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Taking on poverty in Salinas

This week on Need to Know, correspondent John Larson sits down with Ann O’Leary, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and the director of the Children and Families Program at Next Generation in San Francisco.

In this extended web interview, O’Leary, an expert on poverty and employment, explains how she believes the best way to respond to entrenched poverty in the Salinas Latino community is by lessening barriers to higher education.

“Children who are born into poverty and live in poverty in their childhood… two-thirds of them are gonna stay in poverty or just above the poverty line in their adulthood. Unless they get an education,” she said. “Which is to say, get through college — get that college degree — which helps them get into the middle class.”

O’Leary notes that the poverty trends in Salinas may be an important case study for the United States as a whole, as shifting demographics create new challenges for policy makers across the country.

“What people don’t realize is that, in some sense, in California we’re already in the future. 70 percent of the kids in the California public schools are non-white. We have huge disparities, in terms of the educational outcomes — how our white kids do versus how our Hispanic children do,” she said.

“This is coming to the rest of the United States very soon. And we need to get serious and actually say that one of the ways we disrupt poverty, one of the sure ways to do it, is to provide these children with a good education.”

  • thumb
    Down in the Salinas Valley
    As the debate over immigration reform continues in Washington D.C., Need to Know offers an inside look at the lives of Latino farm workers.
  • thumb
    Dying to get back
    For those coming into the country illegally, it is now more deadly, more lethal, than at any time in recent U.S. immigration history.
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      Searching for answers
    19-year-old Gladys Dominguez shares her search for information about her father who was lost crossing Arizona state's border desert.


  • Terri

    Thank you so much for this story. I can’t believe the United States of America and the state of California has allowed this level of suffering to exist. But the students featured are our hope out of such darkness. Once again thank you for exposing the evil that dwells in the migrant farming industry.

  • Bret

    Congratulations to these kids and their achievements. The drive that has produced the grades can produce a quality life and quality worker. However as an individual that grew in poverty and in a nonindustrial region, I managed to acquire my own means of payment for a two year degree. I have now worked in aerospace for 15 years as a designer. Personal ambition is what got me to this point in my life, not free handouts.

  • Yadi

    I was home from the weekend from college, and as I was watching TV and I came across this. I can defenetly say that I was moved with not words, Both my parents were Undocumented immigrants and both of my parents still work in the fields. They both work so hard to make it through and I saw myself through many of these students in the video. Now with my first year of college I want to inspire other kids and my own sibilings to follow my example and the example of others so the poverty line can be broken.

  • Bret

    Sorry, as long as long as there is a minimum wage, there will be a poverty line. A single parent making minimum wage with one child is at the poverty line.
    That is just enough to rent a closet sized apartment in L.A. county.

  • jc

    So are you saying abolish min wage? I hope not. The corporate raiders have been sucking this animal since before Steinbeck, through Chavez and raiding away into this century with no culpability. What ARE you saying Bret?

  • Jasmine

    How disgusting that you glorify these illegals. I came legally and had to wait my turn. Then I worked in 3 jobs to put myself through college. I didn’t get free education, medical, housing, food and have never been a burden on anyone, not even my sponsor. I didn’t have a criminal record nor a communicable disease such as TB, which many of these illegals have. We have enough home-grown criminals in our prisons who could work in the fields to earn their board and lodging. Illegals cost the American taxpayer BILLIONS – then they send the money they earn here abroad. Many have false documents and even have the nerve to get child credits. We should deport them. You do people who come here legally a real disservice. Many veterans are waiting to get into college and they should come first. I would love to see the Constitution changed to make people earn their citizenship, not become one because an illegal has a child born here. I worked 47 years and have been a responsible homeowner paying property taxes for over 40 years. I highly resent my tax money going to support illegals.

  • Jane

    This problem, raising children in poverty, is not exclusive to the farmworker community. Poverty is increasingly affecting the quality of life of across the United States. I am a white, college-educated person who grew up in a middle-class household and now live well below the poverty line. I raised my child alone living below the poverty line while working and optimistically borrowing money to graduate from college. I am still paying off student loans in my 60′s. Unforeseen events occur, plans fall apart, things change. There are many children growing up in poverty here whose families have been here generations; it’s a national problem that needs urgently to be addressed. It is a fact that money spent on education and on health care raises incomes.

