Jason Sibert

While unemployment numbers are low around the St. Louis area and some see nothing but good times on the horizon, there is another reality that some live with every day – a grinding poverty that eats away at our city and surrounding suburbs.

The homeless epidemic that grips our nation is gripping St. Louis – one can see the homeless sleeping out on the streets on any given week. The homeless epidemic can be tied to various issues, such as the lack of affordable housing and stagnating wages for many Americans.

There is a symbiotic connection between the homeless issue and the nationwide opioid epidemic, as some homeless people are addicted. Missouri’s opioid epidemic is hitting the African-American community hard. The number of African-American men who died from an opioid overdose doubled from 2015 to 2018. By 2018, African-American men were three times as likely to die from an overdose than white men.

Both the opioid and homeless epidemics are tied to the issue of security. Many citizens who are coping with one or the other or both experience a lack of security.

The Trump administration’s latest budget takes a quite different stance on security. To sustain and make our current nuclear weapons arsenal even more deadly, the administration has requested $44 billion. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering Trump’s lack of interest in using arms control to downsize the world’s deadly nuclear arsenal. He’s canceled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and the Intermediate Range Nuclear-Forces Treaty with Russia. Trump has said that he might let the New Start Treaty with Russia expire in 2021.

Our country currently spends more money than the top seven countries combined on our military arsenal. Absolute poverty, the inability to acquire food and shelter, could be wiped out all over the world if we were to invest three percent of our military budget in providing food and shelter to those who don’t have it. Such a reinvestment would have ramifications far beyond St. Louis.

The non-profit World Beyond War compiled figures on what a reinvestment from military spending to human needs would do for Milwaukee County. The Wisconsin metro area is similar in size to St. Louis. In 2018, Milwaukee County taxpayers paid $1.54 billion into the military budget – money that could be used to pay for 20,155 elementary school teachers, 20,829 clean energy jobs, 27,773 infrastructure jobs, 15,429 jobs in low income communities, 192,855 head start spots for children, 145,216 veterans receiving healthcare, 1.05 million low-income children receiving healthcare, and 45,820 students receiving a college education.  

The City of Milwaukee passed a resolution in 1982 called the Jobs with Peace initiative that advocated a shift from military spending to domestic needs. Last year, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors called for a transfer of tax dollars from military spending toward human and environmental needs – superior education from pre-school through college, ending world hunger, converting the United States to clean energy, providing clean drinking water, building high-speed trains between cities, financing a full-employments jobs program, and doubling foreign aid.

Municipal governments have little say over federal priorities like defense spending. However, municipal governments are more accessible to citizens because running for a local office doesn’t take the money that running for federal office does. If more municipalities, perhaps starting with St. Louis and surrounding communities, were to pass similar resolutions as the ones in Milwaukee, then cities could serve as a powerful voice for change. The change could move from the city level to the federal level.

Jason Sibert is executive director of the Peace Economy Project.

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