Tag Archives: poverty

Give Me Your Poor…

Want a way to decide what federal services to cut, and which to keep, in a fair and balanced way? Here’s a thought: the Democrats are all about the poor, the homeless, the children. Take care of them first. And by first, I mean before anyone else.

Set up a national safety net priority pyramid, kind of like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. No money is spent on the higher level priorities until all of the base needs are taken care of. For example, if hunger is agreed to be the most basic need, then all people will be fed before any money is spent on any other item. Once all people are fed, then people could receive housing, and clothing, and education, medical care, and so on.

There would be no question of corporate welfare until the basic needs of all people were taken care of. There would be no consumer protection agency until everyone had enough money to worry about losing. There would be no government backed mortgage financing until everyone had a house. There would be no student loans until everyone was college ready. If a person lost his job, and was unable to pay his mortgage, there would be no unemployment payments—that person would be assigned living quarters, and given food and clothing sufficient to bring him up to the level of the lowest person in the pyramid. Everyone would be kept alive, fed, and sheltered. Beyond that point, everyone would be on his own, until everyone achieved a base level of needs provided for.

At that point, once each person was assured of food, clothing, and shelter, the next level of need could be addressed. Say the next priority would be education. The most basic level of education would be provided for each person, no matter their age. If a fifty-year-old man somehow neglected to learn to read when he was in school, he would be eligible to be taught his ABC’s. And so forth, and so on. All of those people in the middle and upper classes would receive no benefit from government unless and until all of the people beneath them in income level were brought up to their standard of living.

In this manner, the entire pyramid would keep rising, with more needs taken care of, but only needs. Wants and desires would not be funded in any way, shape, or form by the government until all needs for all people had been satisfied. Anyone at a higher income level would be welcome to provide more for himself than would otherwise be provided by the government, but no one would be entitled to anything that was not available at the lowest income level.

Fortunately, we never have to worry about this sort of concept ever being implemented, and not because the Republicans hate people, either. The truth is that it’s just too difficult to pay in for years, and never get anything back. And, matter how hard we try, no matter what benefits are given to those in need, there will always be needy. There will never be enough to take care of those in dire need, and still have some left over for the amenities we all enjoy. It’s all a balancing act, and we just need to decide where we’re going to set the fulcrum. No demonizing necessary.

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THE BOTTOM FIFTH

I was going to expound on Mr. Romney’s speech, until I realized that 13 gazillion people are going to do the same thing in the next few days and weeks, and I don’t really have anything to add that somebody, or some tens of somebodies, isn’t already going to say. (At least, not yet—I’m waiting till after the Democratic convention to see whether Mr. Romney will get into any specifics in his plan to save the country).

In the meantime, I’m going to talk about the bottom quintile. The fifth quintile are those people who are the opposite of the 1%. We operate on a base ten system, and our minds naturally gravitate toward 5’s and 10’s. The population is often divided into fifths, based on income. The fifth quintile folks were born at the bottom of the barrel, or got dumped there after divorce, death in the family, or some other tragedy. This being the United States, land of opportunity, and supposed upward mobility, my questions are: do these people have a shot at climbing (or reclimbing) the ladder of success into at least the fourth quintile, and, does who is running the country make a difference to their chances?

DSCN0499Of course, we all know that there will always be a fifth quintile. If you divide the world into pieces based on income, someone by definition will always have to be in the lowest category, just as someone will always be in the top category. However, having a bottom quintile does not have to mean that those encased in its boundaries must abide in abject poverty. I want to know whether, and how, the policies and actions of the federal government affect people’s ability to move up—or their tendency to fall back down. Is Mr. Romney correct in prophesying that “a rising tide lifts all boats”? Or is Mr. Obama’s idea to build from the middle the cure for poverty? Or do neither of them have any affect at all on mobility, and there is some other force at work here?

It is extremely difficult to answer questions like these, because they are so complicated. eWhat we take for cause and effect may be only correlations. And there may be forces at work that we fail to take into consideration. Still, since so much of our federal budget is funneled toward alleviating a lack of sufficient income, it’s worth a discussion.

It seems to me to just be plain common sense that, if you give a person a sum of money on a regular basis, that is just enough to survive on, that that person will always be dependent on that sum of money. That person will never be able to accumulate sufficient resources to lift himself to the next rung of the ladder. But is money, or the lack thereof, the determining factor? What about education? Schooling is being touted as the be-all and end-all to eliminating poverty—does having some sort of degree ensure success?

At the same time that a college education is portrayed as the best way to move ahead, thousands of students who pinned their dreams to that assessment are graduating from college, only to discover that the pot of gold has been stolen from the rainbow. They have great debt and no job—a sure path over the cliff, landing them dead in the middle of the fifth quintile. So, are we about to have the most educated fifth quintile ever seen on this planet? And if so, how will that affect future prognostications about the best method to climb out of the pit? Wouldn’t it be ironic if, due to this recession, statistics tell us that the number one cause of poverty is a college education? That is why statistics are of such limited value when trying to assess a situation: they can be skewed in any direction, depending on what is measured, and how each variable is framed.