    Problems that I observed working as a substitute teacher in an agricultural community in California are that many students, (and their parents), fail to learn English at all, even after years of living in the U.S. The Spanish-speaking community is often self-sufficient enough that it is not necessary, but it almost ensures that job prospects remain at entry level at best. I have such admiration for those adults and students who do become excellent English speakers and writers but many others have a poor attitude about being here at all. Their allegiance is to Mexico and they refuse to learn English. They are here to make money, and send it home where they plan to retire. We need to have some distinguishing immigration policy for those who want to stay and become part of the culture of the U.S. and those that don’t so each has their needs met and all are legal and/or certificated in an appropriate way.

    Several people I know have emigrated to the U.S. legally from other countries. It is not fair. Coming to the U.S. has often required years of frustration and waiting, and I understand completely the resentment they feel towards people who come illegally and then whine about how they are treated here.

    Living in LA, I once had a lengthy conversation (in Spanish, our only common language) with a young man who had lived and worked illegally there for ten years. He was shocked that I, (then working for an environmental non-profit), made less money than he did making pies. It was the first conversation he had had with a person like me and an opportunity to dispel some cultural myths. The conversation is just beginning; every sub-culture has its issues. The important thing we all have to keep in mind is the end goal – a fair and humanistic society, laws that express that and a common interest in following the rule of law.

  • Jane

    I want to add that the Salinas high school students who are doing so well deserved to be congratulated. Good luck to them and keep it up.

    The agricultural businesses who have polluted the water in our state (There are many and they are also the heaviest water users in the state.) need to correct the situation 100% and pay fines to the state as well as provide enough clean water to the families everywhere who need it. Unfortunately, they are often politically connected so the Central Valley air and water problems do not get addressed.

  • Bret

    I’m saying that there is always a bottom and a top, even in socialism.

  • Gilbert Iglesias

    You are nothing but an ignorant who was nothing more that a lucky person who came to the usa legally. Your comments show your low iq, your ignorance towards culture, history, border secrity, benefits receive by indocumented people (what beneffits and what cost to the taxpayers) etc, etc. you said that you went to college and that you are well educated. Well, that school did a very poor job and failed miserale to open your mind. i am sorry for you.

    Arturo Hernandez


  • Jeff Smith

    My heart really does go out to these people, especially those in the United States Legally, where not enough is being done to correct the massive exploitation many migrant workers are subject to. On the other hand to the illegal immigrant workers, nobody forced you to come to America illegally. America has a process of Legal immigration, where those vying to come here wait their turn, follow all the rules, go through all the necessary processes alone or as part of a family, then are admitted. The country has a specific number of spots available based on mostly projected economic realities the country can sustain in numbers in any given year. To violate this by crossing the border illegally to work and live illegally in unknown numbers violates the economic foundations which makes a successful economy and nation grow. PBS has done many documentaries on the plight of Illegal aliens recently and it is starting to greatly offend me. As a tax payer funded broadcaster it has ignored it’s responsibility to the tax paying CITIZENS of the country by overlooking the basic problem (and criminality) of Illegal immigration caused by the illegal immigrants themselves. Why doesn’t PBS do a story on over worked border guards dealing with some nasty aliens like those associated with Mexican drug cartels who in some cases murder our border guards?? Or over worked customs officers, or over burdened health care workers, or over burdened schools all because of illegal aliens?? All PBS seems to do is give a one sided apathetic view of the problems faced by illegals?? Usually giving a poor or harsh view of those opposed to their very presence, not because they are Mexican but because they are here ILLEGALLY and are therefore criminals by that very fact?? Do I have to start watching Canadian television in order to get a fairer presentation of what Americans are really like?

  • Jeff Smith

    Go back to Mexico!

  • unsustainability

    Let’s see. You provide many incentives for importing huge numbers of people in order to maximize growth without noting those who come from south of the border have on average less than an 8th grade education and little English fluency, and then you wonder why there is growing poverty in this country?

  • unsustainability

    Arturo: Learn to write English grammatically, and then comment. Maybe some of it will be worth reading.