Despite the fancy words that the powers to be use to tell us that economically things are getting better in the US, most of recognize a con job when we hear it. The truth is there simply are not enough full time jobs for all the folk looking for them and that is not even taking into consideration all the new entrants into the work force. I suspect we don’t really have a good idea how many folks are jobless or underemployed. I do think it’s safe to say that the go-go days of the early 2000’s are but a distant memory and something we will tell our grandkids about when we talk about how the US went down the tubes.
I do know though that when times get tough rather than working together for the collective good, human nature often makes us hold tight to what we do have and in some cases get quite judgmental of those who are without.
Here in Maine, we are just a few weeks away from electing a new governor and let me tell you its crazy time. We have a slate of 5 candidates running and the 2 major party candidates in my humble opinion leave a lot to be desired. One of the independents is starting to look promising to me but I fear that he will split the vote with the Democratic candidate and we are going to get stuck with the crazy Republican Paul LePage. LePage is crazy, thus far he has shown that anger management is something he lacks and that he often he forgets where he lives since he and his wife filed homestead exceptions in both Maine and Florida. LePage happens to be the general manager of a chain of salvage shops in Maine that while they employ a lot of folks they keep the wages low and don’t offer a hell of a lot in terms of benefits. Yet Mr. LePage talks a good game of how if he is elected he will be getting the welfare cheats off of welfare, in fact it appears that LePage is one of those lucky bootstrap fellas that worked his way up and gosh darn it if he can do it so can the rest of the other poor bastards.
Such talk about ridding welfare of the cheats and making everyone work sounds good and it’s appealing so much so that LePage seems to be emerging as a front-runner in the race. This week the state’s largest paper is talking about the welfare system in Maine and it’s definitely worth a read even if you aren’t a Mainer. I have been working with low income folks going on 15 years now and if I had a buck for every time someone tells me about some person they know on welfare that is cheating the system I probably could take that dream vacation to Paris that I have been dreaming of lately. In all my years of work I can count on one hand the number of folks I thought may have been cheating the system.
Perhaps it goes back to the days of Ray Gun Ronnie when he whipped up a frenzy about the mythical Black woman on welfare driving a Caddy in the 1980’s but for a segment of Americans they truly believe their fellow Americans who receive assistance are just milking the system. Never mind that Bill Clinton killed welfare as we knew it and created in it’s place a safety net program that started off with holes and now has gaping rips. Of course in the 1990’s we were optimistic that the good times would always roll…never thinking about the fact that continuous growth is just not possible and it damn sure is not possible when we ship all the good paying jobs to 3rd world countries so we can maximize the profits for the company owners and board of directors. Oh in the 2000’s we were still playing that game of illusion that all was good but that was before the credit bubble went pop.
Yet it makes folks feel better to shit on the poor and assume they are poor because they are lazy and shiftless…never mind the fact that if you had to live off say $600 a month even with food stamps and reduced rent via a Section 8 apartment how well would you live? No, we want our poor to work hard for their pennies! Go slave away at an $8 an hour job, a job that pays so little that in most cases the worker still qualifies for some type of benefits.
Now the poor are not even being allowed agency to determine their drink choices if New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has his way. Bloomberg is trying to get permission from the feds to ban food stamp recipients from purchasing soda…look no one is saying soda is a great thing, it has no nutritional value and some might consider it a waste of money. I will be honest and say I enjoy an occasional soda. Why? Life is short and I like to do things that bring me pleasure. I suspect most of us have things we enjoy drinking or eating that offer no nutritional value yet we still partake, otherwise how else can you explain the rise of Starbucks? Very few things that Starbucks offers are truly healthy. Shit, you can go and get a drink with a calorie equivalent to a meal yet as Starbucks is frequented by folks who are middle class and above there is no rallying cry to help those folks. I bet Bloomberg most likely enjoys the occasional latte yet as lattes are the purview of people we figure are financially better off even if it’s simply because they have better access to credit, no one slams those choices.
Nope, we like to make the matter of poor folks a morality issue. If people are poor it’s easier to assess individual blame and assume these folks need guidance or to be told what to do rather than looking at the larger systems that create poor people. That is why a guy who runs a chain of stores that most certainly do not assist folks in rising up from poverty can convince folks he is the guy best suited to cut the fat in state spending. It’s why folks can get behind soda bans all the while sipping on a mocha which isn’t much better and say we care about nutrition.
Perhaps we would all be better off if we acknowledged that unless you are a member of the wealth holding community that our fates and lives are far more intertwined than we would care to admit. Real change happens when we band together and create policies that benefit us all, after all I wonder how many of todays newly poor are realizing that we have insufficient safety nets and that once you tumble into poverty what you need is a hand up and compassion not legislation.