Thursday, July 21, 2005

Poverty Revisited

Being poor is no disgrace. Being poor and able to work but not working and using the old clich├ęs about “the job offered doesn’t pay enough money or I have too much self esteem to take that job, or there are no jobs out there”, is a disgrace. A “Letter to the Editor” in the WSJ sums up my feeling. “People tell the same old story time after time, how difficult, how hard, how depressing, how underprivileged, how pressing and ugly life is in America. Balderdash!!”

The sorry lives of the “new generation”, actually not new at all, are most often caused by bad decisions, by people who lack drive, people whose parents didn’t raise them with drive, (how about at least three or four generations) people with no ambition or a sense of optimism and people who seem not able to learn it later in life.

There is probably no country on earth that offers people more chances to learn and earn. Why do so many legal and illegal Mexicans risk death to reach our country and take any job at about any wage offered them? Because it is better than the life they live in Mexico. An article in the WSJ today is titled “Once Here Illegally, the Laras (name of family) Savor Children’s Success. Mexican Family Tale Suggests Strides Made by Migrants; Hurdles for Today’s Kids.” They sometimes lived four in one room, everybody took some kind of a job and they saved until they became successful middle class Mexicans, none of who want to go back to their roots. They take jobs that some class of U.S. citizens feel are below their self-esteem and they work their way up thru the system. Many of their kids go to college and actually make use of the degree they receive. They don’t wallow in self pity

Because of our “open immigration policy”, a policy that could be remedied if some of our politicians got out of the way or show some guts, we allow many people to illegally enter our country and move freely about our country; people who should not be here and will eventually lead to much larger problems than they are already creating. But that is another subject. I’ll blog on immigration pros and cons soon.

A friend suggested a book “Nickled and Dimed” which I read but I do not recommend reading this book because the author has slanted the context in such a manner as the reader is inclined to believe we oppress people into poverty. The author is also anti-male, anti Wal-Mart, (she says people who work at Wal-Mart are so taken advantage of that they can’t afford shoes, they walk all day in flip-flops, (I spent an hour at Wal-Mart’s on University today and I didn’t see a worker in flip-flops; however, many of the customers were wearing flip-flops),I talked to managers and employees including one woman with 11 years experience, I asked people how they liked working at Wal-Mart and never got a negative answer and not one employee could tell me of an incident of harassment or mistreatment. I asked customers why they shopped there and the answer was always they were able to get more for there dollar.

The author talks about exploiting 12 year old in Honduras or some third world country. What other option does this child have? Poor or no schools? And what does an education get you if there are no opportunities to use it? No farm work because they can import foodstuffs from American subsidized farms cheaper than they can grow their own, so maybe some think prostitution, hanging out or slave labor would be a better option for these children. By the way, all eight of my brother and sisters were born on a farm and we all went to work at 9 or 10. It never killed any of us not a one of Donat or Lillie Widmer’s kids accepted welfare. Some of my sisters worked as maids in the homes of wealthy Peorians and one attended Peoria High and one Woodruff. Did we have too much self-esteem? No, our dad and mom had more common sense than most of the esteem teachers will ever have. Self-esteem was earned in our day; not bestowed.

Another letter says that “here in North Carolina, 47% of my home county’s high school students don’t graduate with their class. They are “toast” in the global economy. My kids went to the same public schools but we pushed them to pay attention in high school, and we pushed them thru college in four years. Both have been employed continuously at rising wages since graduation. Note the writer says “we” and goes on to say that many of their peers weren’t fortunate to come from intact families."

Why do people travel such hard roads? They are their own worst enemies. I see them sit in classrooms occupying desk space that is when the teacher could control them long enough to get them to sit for a few minutes. I could pick out in one day the ones that will not make it in today’s world and would bet if I could track them, I would be right 80% of the time. All this opportunity offered and all this mind set being drummed into them that it is not their fault; they are “victims” of the system. All I can say is balderdash.

I started my business with $5,000 of borrowed money as a farm boy from Congerville with hardly any connections in Peoria. I was 39 years old when I hung out my shingle with three employees. During my business career, I interviewed hundreds of people many of them absolutely unhireable. Some I recommended some to apply for a government job because they weren’t suited for the competitive world of private industry.

Of course I realize there are people with mental problems and disabilities that restrict their potential earning ability, but we are far larger welfare country than people care to believe. We have hundreds of safety nets including over 70 agencies in Peoria not including the dozen of churches and food and clothing pantries. I served on a “homelessness” committee for a couple years. Some on our committee though there were so many homeless with no place to go that we sought cooperation of all the fire stations and advertised these 24 hour open stations as a safe haven for the homeless to go to in event of emergencies. One person showed up in over a year and we scrapped the program.

