Friday, August 2, 2013

Curing American poverty

The Associated Press recently conducted a study based on all manner of government statistics and national surveys and determined that Americans’ economic security is low compared to prior decades.  They based their determination on how many Americans have either lived below the poverty level, taken government assistance or been unemployed or a combination of the three.  Aside from the government assistance, I’ve been there.  Many of us have.

The point of the study was to try and figure out how to make Americans more economically secure but they sidestepped a major factor.  Many Americans are economically insecure for the very reason that they’re trapped on public assistance.

We hear the president and others complain about a shrinking middle class.  If the middle class is shrinking it’s because some are moving up, not down.  The poverty rate was arrested by LBJ’s Great Society.  After a decade of decline in the poverty rate prior to the big social programs the poverty rate has remained pretty much steady since the mid-‘60s.  It fluctuates a point or two depending on whether or not we’re in a recession but the percentage of people in poverty hovers between 12 and 15 percent.  From 1959 until the Great Society the poverty rate dropped from around 22 percent to 14 percent.  Since then we’ve sort of been locked in a holding pattern.

Before I make this next point I want you to suspend your emotions and think logically.  Poverty, by and large, is the product of bad choices.  Yes, I know there are some exceptions but the vast number of poor people are poor because of the choices they’ve made in life.  Whether or not you’re poor is based largely on whether or not you can find and hold a job.  The recession notwithstanding, many people can’t hold a job either because of their personal habits – i.e.: drugs and/or alcohol – because they don’t show up for work or because of their attitudes while they’re at work.

Plenty of people show up for a job interview ill-prepared, improperly dressed and lacking basic personal hygiene.  These are easy fixes but for reasons unknown some people don’t want to be told what to do.  But a major culprit of cyclical poverty is the very Great Society that was designed to lift people out of it.  You know the drill.  We have people now in third generation dependence because that’s the way they were raised.  Living free of government shackles is not even an option for too many Americans.  It should be.

Conservatives judge success of their policies by how many people are off welfare.  Liberals judge their success by how many people are on it.  Take the food stamp program, for example.  The number of people on food stamps has exploded during the Obama administration and they crow about it.  It’s a national disgrace.  Abuse is rampant and Obama made it even easier to get on the program.  He justified that by saying he needed to do it because of the recession but think about that for a moment.  If there’s a level at which one needs public assistance then hard times will bring more people to that level.  We don’t need to go out to the street to greet them.

We also need to come to terms with the fact that plenty of people are poor and happy.  Elitists love to look down their noses at poor people and assume they can’t be happy unless they surround themselves with the trappings of wealth.

I’m all about showing poor people a way out but first they have to want to go.

Phil Valentine is the host of the award-winning, nationally syndicated talk radio show, The Phil Valentine Show.

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