The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

THE POLITICS OF POVERTY

It is certainly a tribute to my parents that neither Mom nor Dad ever encouraged me to choose, as my life’s goal, finding the lowest paying job that was on the market.  In their view, low-paying jobs were the rightful province of the uneducated.  Mom could speak to this from personal experience as her father was one of those poorly educated men who dug ditches in New York for a dollar a day – that is, when the work was available.

Because my parents recognized that education was the gateway for a child to achieve the American dream, they made sacrifices in order to send me to private schools.  Mom got a job at a time when most mothers stayed at home and ultimately she owned her own business.  Dad was in sales and traveled forty weeks a year.  I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t fully understand what they gave up in order to give me the best opportunity to do something productive with my life.

I grew up at a time in America when people generally understood that opportunity was limited only by a person’s initiative, optimism and perhaps a little bit of extra insight that others might not have discovered in themselves.  It was a time that while each of us worked to get a little bigger piece of the pie, we also knew that there were many pies that had yet to be baked in which all of us could share.  It was a time of personal accountability and a time when we recognized and applauded each other and were recognized and applauded by others for personal achievement.  It was a pre-socialist, pre-Obama America.

Obama and his party of the left will spend much of this year talking about social inequity and financial injustice.  The centerpiece of this conversation will revolve around increasing the minimum wage.  The argument being made is that it is inhumane and certainly un-American to pay people less for their labor than what is necessary for their survival.  It’s hard for me or for anyone with an ounce of compassion to refute that – unless we scratch the veneer of that concept.

Let’s consider a basic principle.  Why would any rational person accept a position at a level which forced him to struggle for mere survival if he could work at a better, higher paying position?  Despite my best efforts I have been unable to come up with an answer to that question other than that the person holding what we used to refer to as an “entry level” position does not have the skills to hold a better paying job.

Let’s look at the person who is, as an adult, trying to survive, holding one of these minimum wage positions.  He or she is in a job that has little or no opportunity for growth either in responsibility or in earnings.  This person’s only prospect for making more is finding a second job, probably at the same low wage, the beneficence of his employer increasing his hourly rate or the intervention of some governmental jurisdiction passing a unilateral increase in the wages of him and all others in his earnings class – in other words, an increase in the minimum wage.

Whether or not we pass an increase in the minimum wage which will do little to alleviate the plight of wage earners who are cheering for such an outcome,  this debate does raise several important issues.

The first is that we are not preparing a significant segment of our population through our educational system to do anything other than the most menial, unskilled work and are consigning them to a life of impoverishment and envy of those who are more successful – which by definition – is everyone who is earning anything more than they are.

The second is that they have no future and no American dream – at least not one in which they can have a hope of participating through the old principles of self-sacrifice and hard work.  What incredible psychological damage that must cause.  And as a result we should not be surprised that those who have no hope of succeeding through traditional, legal means turn to violence to seize what they envy in others.

Sadly, astute political manipulators – and we have far more than our fair share of them – recognize that an uneducated mob can easily be swayed with small sops and shallow promises.  If we wonder why our educational levels have slipped so dramatically we have only to turn to the lessons we learned from the slave owners in the pre-Civil War South who made it illegal to educate their human chattel.  There really is no incentive for the new slave owners to improve the educational quality they offer their human livestock, their public outcries about the shocking state of education notwithstanding.  Their real goal is to keep their constituents ignorant – and they have done well in achieving that goal.

Many of those minimum wage, uneducated workers live in our inner cities.  That is if they are not part of our vast minority population whose unemployment rate is nearly twice that of the general population.  We have designed massive programs which bleed the productivity of those who work to “assist” these poor souls in their impoverished condition – a status which has now become generational in nature.  Meanwhile those who purportedly champion the underclass that they have created can be assured that they will continue to be re-elected to political office by their barely literate electorate.

So now these good liberals, portraying themselves as the benefactors of the poor and downtrodden are offering up an increase in the minimum wage.  And those who need opportunity and education far more than a few extra dollars which government will ultimately suck out of their pockets by encouraging them to play the lottery as the path to salvation will wave their handwritten signs as they picket the only businesses who will hire them.

Perhaps, if they have even thought about it, they believe that if their employers fire them or they are replaced by automation, their “friends” in high places will develop even newer and better programs to allow them to live at the subsistence level which they and their parents have endured and to which they condemn their children.

What they don’t realize is that what little they have comes from those who have been productive and who are becoming increasingly resistant to contributing even more than they have been conscripted to donate.  And when the tipping point comes, and it is near, even those who are most generous will hold up their banners with the phrase, “Enough Is Enough” inscribed on them, the spigot to the Fountain of Freebies will run dry and all of us will be expected to be productive to survive.  And that will include those who are in the pulpit preaching their dialectic on the Politics of Poverty.

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Comments on: "THE POLITICS OF POVERTY" (5)

  1. I strongly suggest that you watch this TEDx presentation by Tom Brokaw:

    Especially the ending segment (beginning at min 25:00) in which he describes the next ‘Big Idea’ that he believes could be the best way to solve the basic problem you’ve described here. You may be quite surprised by what he has to say…

    • Thank you for sharing the video. I’ve always found Tom Brokaw to be a reasonable voice – one of few in our media.

      Perhaps the biggest difficulty with implementing his strategy is the inherent distrust and portrayal of big business as evil. The idea of “trade schools” is a very worthy one which has worked well in Europe for decades.

      The real key to getting people beyond minimum wage is to create an environment in which employers are encouraged to innovate and grow – the exact opposite of today’s political climate. I was rather amused when I listened to the president yesterday speaking about the “uneven” nature of the economic recovery. North Dakota which has the lowest unemployment rate in the country has achieved that for the simple reason that they have exploited their oil resources – all of which has occurred on private land at the same time that the administration is cancelling oil leases on public land.

      As to inner city unemployment, while it might seem counter-intuitive, the most efficient way to reduce that is to abolish the minimum wage for teenagers. That will, of course, displace older workers who now hold those jobs – which might provide the incentive for this or a future administration to implement policies which truly promote good job growth.

  2. Beautifully written!

  3. My Father went through the great depression in the 1930’s. He knew what it meant to put cardboard in his shoes each morning to cover the holes. It developed an ethic of hard work and initiative in him which is sadly lacking today. He clawed his way up as your parents did. He didn’t expect the government to help but rather to butt out of his business. In that era people understood hardship and so they had empathy with others struggles and shared what they had. I’m afraid these days it’s about expecting the government to support you and agitate it they don’t. Unfortunately politicians buckle under that pressure and give handouts to everyone to get elected. Of course we have people in our midst who have genuine need. It is out collective responsibility to give them a hand up just as our parents did in their time. Occasionally the government may have to get involved but most help is better rendered through citizen ventures. Our modern governments have developed a culture of dependency which will eventually cause their demise. I hesitate to even imagine what would then replace our current freedoms.

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