For example, when determining who is in the fifth quintile, the government researchers do not count non-monetary distributions in determining income. That is, food stamps and employer contributions to health care are not considered, although they can total thousands of dollars. So a person can be ranked at the far left of the scale, even though his “poverty” entitles him to benefits that a person earning more money than he is cannot receive.

Or is the problem that those in poverty tend to be single moms and their children? If so, are we merely perpetuating a cycle by providing for them? Should we instead be encouraging fewer children for those who can’t afford to care for them? Should we, as a culture, instill the value of waiting to marry and have children until we have reached a certain income level? Or are we then condemning our society to self-destruction by failing to replace our population as needed?

The questions are endless, and difficult to answer. The main point that we can take away from this is that it is in the government’s best interest to make the entire process murky. Politicians must justify their existence somehow, and if voters were to discover that the best solution is for the government to just get out of the way, they would be sunk. I don’t believe that that is entirely the case: there are truly needy people, widows and orphans who have no real means of subsistence. I just would like for politicians to allow the process to be clearer, to stop trying to manipulate our emotions, so that we can discover what really works, and actually help people.

In particular, it would be helpful to hear from the bottom quintile themselves, not as victims, but as purveyors of their own destinies. You’d think that a person who was living in poverty, or subsisting on distributions of one kind or another, would be the very person who would be in the best position to know whether those distributions were having their intended function, or whether there might be some other benefit that would be of much more value.

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CHA-CHING!

A few days before the primary, one of the candidates for the Supervisor of Elections in my rural county stopped by my home to ask for my vote. She was very personable and knowledgeable about the job she wanted, and we chatted for awhile.

During the course of the conversation, she told me that the position she was canvassing for pays $83,000 per year. This is in a county of approximately 41,000 people, where the median income for a family is $36,000, the poverty level is over 21%, and a local food bank fed more than 2,000 people in the county last month. According to the state’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, state law sets the base salary for Supervisor of Elections, in a county with a population of fewer than 49,000 people, at just over $17,000.

DSCN0490Recently, thenewscaster.com advised its readers that the Clerk of Courts, the Property Appraiser, the Tax Collector, the Superintendent of Schools, and the Sheriff of our rural county all earn slightly over $100,000 per year. The state-set base salaries of the first four are $21,250, and the Sheriff’s is $23,350. The governor of the entire state only earns about $130,000.

Working for the government used to be all about public service. Now it seems that it’s turned into “Public, serve us.”

We are fed two contradictory concepts. One is that we are simply not spending enough money on name-the-project-of-the-week. The second is that we must rid the government of waste, make it more efficient, and everything will be fine. The image that we are supposed to call to mind is some nameless bureaucrat, sitting in a backroom, making paper airplanes all day. Or the GSA videos, of people laughing out loud while going on spending sprees with taxpayer money.

The day-to-day salaries of elected officials are never discussed. And here’s another statistic that ought to boggle your mind. At the same time that people are clamoring for money to be spent on education, the average spent every year per student is currently over $10,500! How much more do we need to spend to teach our children to read and write?

While we are getting all exercised about who will be our President and Vice-President, we are not paying attention to what is going on in our own backyard. It’s true that the policies that federal officials carry out do impact our lives, but we need to be involved at the local level as well.

And, apparently, the state level. In this time of high unemployment and economic need, my state’s legislature has chosen to assist those who supplement their income by selling items at a flea market by introducing a new requirement that they register as dealers and collect sales tax and remit it to the state. They also must undergo a background investigation. If you decide that you don’t want to go through all that bother just to get rid of that old washing machine, but you simply want to have a yard sale instead, you must now get a permit for the impact your event will have on your neighbors. Not that the neighbors will ever see a penny of the fee.

Almost 22% of the population of my county work for the government. And looking at the available salaries, I can certainly understand why. The problem is that, according to one County Commissioner, “an estimated 55% of all residences in [the] county pay less than $200 for annual ad valorem taxes”.

Information is the first step to change. Everyone, everywhere, needs to learn the facts about where our tax money goes, before we can make any decisions about any changes that may need to be made. The problem is that finding out such information is difficult. Even most so-called reporters have given up on that task. It is so much easier to listen to the rants of the politicians, the super pacs, the media, and vote emotionally rather than logically. But that sort of action abdicates responsibility.

