Lately, I have seen many advertisements, facebook statuses, mass emails about how all our money is going to the poor and it has to stop. The internet is filled with blogs about how 40% of American's don't pay taxes, about how the biggest drain on this country are all those people living on welfare, people stating that America and the American dream will collapse if we take from the rich and give to the lazy poor. I have read article after article and blog after blog about how all these people not paying taxes and getting welfare are lazy and should not be rewarded for their laziness, and those who aren't poor work hard and that is the reason they are in that top 1%. Well - this blog will be my opinion on the matter.
First, let me state that politically I would be considered a Conservative Democrat, or a Liberal Republican. I know - those words usually don't go together. I vote by person, not party, and I will happily vote for who I deem the better candidate, regardless of their party. I grew up in generational poverty, raised by my widowed grandmother and single mom in the 70's, when being a single mom really wasn't that common. Through education and hard work I worked my way through college and I now live a middle class life, not upper middle class, but struggling middle class. No one paid for my college - I had to work for it - take out student loans - earn grants and scholarships. My parents couldn't afford to help. My husband works while I stay home with our four children. Until May of last year I worked 8 1/2 years at a health department in Northern Michigan as a WIC and medicaid dietitian, helping families with young children who were on medicaid.
So, all these blogs and posts I have read bother me some. It seems to be all or nothing. If you are middle or upper class then you must work hard. If you live in poverty than you must be lazy and made poor decisions. I read an article today from one of the major news medias about how the 1% go to college and work hard at a job, thus the reason they are that 1%. Reading all of these things just makes me realize that people have false assumptions about those living with medicaid, food stamps, and WIC. All of my opinions here are based on Northern Michigan poor - where you live things may be different - but Northern Michigan poor is what I know and I am betting it is similar to all rural poor in America.
First, let me say that growing up and my time at the health department I did come across abusers of the system. People selling their food stamps for 50 cents on the dollar. People having more kids to get more money. They are out there - they do exist. Able bodied people who don't work because they don't want to. I went on home visits where people lived in nicer homes than I did, had new cars out in the driveway, and received food stamps that doubled my family's food budget in a month. I was saddened by that. My husband and I had four college degrees between the two of us - and my husband was working full time at a job while going to school full time for his master's degree - yet we were struggling more than some of these families where there was no working adult in the house. My four children were being raised by daycare so I could earn enough money to feed them. I will admit - there were days I was very angry about that.
Then I stopped and thought about it. 95% of the families I worked with were not like the people I described above. 95% of those families were struggling, just like we were. Most of these people have at least one job, or at least had a job until everything in Northern Michigan collapsed. People who had worked at a factory for 15 years, and suddenly their job was gone and they could find nothing to replace it with. Many families who were middle class, like us, until the economy collapsed. People with PhD's begging for secretarial work. There were those others who were doing well and married, then their spouse either died or just left for someone else. There were several who were disabled and were unable to work, but they did their best and would try to pick up babysitting jobs from home. A job was a job and 95% of my clients knew that working was important.
I realized this - of all the people I know, the people who honestly work the hardest are the poorest people I know. The vast majority of the people I know who work 80 or 100 hour weeks are doing it for minimum wage (or less - yup - there are lots of jobs out there where they can get away with paying you less than minimum wage), where most of the people I now living in middle class work 50-60 hours a week.
America is supposed to be a society that allows those who work hard to get ahead. In the day of our Grandparents, and our parents you could work hard and live a middle class life. You could graduate high school and get a job at generous motors and do well, support your family in a comfortable middle class lifestyle and save for retirement. You could afford a home and a car and food. Today, in my opinion, to rise up from poverty to middle, or upper class is much harder. It is much harder to get ahead without a college degree today. It can be done, but it is much more difficult than it was in the past. There are still opportunities out there - Zuckerman didn't have a college degree and look what he did (but I think the college he dropped out of was Harvard so I am kind of betting he didn't grow up in poverty.) I realize had I been born in Russia, or China I would not have had the opportunity to go from generational poverty to struggling middle class - and every day I am thankful to be where I am. I worked hard to get where I am, three jobs at a time in college. Good grades in college. My husband and I worked hard for him to get his master's degree - him working full time and going to school full time, while I worked part time and was (for the most part) a single parent to our four kids. It was hard and I am so glad it payed off - at the same time I do realize we - in all our hard work - still haven't worked as hard as the lady I know who is a single mom and works three jobs (two full time and one part time) just to support her daughter and herself. The mom who gets medcaid for her daughter, since not one of her jobs has health insurance, and WIC for her daughter. Her jobs are very physical, yet she does them without complaining, she is happy to have work.
Again, the people I know who work the hardest are the poorest. So my thoughts on this are this - not everyone is cut out for college. I loved school and learning, I could happily spend the rest of my life in a class learning something, but that isn't for everyone. Heck, most of the people I knew in college didn't have this love for learning, they were in college because that was what you did after high school, and that was what you needed to do to get the job they wanted. There is nothing wrong with college not being for you. We college people need to realize that we could not function without those people who have these low paying jobs. Do you think that person who takes your money at the grocery store is paid anything but minimum wage? That guy who changes the oil in your car, what do you think he earns. The waitress who takes your order - she gets paid way less than minimum wage. The person who works on the farm to produce you food, the person who milks the cow for your milk, the person who cleans the bathroom of your favorite store, the nurses aide who takes care of your parents in that nursing home, what do you think they earn? That person who builds your house, the house you are going to live in the next 30 years, that person who drives in your nails and puts your roof on, do you think they get paid anywhere near as much as the dude at the bank who approves your mortgage? Yet I am betting the work done by the builder will have a much longer effect on your life.
I know in America, working hard is what is needed to get ahead, but I am not ashamed to admit that I know I haven't worked as hard as many of those I know who live in a lower socioeconomic level than I do. I know my husband hasn't worked as hard as a great many of them work, and I damn well know that Mitt Romney hasn't worked as hard as they have. Poor does not mean lazy, it just means poor. It doesn't mean ignorant, it just means poor. 9.5 times out of 10 these people that you are condemning and stating you don't want to help work as hard, if not harder, than you do (or would if they could find a job).
My own personal believe is that there needs to be a change in the social programs system. Find a way to reward those people who are working hard, but their wages just aren't high enough to survive on. Why should that person working 80 hours a week starve - they are working hard, are they not? 1 out of every 5 children in America is food insecure, and the vast majority of these kids live in homes where at least one person is working. 1 out of 5 kids don't know where their next meal is coming from. How can that be in America? We are not talking about adults, we are talking about people who have NO control over their environment or status in life.
I know - I am just like every bleeding heart liberal, trying to take your money and give it to those who haven't worked as hard as you have. That is the issue - most of these people who get some sort of help, medicaid for their kids, food stamps, WIC, or FIP grant have worked as hard as you have. Many of them are still working hard everyday, they would love to find a job that pays more, but the either lack the skills to do so or the opportunity to do so. Many of them worked hard their entire life, then it all collapsed out from under them and they are trying to start over. Why base your opinion on what 5% of a population does. . . why not stop and actually get to know some of these people you don't feel your money should help.
I am not saying those that have should give it all away, but I believe those who have really need to stop and realize that those who have not are not lazy and worthless. Most of them are hard working people who just want to provide their family with a better life, but through luck, lack of "desirable" skills and lack of opportunity they are unable to.