"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


who's poor?

My students at Private Conservative Christian U got into a big debate the other day over whether tax dollars should be used to help those in need. One student, a cancer survivor whose parents worked their way out of poverty through his childhood, is adamently opposed to the idea. Another student burst into tears as she told us about her dad, a landscaper who died of cancer because their family didn't have health insurance, so he couldn't get treatment.

I tried to keep the discussion moving and balanced as best I could, but the students were really passionate about it. One point I made near the end is that it's important not to stereotype the poor as lazy. A household with two parents working full time jobs at minimum wage can't survive in today's economy. It's virtually impossible to feed, clothe, insure, keep healthy, and properly educate two children on that kind of budget.

A study out today finds that many of our stereotypes about those who need some assistance from the government are just plain wrong. The study, commissioned by Families USA and performed by the U.S. Census Bureau, shows that 89.5% of uninsured Texas children have at least one working parent.

Texas has the highest rate of uninsured children in the country. We also have an awful lot of kids who go to bed hungry at night, or who wouldn't eat at all were it not for the free school lunch programs.

Our taxes are low. We have incredible oil and natural gas reserves.

These things are all connected. How people don't get that is beyond me. It's embarassing that my state doesn't care enough about its weakest and most vulnerable citizens. It's ridiculous that we let our stereotypes rule the debate, rather than looking at the reality that hardworking families cannot make it, no matter how hard they work.

I don't know what else to say about it.


Blogger Douglas said...

If you don't think the welfare state discourages people from overcoming their poverty, you might consider working for a tax preparation company and fielding the calls from folks asking at what point they can maximize their Earned Income Credit and stop working. It would probably be an eye-opening experience. There are many people in this country who are poor not by necessity, but by choice.

You are going to have a really tough time convincing most people who have escaped poverty that a comprehensive welfare state is the solution, because their experience most often is that the welfare state solutions do little to help people escape poverty and are often a hindrance. They would often much rather just have the government get the hell out of their way.

I know immigrants from Romania, Russia, Peru, India, Vietnam, Thailand, all over Mexico and several other countries. Some of them have married into my family, others are just friends. Some came legally, a few illegally. Many of them came here with nothing but the clothes on their backs and they overwhelmingly reject the welfare state as a solution to poverty.

My own dad was born in a tent. He got water from a pump outside and his shitter was an outhouse. He knows what it's like to live in a migrant camp for farmworkers, and made sure I knew what it was like to work the fields. Yet, he and his siblings who have worked hard have all done well and sent their kids to college.

The poor need to realize that the ticket out of poverty is not a government handout, but education and hard work. Those who learn that lesson more often than not escape poverty themselves, or at least help their children do so. Minimum wage jobs were never meant to support a family. If somebody wants to support a family, they need to better themselves by learning a trade or getting an education.


Monday, November 10, 2008 3:34:00 AM


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