such as health care. With no other option, payday loans become a quick fix to pay off urgent debts.

Councilman Trapp and Walker believe the community needs to become more financially aware to avoid the fiscal disaster of quick loans.

“If we educate the community and have some common sense, we would be able to avoid being caught in the cycle of debt,” Walker said.

Columbia is taking initiative trying to control payday lending. Recently, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster shut down eight payday lenders for using expensive fees for small loans.

Although the laws in Missouri haven’t changed in 14 years, people are aware of the harmful actions by payday lenders.

“Now it is just up to the government and citizens to become educated to stop this horrible business,” Trapp said.

Women work their way into breadwinning roles

Story by Kassidy Arena.

COLUMBIA — Rebecca Miller and her mother Jean Plumley have run Peggy Jean’s Pies in Columbia for a little over a year and a half.

Miller, a former lawyer, joined her mother baking pies after she realized “this is what I love to do.”

Miller and Plumley remember when a man approached them to sell credit card processing equipment using jargon and obscure statistics. Miller listened to his offer but quickly turned him down.

“He tried to confuse us,” Plumley said, “Rebecca saved us.”

Women in the workforce have become more common. The number of women working in private businesses has increased about 39 percent since 1997, according to a 2014 study by Womenable, a research and consulting firm.

The increase of women in business has influenced the idea of conventional household duties. LuAnn Irby, president of Business Women of Missouri, said when women achieve their educational goals, many longstanding household roles change.

In Irby’s family, two women have essentially switched roles with their husbands. The husbands manage their homes and take care of the small children while the women go to work as a lawyer and a genetic biologist.

“They have their jobs and their husbands assumed the role,” Irby said.

Irby’s family isn’t alone. Nearly 70 percent of women in the workforce have children below the age of 18, according to a 2013 Department of Labor analysis. Miller claimed balancing work and other home duties is difficult.

“It is so hard,” she said. “I hate having to say that.”

Not only is it difficult to evenly distribute home and work duties, it is also a challenge to adjust to the different perceptions of women in the workforce, Miller said.

She shared the difference with her husband, Jason.

“Sometimes people say things to (women) and if (he was) standing here with us, it wouldn’t have happened,” Miller said.

Research shows women not only handle business differently, but they also negotiate differently than their male counterparts.

According to Hannah Riley Bowles, a senior lecturer at Harvard University, studies have shown that based on society’s standards, women sacrifice more of their reputation when negotiating higher pay than men.

Irby adds, “Good negotiating skills are needed to achieve goals.”

Judicial process poses financial threat to low-income individuals

Story by Sasha Keenan.

Illustration by Luc Pham.

Illustration by Luc Pham.

COLUMBIA — Teddy Morris stands on the corner of Cherry and Ninth streets in Columbia holding a tattered sign that reads “homeless, hungry, anything helps, thank you, god bless.”

During the day, Morris has collected a small pile of small change from passersby. He said he was fined $150 earlier this year for first-degree trespassing while standing on a busy street asking for money. Then he received a second fine for failure to appear in court.

“How is that fair?” Morris said, shaking his head in frustration. He said he often feels unwanted.

“Poor people don’t have the resources to defend themselves,” said Angela Hirsch, community services director for the Central Missouri Community Action Center.

Low-income individuals are often crushed by the judicial process. Hirsch noted that an accumulation of fines for non-violent crimes could often inhibit a person’s ability to emerge from poverty.

Poorer citizens are unlikely to have the financial means to pay the fines imposed even for relatively minor misdemeanors, such as petty theft and trespassing. They are typically unable to hire an attorney, and free legal services are critically overburdened.

One in every four people in Columbia lives below the poverty line, which sits at $11,770 of annual income per family member, according to U.S. Census data.

The fine for petty theft, which is a Class A misdemeanor, can be $1,000. The penalty is the same for fraudulent use of a credit card or passing a bad check.

Lacking the resources to cover basic needs can push low-income individuals and families into tough situations when it comes to settling fines for non-violent crimes, MU law professor Frank Bowman said.

“It’s really a matter of ‘I pay my fine, or I pay for food and my children’s child support,’” Bowman said.

But low-income individuals are still responsible for their actions.

“Being poor doesn’t mean you don’t have to comply with the law,” he said.

If they do get into trouble, an attorney comes at a price. In some metropolitan areas, attorneys in some metropolitan areas.