I’m sorry but “Nickled and Dimed” was written by a wealthy divorcee turned “bleeding liberal” who tried to pose as a poorly educated poverty stricken person, I’ve traveled the world and never stayed in a second rate motel with conditions as bad as she described. Half of the book is fiction. She complained of the sorry plight of minorities like the Haitians and Puerto Ricans. If third world people don’t like it here, they are welcome to go back to where they came from. Same is true of all people who hate this country. As we used to say on the farm, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out. I suggest the writer is a wealthy liberal who always pictures the underdog as some victim of an evil conspiracy between the Republicans and big business.

Sorry, but I am a caring person and do contribute my services and some of my retirement dollars to worthwhile causes. But I’m getting pickier.

Today I learned from a Boys and Girls Club board member that Boys and Girls Club members are barred from using the RiverPlex because of misbehavior. Another blown opportunity by the so called “underprivileged” and another chance to blame this rejection on “someone” else. What a shame. But I’ve never understood why many of these kids are wearing $200 shoes while my $44 dollar Reeboks serve my feet quite well. But if you were never taught the value of a dollar, what should I expect.

I wrote many years ago that this country was on a slow slide to socialism. I voted for George Bush as the best choice out of two mediocre candidates. George seems to have not been able to stop or slow down this slide. Unfortunately, even though Laura was a school teacher, neither George of Laura has grasped the transformation encompassing our public school system. Neither the Democrats, dominated by self serving unions or the so called conservative Republicans have a good grip as to what is transpiring. As an American with free speech rights I have the right to respectively disagree and criticize any elected official. You have the right to criticize me. That doesn’t mean we do not respect this nation and its leadership.

The next presidential election is not that far away. Maybe we will be lucky and have a strong candidate from each part. Forget a third party: no way, Perot proved the closest to make a presidential run and no one close to him is even on the horizon. (Later events showed that Perot would not have made a good president). We will remain a two party system and the closer the Democrats and Republicans come to emulate each other the worse off the voter will be.

9 comments:

Angela Anderson said...

I very respectfully disagree. I think you missed the point of the book. Nickeled and Dimed is about the plights of the WORKING poor.

It is not about poor in general or those not willing to work.

If you are only making minimum wage, it is near impossible to save the funds necessary to pay first and last months rent, as well as a deposit on an apartment. Take a room at the Grandview Hotel (or I can send you the police stats for crime that occurs there) if you want proof of the crummy and very dangerous living conditions that some working poor are forced to live in.

Years ago, in my late teens and early twenties, I worked two jobs, slept on a foam mat on the floor, and ate cheap ramen noodles every meal. I couldn't even afford my phone bill let alone a car. I didn't take welfare (either) because by making minium wage I didn't qualify for it.

Eventually I landed a job as a secretary at a college which allowed me to take classes free of charge at night. Slowly and painfully I worked my way out of the poverty hole. If I had not been single and childless, I would have not been able to do it.

Not everyone will given such opportunities, not everyone has the same skills, not everyone will have the same good luck. Frankly, if I were not white, if English were not my first language, and had I not learned to type 95 words a minute at my privileged suburbia high school, I doubt things would have turned out as well.

The point of the book, I believe, is how the system today is booked against the working poor. It is questionable as to whether or not our current economy allows for the poor but motivated to "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps" as you did years ago.

Years ago Mom and Pop businesses felt a sense of obligation and fairness to their employees. Big box stores and huge corporations feel a sense of obligation to their shareholders.

These days few of the working poor can qualify for a $5,000 loan. Frankly, on a few occasions I have woken up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and thought, "What if my husband -a great guy- runs off with Brooke Shields or is kidnapped by aliens?" As a stay-at-home mom for the last decade, marketing myself would be difficult. (Something I painfully discovered during my last campaign.) I could likely again fall into the ranks of the working poor, this time with two little kids in tow.

I agree with you that the author is imperfect, a liberal and a divorcee. I also found some of her actions, viewpoints, and conclusions distasteful and disturbing. As a conservative and married person, however, my experience was similar.

In my opinion, Nickeled and Dimed is an important (not to mention easy)read and provided some good insights.

I guess great minds often disagree though! ;) Your blog is wonderful and I always learn something new from it.

Merle Widmer said...

