Experiments in poverty

Experiments in poverty

Here is an experiment you can try. Find the shabbiest clothes you own, put them on, then go to a local hospital’s employment office. Once there, apply for a position as a brain surgeon.

We are not being facetious, but we are making a point. Getting a job these days requires looking good, and having skills beyond the rudimentary.

Yet it somehow has become accepted wisdom that anyone without a job is lazy, shiftless, and undeserving of support. It is true of some, but not of all; not even of most.

We support calls for the savaging of social welfare programs. We reject school budgets with callous unconcern. We view food stamps as giveaway programs, health care reform as pocket-picking, and “the social safety net” as a deceptively retooled title for The Communist Manifesto.

An op-ed on the next page issues a challenge: For one week, it asks, try living on $4.50 a day for your meals. That, after all, is what our society asks of the poor. That is what it asks of the unemployed. The shabbiest clothes for us are the best clothes for them and it may be their only clothes, besides. Yet society expects them to walk into employment offices and walk away with jobs – or fend for themselves because they somehow deliberately sabotaged their interviews.

As for the jobs for which they apply, these may as well involve brain surgery, because the public education these people received at our hands left them totally unprepared for jobs in this age of ever-changing technology.

Have you encountered a young person behind a checkout counter who has trouble making change? Skin color has nothing to do with it, although incredibly there still are some who would make that claim. The poorly educated come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. These are the people we educated – or, more accurately, failed to educate – yet we blame them for being unprepared for this brave new world in which we live.

For sure, there are welfare cheats out there and they do not deserve any of our pity – and none of our support. The financial sector has its cheats, as well, but too many of us are willing to reward them by fighting such revenue-raising vehicles as a “millionaire’s tax.”

Is it because Wall St. cheats dress better than welfare cheats?

The best way to end welfare in this country is to empower the people who are on welfare to raise themselves up. The best way to end joblessness in this country is to adequately educate our children and properly retrain our redundant workforce. The best way to improve the health care system in America is to improve the health of the citizens of America.

If you cannot live on $1.50 per meal per day, perhaps it is time to stop expecting others to do so.