These defendants often rely on the legal services of a public defender, who “fulfills the obligation of Sixth Amendment rights” by providing an attorney to those who are accused of crimes and can’t afford legal representation, said Michael Barrett, director of the Missouri State Public Defender System.

In an August 2014 article by the Associated Press, Barrett described the situation as “simply too many cases for even skilled practitioners to handle.”

He said that those who lack the resources to alleviate the consequences of a misdemeanor have potential to be trapped the criminal justice system.

“If a person is having a hard time paying their bills, I don’t understand the value of imposing excessive fees and fines,” Barrett said, “It keeps a person from getting back on their feet.”

According to an Eastern Michigan University study, the kinds of non-violent crimes committed in the United States are distinctly divided by income.

Those who commit white-collar crimes are generally socially elite, high-level executives. Those who commit non-violent street crimes are generally in low-income situations.

“White-collar crimes are destructive to our society; however, it would appear that the majority of concerns about criminal activity are centered on street criminals because their damaging effect is more direct and visible,” the study’s authors reported.

Since people of means often commit white-collar crime, which includes fraud, embezzlement, money laundering and insider trading, they have access to expensive legal representation. Non-violent street criminals often do not.

“The criminal justice system will disadvantage the poor,” Bowman said.

Widening income gap causes social repercussions

Story by Heeu Millie Kim.

COLUMBIA — Putting labels on people different from oneself may seem like a natural thing to do. However, to those being labeled, social stigma can be perceived as developmental and avoidable.

In psychology, it’s human nature.

Bruce. D Bartholow, an MU psychology professor, says that as the income gap widens each year, low-income families are not only facing economic hardships but also social repercussions. Society uses visual markers such as clothing, material possessions and using government aid or charitable services to determine the social class of an individual. Every member of society, however, responds differently to people of different income levels.

“There is an initial automatic, spontaneous response,” said Bartholow, who specializes in social psychology. “And then if it is important to us as individuals to not display discrimination or prejudice, then we can overcome those initial responses – but it takes some stopping and thinking. You might feel compassion and positive emotions, but at the same time, those would be mixed with perhaps pity, maybe some disdain.”

Carrying an EBT card, for instance, shows an observer that the cardholder qualifies for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Angela Hirsch, community service director for Central Missouri Community Action, works to provide basic necessities and long-term benefits for low-income families. She related an experience of being stigmatized during a recent news conference with the Missouri Urban Journalism Workshop at MU.

“When I was 22 and serving in the Domestic Peace Corps, Volunteers In Service To America, I applied and qualified for food stamps. Once, I went to the grocery store and opened up my little checkbook with stamps and the cashier looked at me and said, ‘Oh, my God. Are you serious?’ That was the most humiliating moment of my life,” Hirsch recalled.

Positive responses may lead to the creation of food pantries, thrift stores and government-funded organizations, while negative responses may lead to stigmatization and further neglect. In other words, individuals who turn to aid for basic necessities are ‘marked’ by society as different.

“There are people that look down on individuals who come to trade items for things like socks,” said Connie Furlong, owner of Tiger Town Treasures Thrift Store. “People need things, not everyone is rich. You have to be understanding.”

Graphic by Millie Kim

Graphic by Millie Kim

Psychology and culture further explain a chain reaction that results from a social response to an individual. Culture in the United States, in general, assumes that people are responsible for their own hardships, Bartholow said. If individuals needing help understood how society perceived them, it might be difficult for them to seek out help. The social stigma associated with low-income individuals doesn’t easily disappear.

“It didn’t matter that I had a master’s degree or work history, they just saw my Medicaid card,” said Teresa Taylor-Williams, a former MUJW participant who was downsized from her media job after 16 years. She is now a grant officer at Community Foundation for Muskegon County.

According to Social Exclusion Knowledge Network, a group established under the World Health Organization Commission, social exclusion or the feeling of being disconnected from society because of differing political, economic and social factors is prevalent in society. Social exclusion may be another reaction to social responses and become an expanding problem with increasing numbers of families that require assistance.

Robert Wells, manager of The Salvation Army Thrift Store in Columbia, said he has seen social exclusion first-hand.

“When I drive up to a mall sometimes, I see people ignore homeless people. They just become a part of the scenery,” he said.

Society’s responses vary, but people can learn more to react positively.

“The motivation to bond with other people and to seek affiliation with others is the most fundamental motivation of human life,” Bartholow said. “Emotional pain of social rejection is experienced in the brain exactly the same way as physical pain. It literally hurts.”