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Monday, Aug. 29, 2016

Effort is required to battle decline

Sunday, December 4, 2005

It's rare that I would draw your attention to a media competitor but KFVS-TV this week did an excellent job on reporting the history and near-demise of Cairo, Ill. The reporting was well-researched and gave a somewhat depressing outlook on a community that was once a thriving town of 20,000 residents. But time and a host of circumstances have now eroded Cairo's population by nearly 90 per cent and what remains is a sad reminder of mistakes and fear and violence and lost opportunities.

Today's Cairo is a virtual ghost town in some respects. A once-thriving business community now stands empty with but a handful of remaining retail operations. Were it not for government assistance, Cairo would simply vanish. Of course what is so painfully sad is that Cairo once held promise beyond the imagination - blessed with an important geographic location on America's premiere riverway.

Who knows - Cairo may someday rebound and fulfill the promise it once held. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the evolution of problems that brought Cairo to her knees. When a community is dominated not by workers but by government assistance, it simply cannot survive.

East St. Louis, Ill., is yet another example. No jobs and limited retail outlets means that those residents travel to St. Louis to work and shop. What remains in East St. Louis is a town that depends on taxpayer dollars to survive.

We may never solve the problem of poverty in this country and poverty is at the foundation of this decay. But a new government report out Friday indicates that over 200,000 new jobs were added to the employment picture in this country during November alone. So there are jobs available.

But low-paying jobs are not attractive because those wages fall short of the available government assistance if you don't work and so many people understandably make the choice not to work rather than lose those benefits. So is education the key to removing poverty? Well, years and years of massive infusions of federal and state tax dollars have not improved the education level of far too many students. So even though education may be the key, we have yet to find the solution to lift low performers up to achievement levels so that they can qualify for jobs that will then lift them out of poverty.

Yes, it's a vicious cycle and a generational cycle. And poverty - which stems from inadequate education - is what plagues Cairo and East St. Louis and countless other communities across this country. When poverty takes over, the core of a community leaves and what remains is virtually doomed to fail. That is more of a personal flaw than a societal flaw but regardless of the blame, it must be addressed.

There are communities here in southeast Missouri that mirror the decline of Cairo. And the factors that create that decline are the same. But knowing the problem and arriving at a solution are two different things. That much we know.

Let's pray that someday KFVS does not turn to Sikeston for a story on a community's decline. To guarantee against that possibility, we must remain vigilant and diligent and work to protect our town. It takes all members of our community and not just a handful. And it must start today and not tomorrow.

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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen