Reports on the state of Niagara County’s poor released last week offer sobering evidence that their lot in life is not getting much better. While the statistics show a mixed picture, the very fact that they paint a stagnant scene is sobering.

The number of welfare cases in the county has gone down over the past two years and families on food stamps have decreased slightly from last year, but both years are higher than the 2005 figures.

Some of the change has to do with the rise in the minimum wage while welfare requirements have remained the same, making fewer families eligible. Does that mean they’re any better off or that they just don’t qualify? Hard to tell.

There is one indicator that is particularly disturbing: That is the steady increase over three years in the number of child abuse reports. Social scientists say that kind of behavior is often the result of drug and alcohol abuse that goes hand in hand with a faltering economy.

So the skies in Niagara County don’t seem to be getting much brighter for the poor among us. So what is the cause and what might be the cure?

The most obvious cause is the decline of the area’s manufacturing base. Local experts say lagging wages and rising heath care costs are a double whammy that keeps Niagara flat on its back. But other parts of the country have seen that same sort of decline and have risen from the post-industrial ashes to again become thriving, or at least surviving, communities.

That hasn’t happened here for a number of reasons. Two of them: The state of New York and high local taxes.

New York’s notorious anti-business reputation has discouraged companies for decades from locating anywhere in what was once the Empire State. Niagara County’s local taxes have been described as among the highest in the nation. Put it all together and it’s no wonder that earning a living and raising a family can be a real challenge here.

What to do about it? Probably what should have been done 20 or

30 years ago. Streamline government, cut taxes, stop looking for the silver bullet that will magically cure all of our economic woes. If we haven’t found it yet, it probably doesn’t exist. So, while that kind of medicine is past due, it still might not be too late to prescribe it.

It is the hard work that’s not glamorous and probably won’t attract a lot of votes from a public that needs help now, now 20 years from now. But, if we don’t do it, we’ll be haunted by the cursing of Niagara’s future generations as we lie in our graves.

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