Mommas don’t let your babies grow up to be poor

by | April 9, 2018 6:17 am

Democratic Dialog – By Debra Wines

For many years, we’ve been told people who are poor are that way because they chose to live in poverty. We’ve also been told our government has encouraged their choice by providing “those people” with certain programs that make it easier for them to “live off the backs of hard working Americans.” Don’t faint when I say this, but that statement does have some truth to it. I am sure we all know or have heard of people who have “scammed the system,” and families that have been on welfare for generations and don’t do anything to help themselves.

President Lyndon Johnson, through his “Great Society” and “War on Poverty” instituted programs to help people lift themselves out of poverty. He and others knew one key factor to improving a person’s life was education and in a sense providing people with boots, so they could have the opportunities to lift themselves up by their “boot straps.” It was a difficult undertaking, but President Johnson, along with many others, understood giving people the tools and opportunities to help them out of poverty would make our country stronger. The costs of the Vietnam War – financially and emotionally – overshadowed President Johnson’s vision of a “Great Society.”

Throughout the administrations that followed, changes were made to the “welfare” system, and programs to help the less fortunate were either eliminated or underfunded. One major change that was implemented came during the Clinton administration. Welfare recipients were given a limited amount of time they could collect welfare. They had to get a job, go to school to continue their education, and/or get some kind of job training. There was nothing wrong with that line of thinking. It was just as logical as the old proverb “give a man a fish, and he eats for a day; teach him how to fish, and he can eat for a lifetime.” I do believe that most people want to work; to feel a sense of accomplishment and confidence; to have a feeling of self-respect; to be able to take care of themselves and their families; and also to feel as if they were contributing to society in a positive way.

The “Great Society” and “War of Poverty,” in my opinion, were based on the fundamental teachings of the majority of religions, including Christianity, which is to help those who are less fortunate and to care and love our fellow human beings. Unfortunately, we human beings, no matter what religious belief we may or may not have, are more susceptible to centuries of society’s “norms” and political labels. Throughout history, there has always been a “pecking order:” the super-rich/upper class (royalty, land owners, and titans of industry); the upper middle class (mid-sized business owners/multi-faceted merchants); the middle class (small business owners/highly skilled workers); the lower middle class (people who worked in the large and small businesses); and the poor who farmed the land but didn’t own it, those who may have worked at menial jobs, and those who were sick, disabled and/or uneducated.   As far as society goes, these classifications of humans have not changed much, and I don’t see that it ever will.

Revolutions and wars have been fought in the hope of changing the status quo, and even when those revolutions were “successful,” they were not long lasting. The people with the most money can and do make the changes that will benefit them and keep their status intact. We’ve seen this happen in Communist countries. Look at China, where there is extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Even though Russia is no longer classified as a Communist country and life may be somewhat better for the average person, their “ruling class” still maintains rather strict control over the people and their politics.

America is still considered a very young country compared to those in Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world, yet we have faced and are still facing the legacy of every society that has come before us. Our Founding Fathers wanted America to be different. They wanted a democratic republic, but they still were influenced by their ancestors’ societal norms, along with acceptance of slavery for those who were considered less than human. I could go on and on about our history, but I think most people know and understand how Americans are still experiencing growing pains with our attempts to be a better example to the world at large. We still have to accept responsibility of our failures and to learn from them in order to become a better example for the world.

Realistically, we will never live in a Utopia, where everyone is respected and treated as an equal. Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest does not just apply to the animal or plant world; it also applies to the world of human beings. This is becoming more and more apparent by the actions and rhetoric coming out of Washington D.C. and Nashville. Legislators seem to be hell-bent on making anyone in need of help to be classified as “takers” who do nothing to help themselves and expect the government to bail them out of trouble. I find it amusing this term is never used for the banking and insurance industries nor was it used for Wall Street investors who brought this country to its financial knees, repeatedly.

Our legislators, on both levels, are more interested in making the lives of the few (2 percent of the population) better, while they cast the blame on the 98 percent who want, need, and, in many cases, work hard for their “piece of the pie.” In the last few years, the elderly; the disabled; the ill; members of minority races; immigrants; LGBQ people; women; and the poor have become our legislators’ favorite targets as the responsible parties for all the ills affecting the quality of your life. It doesn’t matter if you are a member of one of those “target populations,” our leaders have given all of us someone else to blame, rather than accept any responsibility for their behavior, actions, and legislation they have or haven’t passed. They accept no responsibility, and Donald Trump has taken that kind of behavior, on both a national and state level, to new heights.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, with his worship of Ayn Rand, has done more to promote this way of thinking, even before Mr. Trump took office. Rep. Ryan also makes it very clear that he regards Social Security and Medicare, which is totally financed by employees and employers, as a drain on American’s financial health and has referred to people on Social Security as “takers.” Rep. Ryan has made it abundantly clear those programs and everything else in the budget is on the cutting board, except the Pentagon’s budget. I understand the need for a well equipped, trained, and modern military. What Paul Ryan fails to say about the true defense budget is a great deal of money goes to defense contractors, including contractors like the one Betsy DeVos’s brother owned and operated, Blackwater. He also fails to let it be known that budgets for other areas affecting our national defense are being cut or not given the funds they have requested. The state department is, on one hand, as important as our military; it should be considered the diplomatic arm of the military.

Paul Ryan does not care if he alienates retirees, the chronically ill, and disabled, and he certainly couldn’t care less about the poor. He is very blatant about that. What he cares about the most is making sure the Koch brothers, and others like them, get whatever they want, and he is not alone in his beliefs and his behavior. Of course, he is also concerned about his own bank account and his family’s well being and financial future.

We all have one thing in common with Rep. Ryan; we all want to do the best for our own families and friends. We all want to have that even playing field to access the road to success. That road is different for every one of us and because of our circumstances, upbringing, beliefs, and our needs. The definition of success will not be the same for all of us. That’s fine. I believe if we do take the time and look honestly into our hearts, we will agree that every single human being should have the opportunities and help they need to meet their own goals of success. A member of any “minority,” whether it is physical; the color of one’s skin; religious belief; sexual preference; place of birth; or financial status should not have unnecessary obstacles put in their path by any elected legislator. Being born poor or growing up in poverty should not be a “life-time prison sentence.”

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