The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

THE 13TH AMMENDMENT

 “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” (Ratified by the states on December 6, 1865).

 Thus ended slavery in America – at least on paper.

 Recently, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich got in trouble for making the statement that President Obama was the most successful president in increasing the number of welfare recipients and that he, Gingrich wanted to be the most successful president in creating jobs and providing Americans with paychecks. First to toss their hat into the fray was the NAACP.

 I have difficulty understanding why people confuse facts with emotions – often giving far more credence to their emotions in spite of the obvious facts which are before them. Not only is this an unenlightened attitude – it leads directly to a culture of intolerance and bigotry – the very things against which the participants believe they are fighting.

 In an earlier post (“Grandma Was Right”) I referred to an incident in which I had been mugged. As it happened, my assailants were three African-American thugs. That is not a commentary about our brethren who are African-American. It is merely a statement of who my assailants happened to be – nothing more.  I refer to it only because the question of my assailants’ race was the first one that the Chicago police asked me in their efforts to apprehend them. 

 If I am an African-American, that statement would be accepted as a matter of fact. However, if I am white or oriental – all of a sudden the ugly question of racism rears it’s head.  What is my “real” motivation in levying this charge? 

 There are times when allegations of  racism are founded. But I mourn for those whose minds are so limited (whether they be the accusers or those who deserve to be accused) that they see the world in such a narrow way and use racism as a first line of defense or as a justification for their actions.

 I have a lot of respect for (and a lot of questions about) the former Speaker of the House. I consider him to be one of the most articulate in the Republican beauty contest that is currently playing out. But I will defend him and his statement based on a personal experience.

 When I owned my temporary help business my staff interviewed large numbers of candidates in order to fill the orders our clients placed with us. My firm specialized in more highly skilled workers – the primary emphasis in our Chicago office being on legal secretaries. Occasionally, a client would request someone to assist them who had lesser skills.

 It happened that one of our clients, the largest law firm in the city, asked if we could provide them someone for a project that would last for at least three months. They needed someone to photocopy documents for two large cases which they were trying.  We attempted to oblige – but the number of our employees with marginal skills was limited.

As the project would not begin for several weeks, we had some time to find a new employee who could commit to the assignment. We asked our temporary employees if they knew of anyone who would be interested and offered them a referral bonus.  We also advertised the position extensively in the local newspapers.

One day my staff was involved in dispatching our temps when a woman in her mid-20’s came in to apply for the photocopying job. As it happened she was an African-American woman.  Since my staff was occupied, I interviewed her myself once she had completed the paperwork that we required of new potential employees.

I sat across from her in one of our interview rooms after I had reviewed her application. She had very limited skills and no work background – but our client was willing to provide on-the-job training and she seemed pleasant and eager to find her way into the work force.

As we sat and chatted she asked me, “How much does this job pay?” I considered that an informed and legitimate question, so I responded, “It’s a forty hour work week and we would pay you five dollars an hour for a total of two hundred dollars per week.” (By the way, minimum wage was a little over two dollars an hour).

She looked at me and said, “Hell, I can’t afford to take this job. I get $640 per month from welfare that I would lose if I got hired. Then I’d have to take the bus to get to work – that’s fifteen dollars a week; I have two kids at home that I would have to get a sitter for at ten dollars a day – that’s fifty dollars; and I take care of two kids two times a week that I get paid twenty dollars “cash money” to mind. I’d be making less than if I stayed home and did nothing.”

I couldn’t argue with this lady’s math or logic. She was exactly right. She could sit home and make more than by becoming a contributing member of the workforce. If I were in her place I would have made exactly the same decision. And that’s the real American tragedy.

We have created a system of dis-incenting people from contributing to our economy.  Instead of being contributors they are takers – although what they take is at sub-subsistence levels which most of us would reject as insufficient.

There is a rational way to address this problem – one that is not based on emotion but on fact. Instead of cutting off a person’s welfare benefits because they have found employment, what if we merely reduced those benefits?

As a suggestion, for each four dollars that a person earned, their welfare check would be reduced by one dollar. In this example, this lady’s welfare check would be cut by $200 per month – but she would have earned an additional $800. Even with the cost of carfare, paying for child care and losing the “cash money” she earned from overseeing other children, she would be substantially ahead.

This is a common sense and economically-efficient solution to leading us out of the welfare mentality Washington has created.  This is the sort of program we need to implement to start fixing our economy – and more importantly restoring the American mind-set of rewarding contribution rather than indolence. It is an idea that I believe Speaker Gingrich would support and the NAACP could endorse.

Otherwise, while we have theoretically abolished slavery – the truth is that the Federal Government has merely institutionalized it in an only slightly different form.

 

Comments on: "THE 13TH AMMENDMENT" (6)

  1. Very well said. A difficult subject. I tend to try to avoid making any references to any race for the same reason—for fear of being accused of racism. I love all people, the more color in my world the better off the world is.
    take care and keep writing. I could go on and on about this. It got my fired up. Excellent points. take care!

  2. Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your interest and your thoughts.

    I look at it this way (having adapted this from a Chinese fortune cookie I once received).

    We are all manufacturers. Some of us make good; others make ends meet; most of us just make excuses.

    I followed the career of Dr. Martin Luther King closely. I think that if Dr. King were alive today, he would be ashamed at the way his message of unity and brotherhood has been manipulated.

  3. You’ve made some very astute points here, things we would do well to consider before passing judgment on welfare recipients who have not worked for long periods. I think this post is valuable in providing an inside look at the actual economics of the welfare system, and how those economics effect the decision to work, or not work. I credit you for your insight, but I’m afraid I cannot find much with which to credit Newt Gingrich – an unabashed racist who, until his run for office (and even still, though less blatantly), had no qualms spouting bigoted rhetoric.
    Newt Gingrich’s History of Bigoted Remarks: http://mediamatters.org/research/201009130054

  4. Thank you for your insightful response. I appreciate the thought you put into it – which, whether we agree or disagree – is essential to the beginning of any meaningful discussion. The post was intended neither to defend or be an apologist for the former Speaker. As I said in the post, I have questions about him – as well as the rest of the field – including the current incumbent. The point which I tried to make – perhaps unsucessfully – is that we need to look to the root causes of our problems and stop throwing stones at each other over distractions which are peripheral and basically meaningless.

  5. You made your point beautifully!

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