Last week, hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles Unified School District students returned to school. In the days leading up to the infamous first day, as many parents conducted the annual back to school shopping. I for one always looked forward to a new backpack and my favorite cartoon character lunchbox. I can hear the millions of pleas for cute and needed school supplies, clothes and accessories now.
But unfortunately, I can also feel the pain of the parents who wish they could do more but simply cannot. As our nation continues to lead the industrialized world in wealth inequality, a no more real or important discrepancy exists than in the preparation and support a parent gives their child for their education.
In the LAUSD, over a quarter of our roughly 700,000 students live below the poverty line. In fact, the district educates almost a third of the state’s children living in poverty. These are children who struggle to buy basic supplies like pens and paper, much less a scientific calculator, a protractor, tutoring or college prep exam classes. And thus these students face disadvantages compared to students with economic advantages. This in a state with 131 billionaires and a county with over 260,000 millionaires.
This reality presents serious challenges for LAUSD. While we cannot make excuses and must do our best to move forward, there are things we can do now. State and local officials can help parents provide more for their children, our students, without passing any legislation. We can put hundreds of millions of dollars in the pockets of parents to support their families by ending wage theft and chasing down dead-beat parents.
According to a UCLA Labor Center study, each week $26 million dollars is stolen from workers just in the city of Los Angeles. More shockingly, over $100 billion dollars is owed nationally in back child support. While half of the $100 billion is owed to the government in services provided, $50 billion to single parents is no small number.
In today’s fast-paced, social media, gigabyte-a-second world, our inability to enforce and collect back pay is embarrassing. Just as we expect our parents to provide basic school supplies and support for their student children, those parents have the right to a similar expectation that the government enforce their wages and collect owed child support from dead-beat parents. This will mean millions of dollars a day to parents who are struggling to provide for their children.
We can do this now, but we must engage in the conversation and make it a priority. If we can talk about Donald Trump’s hair or idiotic statements for hours, we can surely talk about holding lawbreakers accountable, especially when their action directly impedes the progress of children.
Javier González is the Founder and Principal of Tell That Story. He has over 20 years of experience in labor, community and political organizing. You can follow Javier on Twitter @javgonz.
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