#2: quickly understanding the slow process of research

    When I first approached the question of what topic to investigate, I felt a fair deal of confidence in exploring the contrast between planning and performing in regards to Act 77. However, upon further reflection, I realized the fundamental basis for my reasoning as to why I should research this topic was flawed. Not only was Act 77 something I understood decently well, but the organization I’ve benefited from working with has already somewhat extensively researched this area. This realization both forced me to reevaluate my situation as well as to begin the topic search process anew. My first two thoughts were to research either feminism or poverty, and largely the result of input from a teacher at my school, I found myself launched in the direction of Vermont’s welfare system.

I interviewed two Vermont residents about their knowledge of and experience with the Vermont welfare system, but I think it’s important that I preface this post with the disclaimer that neither o them have any direct experience with the Vermont welfare system. My first interviewee is David Kelley, a native Vermonter who has spent the last forty years working as an attorney and who ran for governor in 1994. My second interviewee is Candy Moot, who has served as the long time President of the Vermont Ski Area Association, and most relevantly, has managed an apartment building for the last forty years.

     David’s opening remarks laid a transparent groundwork to the degree of his experience, saying, “To be truthful, I don’t know a lot about Vermont’s welfare system,” but throughout our discussion he touched on points regarding family finances, family social dynamics, and generational poverty. Dave explained how he understood, “single parents with children are eligible for state support,” but when the state seeks reimbursements from the absent parents, “very frequently the absent parents are likewise living under the poverty line.” This notion is corroborated by the organization Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, which reports that about 32% of federally classified poor families in Vermont are lead by single parents. Dave goes on to suggest that a support system largely dependant on the number of children a parent has can be an incentive for “behaviors which are not helpful and can exacerbate the problems of poverty.” Furthermore, since welfare support is impacted by marital status, Dave points out how the situation created by state welfare is not conducive to laying a solid foundation for families. In conclusion to the description of his current understanding of Vermont’s welfare system, he summarizes it saying, “We’ve created a safety net for splintered families without the incentives to create whole family support systems.”

     After hearing such a sobering narrative of family life for low income single parents, I asked if Dave felt like there were any readily apparent ways out of this state induced poverty crisis, to which he enthusiastically responded: “One of the most effective tools which has been put in place is the earned income credit, which is a federal tax credit that rewards people at low incomes for working and incentivizes movement toward self sufficiency.” Upon researching this system more, I discovered not only that it encourages people to become employed, but it helps wrangle the issue of the benefits cliff by phasing in and phasing out. Dave also suggested that I acquire data like what the long term impact of poverty is on children in low-income families, how many of those children are capable of developing healthy, functioning families, and fundamentally if we have created a vacuum of multigeneration dependence.

     Upon interviewing Candy, I discovered a remarkably similar story, with the exception of her focus being more dedicated toward female advocacy. She explained to me how “‘welfare is a feminist issue’ was the mantra of the eighties.” Candy’s concerns generally revolved around how state welfare has proven to be a system of crippling disempowerment, especially for single parent mothers. She pointed to how single mothers of a low socioeconomic status are oftentimes left with the child: “It is usually the female who is most often impacted and left with no option than to go on public assistance.”  She suggested that there is likely a pattern of mothers, without malicious intent, having more kids in part because it was the only clear way to, “have their nose just above water.” Candy, like David, pointed to generational poverty, and suggested that family dynamics were disrupted and sometimes even dictated by what is most financially prudent. She also pointed toward Howard Dean’s welfare to work program, citing its enormous success in its time.

     The issue of generational poverty, paired with a welfare system which creates an unavoidable dependency, has created a toxic situation in Vermont – a situation which often forces the blame upon people suffering from the symptoms of a defective system, when the root of the problem lies in legislation and reform.

James Tedesco

One Response to “#2: quickly understanding the slow process of research

  • Courtney Krahn
    6 years ago

    Hi James,

    As a public school teacher, the issue of poverty is especially interesting to me. I work with Tim O’Leary in the Addison Central School District, where 40% of our students come from families who live in poverty. In this week’s Addison Independent, our Superintendent of Schools Peter Burrows notes that “Poverty is the primary risk for poor school achievement.” You can see that article here:

    Your blog post, and especially your conversations with Candy Moot, remind me of a book I read as a student at the Bread Loaf School of English. It’s called Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. 20 years after its release, the realities of poverty in America still look much the same. I would recommend this book as an excellent way to take on the perspective of impoverishment. Ehrenreich digs into the heart of the topic in much the same way WTS? students do: through research, investigation and passion.

    As you continue your exploration of this topic, I would urge you to continue thinking about what unique angle you might take on this issue. Poverty is at the foundation of many social justice issues — education, nutrition, childcare, drugs, housing, safety, etc. — and I look forward to seeing which focus your journey leads you to.

    Courtney Krahn

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