COMMUNITY VOICES | Mark Andrew will not be good for the poor or women


In a recent mayoral candidate forum Mark Andrew said he wants to do for education what he did for MFIP, Minnesota’s version of welfare. 

I was alarmed by this because MFIP as a policy has succeeded in getting thousands of poor woman and families off of public assistance, but little attention has been paid to how it has failed us all.

The bottom line: Minnesota now has far more children living in extreme poverty than it ever had, and many woman have been shuttled into dead end jobs in just a few industries that tend to keep them poor (retail, low-end health care, hospitality, and temporary clerical work). 

In short, MFIP has feminized poverty by failing to prepare woman for poverty-ending work, and, instead, creating a ready crop of woman serfs for a few industries that survive on poverty labor.

Has Mark Andrew been paying attention? I’m not so sure.

Internationally we have learned a few things about treating woman as assets to society rather than problems. Traditionally we thought investing in men was the answer, but we learned that when you go into poor countries and give aid solely to men they often drink beer and start wars. Woman and children suffer.

Conversely, when you invest in woman they nourish and educate their families and form cooperative economies that change nations.

This respectful principle of investing in woman was missing from Mark’s white paternalist vision for poor mothers when he prosed a “workfare” program in Hennepin County. Instead of providing education and training that would lift woman and children out of poverty, his “Operation Clean Sweep” required mothers recieving AFDC to pick up trash along with convicted offenders.This wasn’t a response to the needs of poor woman and chilren, it was more imperialist than that. 

At the time he is quoted as saying: “I try to look at it more as a Park Board issue than as a welfare reform issue, although the two are obviously linked together…I think the (litter) problem has become more serious in the past couple of years.”

Another benefit of the Andrew plan for poor woman and other criminals? He said it would “take pressure off the jail, which is experiencing severe overcrowding on weekends.”

And, one highlight for his friends in Minneapolis’ golden crescent: the first crew of litter-fighting poverty moms would tend to the trash of Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. Sadly for them that never worked out because union leaders for park employees pushed back. So, the moms were dispatched to the suburbs.

Poor Mothers. Criminals. Trash. Can you see how the calculus is all wrong? 

In defending his plan, Andrew pointed out “welfare programs have in effect Balkanized society” and made “middle-class workers hostile toward recipients.” When he amended the plan to create “preapprenticeship” work in the County, he said the new plan “would largely discourage the able-but-unwilling-to-work population from living here.”

Those poor moms. Riff raff, I tell ya.

Luckily we’ve come a long way since the heyday of misguided liberal imperialists like Mark Andrew. In 2007 Minnesota Sen. David Tomasson (D-Chisolm) introduced a bill to outlaw “workfare” schemes which most folks have come to see as “slave labor” programs that do nothing to get poor people into competitive work (apparently there are only so many parks for rich people that need cleaning). It should be noted that Phyllis Walker, president of AFSCME Local 3800, testified in support of ending “workfare” and said that locals across the state were in support too.

So, back to this dirty matter of Andrew wanting to do for education what he did for welfare.

What would that look like? Telling students that since they were recieving the government benefit of a paid education they would be force into child labor?

Given Minneapolis’ extreme gaps in education, employment, and child security, we might want to pass on him for now. We need to increase opportunities for poor mothers, fathers, and most of all, their children, to benefit from investments that prepare them to do more than clean up messes made by elitists.