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THE ULTIMATE QUESTION

     What annoys me is the attitude of the big-government people that, if you disagree with their methods, then ipso facto you must totally disagree with their ideas: i.e., you hate people. I personally don’t “hate” anybody. I tolerate some people less than I tolerate others, based on their specific actions and behaviors. I certainly don’t hate the billions of people I have never met and never interacted with. Some of those billions annoy me, based on what I have seen or heard them say or do, but mostly, I have towards them the same sort of feeling most of them have towards me: indifference, disinterest in the minutiae of their lives until they do something which directly affects me, or makes compelling video on YouTube. Otherwise, I figure that other people are going about their lives pretty much as I am: some days good, some days not so good. If I have an opportunity to assist people I know, or people I don’t, and it doesn’t cost me too much of my resources to do so, then I will (just look how helpful I am being with this blog); otherwise, I am fairly well occupied with my own life and my own peeps.
     So I tend to resent members of government telling me, sometimes forcefully, that I owe other people, and I owe them exactly what the members of government tell me that I owe them. What especially galls me is when the government people have been telling me for years that the particular method of assistance they have fussed over, compromised on, tweaked in favor of one group or another, have hired hundreds of people to enact, enforce, administer, and oversee, is the ultimate, the only way of dealing with the issue of the moment. Especially when that method turns out, after years of existence, to leave us in the same, if not a worse, position, than when we started out down this path.
     Take, for example, the war on poverty. That war has been going on for more than a year or two, with what results? Since its inception, the war has progressed so well that now, almost half—half!—of Americans are deemed to be living in poverty, or near poverty!!!! For me, that raises more than a few questions.
     If half the people are living in poverty, or near poverty, how in the world can the other half have enough resources to lift them out of poverty? And even if they did have the resources, the present system of dealing with poverty can’t do it—how can dribbles of transfers of wealth, sufficient only to maintain a lifestyle, to subsist, possibly lift anyone anywhere? A life jacket only allows you to bob—it don’t lift squat. How can the situation possibly be worse now than it was at the beginning? And if it is, doing more of the same can’t possibly be the best possible solution.
     And let’s use some common sense. Look around you—does it look like almost half the people you know are living in poverty? When I think of poverty, I picture the starving, sickly hordes of sufferers, collecting their drinking water from miles away, or from the open sewers running past their hovels. Amazingly enough, most of those images come from other continents, not from down the road a piece. Access to television, cell phones, and rent-controlled apartments on my dime doesn’t fit my definition of poverty.
DSCN0507     All around the world we Americans are castigated for our out-of-proportion-to-our-population energy use. I don’t get so exercised about our use of energy, because our productivity is also way out of proportion. It is the poor-mouth, woe-is-everybody-but-me sanctimonious I-have-the-only-solution-because-I-am-the-only-one-who-cares posturing that gets my goat. I may or may not have the opinion that your problem of the week is the single most important item for my agenda, or that government holds the best method of funding it.  Plus, there are hundreds of government-philes who each have their own agendas, and thus their own top-of-the-list, to choose from. And if I don’t happen to believe that each of those agendas and each of those solutions is the only way to deal with the problem, I am branded as a racist people-hater. It can’t possibly be that I don’t agree with your concept of what to do, after all, it is the right thing to do!, so it must be the color of your skin or your method of speech that is eliciting my hesitation to endorse your wonderful idea. Lots of time and energy is spent demonizing people for not following the party line, whichever party may be doing the demonizing, instead of allowing citizens to actually accomplish what they want to accomplish, and support what causes they think are important, they way they feel is most effective.
     Introducing governmental control into the equation inevitably introduces waste, centralization and thus lag-time, regulations, impersonality, and inability to adapt to changing conditions and personal circumstances. Even those who are involved in enacting legislation claim that what they have accomplished is less than perfect, but assert that just a little tweaking will achieve the desired results. This despite years of tweaking, and not one instance of achievement of desired results, just compromise, which is then touted as an admirable goal in and of itself. The only certainties in all of this process is that people will be hired by the government, and that the program will never die.
     Somehow this country managed to get itself built without a whole lot of government interference, but somehow since then we have turned from external enterprise to naval-gazing: forget productivity, what we have to do is help those poor people who can’t help themselves. I can fully understand from whence came these ideas—equal opportunity for former slaves and for women are noble and necessary concepts. But we have swung the pendulum too far: nor longer is the object of governmental intercession to remove obstacles from our path—now, if the project isn’t actually funded by the government, that is seen as the same as being denied to those who want it. If someone else doesn’t pay for it for you, then you are forcibly being prohibited from accomplishing your goal. ‘Scuse me?
     It is true that there are people in this world, in this country, who are richer than some countries are. It is not our job to make sure that that wealth is equally spread around, much as that might inure to our benefit. Let those people decide for themselves how to spend their money—if they were smart enough to accumulate it, they must have some idea of what to do with it. If members of government are so smart, they need to come up with some reason for those people to fund their pet projects voluntarily. I assume that there is some reason those wealthy people, those one-percenters, don’t give the government more than they absolutely have to, and it’s not because they hate people.

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