Hi Angela,

Good comments and the book is probably worth reading but the story she tells from a position of wealth to try to act like you and I when we were poor, comes off as too cynical. The $5.000.00 I borrowed to start my company came from cash values of my insurance policies, some taken out as early as my being 11 years old. Without the foresight of my dad starting me off with a thousand dollar policy and me scraping together payments on more policies over the years, the ultra-conservative banks in Peoria at that time, wouldn't have lent me a dime.

Economics is based on supply and demand unless we become a totally socialistic country. So many low skill jobs go overseas because third world people are willing to work for less and they evidently are dependable, honest and know they must take any kind of a job to survive. Many of my ancestors came to this land with no money and suffered many hardships but all saved enough money to eventually retire. That old fashioned work ethic is often lacking in many new generations of U.S. citizens.

Companies compete, domestically and internationally and people usually buy where comparable merchandise is available. We can't blame the buyer for buying the same product at a lower price. Yet their are still quite a few smaller stores that have found a way to survive against the giants and I believe that trend is stabilized. These smaller stores usually offer no benefits except a 401, group insurance and paid and unpaid vacations.

When I sold my company in 1992, we were still in the office supply business. Lower priced chains came along and the new owner could not compete so he expanded the interior design part of the business, sold off the other divisions and 13 years later is doing well. He adapted. People who had opportunity to learn skills while younger, have a difficult time adjusting to fill jobs that demand more skills but pay more and offer advancement and benefits. Manual labor jobs are not as numerous, but they are out there. Last year, I hired a poor man working from and old truck to mow my lawn. He did the job twice and I paid him cash each time. Then I never heard from him again.

I will always contend that a person who will work, come on the job every day, can be trusted, has any people skills at all, will eventually rise far above minimum wage.

I never made any real money before I was 31. When I left teaching and entered sales, the sky was the limit. I asked to be taken off salary and draw in my ninth month and went on straight commission Only problem was getting delivery on what I sold; this problem eventually led me to open my own business where I could sell anything people would buy and I could deliver. (I once sold mops, pails,brooms, silverware, sheets and blankets when a big flood hit the Illinois River and a governemntal agency came to town looking for someone to provide the materials a flood out victim would need, put them in packages and store them until individually needed.)

Cracking the good old boys and girls clubs in Peoria would have been easier if I had been born here. (I guess I eventally did because I was accepted into the Peoria Country Club but didn't stay too long as I had different beliefs and different friends.

Had I been born with lousy parents, a diffeent color skin and a bad attitude, of course I wouldn't have made it without pulling myself up with my own abilities. But I will always believe I would have made it in different ways under different circumstances.

Life is not easy and certainly not all succeed. (for five summers, I worked with a show horse stable traveling to County Fairs, sleeping on cots,on the ground, on a harness trunk, and walking and coolng off horses some nights till 2 A.M. This country offers more opportunity than any country I know of. I personnly feel privledged to have done as many thing as I have done often under some hardship.

I have never known a single individual who moved from the U.S. because another country offered more opportunity unless they went abroad to start their own business or were transferred by companies like Cat.or followed someone.

Another often overlooked possibility of escaping poverty is to join the armed services. It was the GI bill that helped put me thru college yet most of my armed forces friends did not take advantage of that opportunity when discharged. Again, it often comes down to each of us and the attitude and decisions we make every day.

To sum up; I was one of the working poor and could have made decisions that would have left me in that condition for the rest of my life. I didn't.

I'll keep blogging the way I interpet things I see them and read and bring my personal experiences into the equation and hope that friends like you keep reading me.

(I never felt threatened by any neighborhood; I was on the board of Harrison Youth Center and was largely responsible for them meging with the Boys and Girls Club where I was also on the board at one time. I have spent many hours late in the day on many poverty areas on the Southside and have many friends who live there. I once walked downtown Los Angeles by myself late at night which I found out later wasn't too smart.)

Anonymous said...

I know a local family of illegal immigrants. They are all from Mexico City. My neighbors are the daughter and son in law who are in their late 20's and are extremely hard working. They have been in the country for more than a decade. They do nothing but work, send money to his father and family still in Mexico, and pay for their child who was born in the US, to go to private school.

But her parents, who came over at the same time as the daughter and son-in-law, are lazy, lying, SOB's, that are trying to scam off the system. And her brother and sister are running around with illegitimate children. The two kids have bought a home, the parents are still renting and have been evicted for non-payment this last year. I think they are hoping to get citizenship so that they can get on disability. They probably already get SSI and other welfare for the illegitimate grandchildren.

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