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The Pulse

Loss of control, loss of faith in government


What do such diverse matters as gridlock in suburbia, street crime in urban areas and college graduates living at home have in common? They all represent in one form or another a larger issue that will be one of the major concerns of the 1990s: loss of control. This involves the feeling that people, in spite of their best efforts to improve their quality of life, have very little control over attaining their goals.

Residents in DuPage County and in similar areas across the country, where growth and expansion have far outdistanced the ability of local governments to coordinate this growth, give very similar answers when asked about the problems of the area they live in: "too much traffic," "can't move," "too many people" and "worse than the city." Their answers express the same frustrations: Moves they made to improve their quality of life have not improved it. Their reward for achievement is frustration.

In Chicago and cities across the land achieving financial success for some means buying or leasing six- and seven-figure residences but not escaping from the problems of crime, congestion and street people, which are as close as the next subway stop. In the same cities a teenager who works hard to save the money to buy a new coat is afraid to wear it through his blighted neighborhood because it might be taken from him at gunpoint. The frustration in the cities is the same as in the suburbs: loss of the ability to control and enjoy benefits that have been earned and achieved.

In cities and suburbs, recent graduates of training schools, junior collges,universities and master's programs are working at jobs that don't pay enough to allow them to get a place of their own.Consequently, a great number of these or adults are sharing apartments with three or four others or, in many cases, are living at home. The parents and grandparents of these graduates worry about news reports that their taxes are going up, their pensions are in trouble and that America is being bought up by countries the U.S.A. defeated in World War II and then helped rebuild. Again, their world seems out of control.

Moves they made to improve their quality of life have not improved it. Their reward for achievement is frustration

34/January 1990/Illinois Issues

Who is to blame for all of these problems? What can be done to regain control in the 1990s and beyond? Generally, people blame the government and elected leaders but not to the degree or with the intensity that one might expect. They know that it is government that is supposed to provide police protection to make the streets safer and keep drug peddlers out of schools. They realize that it is the responsibility of urban planners to coordinate growth, so it doesn't take an hour to travel from your house to a mall five miles away. They know all these things the government is supposed to do but seem to believe that government cannot do everything. In a sense, government is suffering the same loss of control as its citizens. The anger and the frustration are there, but so is the feeling that maybe the government and politicians aren't up to the job of solving these problems.

An indication of this lack of faith in government's ability to solve problems is the low voter turnout in most elections, almost everywhere.

This growing loss of faith in government may have many reasons. Among them is the bureaucracy that people confront when they do deal with agencies of government. It's worse when the government employees treat them uncivilly or without results. Another reason for the loss of faith is the process itself that we use to elect our government leaders and representatives. The negative campaigns that are being used by both parties and by quite a few candidates do nothing to inspire great faith in the winner, the candidate who survives with the least amount of damage.

This apparent loss of faith that people have in their government and their leaders is beginning to translate into a belief that people want government to do less, not more, about all their problems. They believe that government should concentrate on basic services, providing them efficiently and at a reasonable cost: the roads, the schools, the police protection. They seem to be saying that government should retrench and not take on solutions for every problem. They want government instead to handle those basic services that will help them regain some sense of control over their lives in the cities and suburbs where they live.

Michael McKeon is head of McKeon and Associates, a national polling organization.

January 1990/Illinois Issues/35

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