What should we do about the nation’s poor?

Bonnie Willis's picture

The political season heating up, and I have family and friends who have strong political convictions on both sides of the aisle.

Since they generally work hard, provide for their families, and attempt to live honest and godly lives, I have been thinking why are they on opposite sides of the political aisle.

This question has triggered some interesting conversations that seem to highlight a fundamental difference between the two opposing viewpoints and one I’d like to explore in this article: What should we do with the poor?

This question becomes all the more acute when you know friends who represent millions of Americans who have lost their jobs, gone through bankruptcy or foreclosures, or have had overwhelming medical bills that have either threatened or torn apart their families.

On one side of the aisle, I have friends who are moved with compassion wondering how is it that in a nation as rich as ours, families have to suffer like this. How is it that these hard-working individuals struggle day by day when others who seem far less “worthy” seem to live lives without a financial care in the world?

It all seems so unfair. Outrage fills their hearts, leading them to think, “Doesn’t our government have a responsibility to do something for these citizens?” I imagine it is thought-processes like these that led have led to the rise of many government aid programs like Medicaid, Medicare, Welfare, Food Stamps, etc. These programs were originally designed to help individuals and families have some basic necessities as they went through difficult times.

When I listen to my friends on the other side of the aisle, I hear similar concerns for the poor. However, their focus seems to be on the long-term effects government aid programs have on these families. Rather than being a temporary hand-up out of their financially challenging situation, these programs, all too often, seem to nurture an unproductive mindset and lifelong dependence on government aid. And tragically this mindset is often passed from generation to generation.

In answering the question of what to do with the poor, these friends seem to emphasize argue that extended family, friends, churches and local non-profits see the needs first-hand and can more effectively address the true needs of these families rather than a distant federal government.

Honestly, I can understand the appeal of both sides, and I recognize that both groups of friends desire to help the poor despite the many mischaracterizations of each side.

One side accuses the other of not caring about the poor because they tend to minimize the role of government over other avenues of support, and the thought becomes, “if the government isn’t here to help all people, especially those in need, then why do we have one.”

They also assert that it is unrealistic to think that those who are going through financially difficult times have a support system to help them, and even if they did, they would not turn to them because of the embarrassment they feel about their situations.

The other side makes the accusation that this group doesn’t care to place any check or limits on spending in these government aid programs. These programs, all too often, are not temporary supports, and seem to expand our definition of “basic needs” and “poor.” This group further asserts that as we spend this money on government aid we are only increasing the debt we are passing onto our children which has our citizens at over $16 trillion past broke.

Essentially, I too question the wisdom of having a federal government being ultimately responsible for providing the basic needs of the poor in our country.

However, my objection is not focused on how financially unsustainable it is. Rather, my objection comes from the danger I see in how it redefines the relationship between the government and her citizens.

Once a person, a family, a group of citizens becomes perpetually dependent on the provision of government, something eats away at their inner-man and their identity becomes altered. Their sense of dignity and self-sufficiency falters and aspirations for something better erodes.

When people depend on the government for their financial livelihood, those people are no longer truly free. And we ought never to sacrifice our freedom to make life choices to succeed or fail for the sake of being provided for.

The dangers of government dependency is so rooted in me because I grew watching my mother, as a single mom, resist going on public assistance to help her raise her three children. And sometimes we had to go without electricity, running water, and only had bread and jelly to eat.

And I do remember the day when we eventually did go on food stamps for nearly two years. And I watched my mother work even harder to get off of them. I did not understand why she was so determined to get off food stamps, but I do now.

To this day, I marvel at how my mother resisted accepting government assistance for so many years and when she did go on public assistance how she was able to exercise the restraint of not staying on it.

I am so grateful to her for her example because from her I learned two things. First, you never know the character and power that lies in a person based on whether they have a lot or a little. And second, it is far better to go without and retain one’s sense of identity and self-determination than to feel incapable and dependent.

So, “what should we do with the poor?” For me, the question isn’t theoretical, but it is real for people like my mother, my childhood friends, my own family who has had to struggle from time to time, and for some of my friends who continue to struggle to this day.

The answer I propose is three-fold.

Number one: Let the poor know over and over again that where they financially are does not determine who they are nor is it their position in life. Through hard work, they are still able to be successful and do great things no matter who they are or where they come.

Number two: I would encourage families, friends, and local agencies to come alongside these families without projecting pity, but to help in a way that allows them to maintain their dignity and self-respect.

Number three: I would encourage the federal government to resist the temptation of being the first point of contact and perpetual provider of all the needs of the poor.

The government should set policies that allow people the freedom of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness even if they are poor.

And with this freedom, we may experience challenges and struggles and things may not always seem fair, but how we handle that struggle helps define who we are as individuals and as a nation.

[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]

AtHomeGym
AtHomeGym's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/18/2007
KCCAndy, PTCO & voting

If anything, I think I'd be more inclined to authorize every VOLUNTEER two votes instead of one!

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Offline
Joined: 04/23/2007
AHG & KCA - I understand

I understand your position, believe me I understand it more than most. As I said, I did not come by my position lightly. It is based on a logical extension of the role of government.

Perhaps if we leave this military vote as a side bar discussion, what is your position in limiting the vote based on who you choose to work for?

kcchiefandy
kcchiefandy's picture
Offline
Joined: 09/18/2009
PTCO, I don't believe who you work for...

...can ever be a deciding factor in if you get the vote, or, who you vote for. There are many, many paths that can be taken to limit suffrage, but then we'd be talking Constitutional change and that'd be a MAJOR hurdle that I doubt would see the light of day. Of course with the unleashing of corporate political donations, one could say YOU have the opportunity to work for the left-or-right leaning company of your choice!

I do find it funny how the rabid fear fomented by the Left on how corporations can now just 'buy' elections is showing as laughable, since the current race is about a 50-50 shot!

AtHomeGym
AtHomeGym's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/18/2007
PTCO & Voting

I retract my "2 votes for volunteers" proposal--it was actually made in half-jest anyway. But what you seem to propose is that we have several "classes" of citizenry, all based on individual decisions & actions, not on birthright---am I right? No, don't think I like that at all.

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Offline
Joined: 04/23/2007
AHG - What

I am saying is this:

A. The government works for the people.
B. The government controls the purse and taxing.
C. People that work for the government will always vote to increase their pay or benefits through their surrogates.
D. There is an inherent conflict of interest combining B & C

Therefore, if you want to control out of control spending over the long run you must limit the vote to citizens that don't derive their income from the government.

AtHomeGym
AtHomeGym's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/18/2007
PTCO & Voting

How in the world can you prove your para C? My 42 yr experience with Govt employment and direct interaction with other employees does not substantiate this belief of yours at all. In fact I don't EVER recall any discussion about voting for some candidate because of their perceived policy of increasing benefits--just didn't happen! If you had some other experience, then all I can say is that you got it from a sorry-ass part of the work force!

The Wedge
The Wedge's picture
Offline
Joined: 04/09/2008
AHG, I disagree

I certainly cannot substantiate an individual charge like you have laid out that it is about completely individual benefits. But we already have had credible news reports this year that FAA leaders were counseling their people to vote for Obama and the Democrats to ensure that their department wouldn't get cut. The US government civil service, especially those that are in the AFSCME union vote staunchly Democratic. Have you seen any civil service union employees support a candidate that advocates cutting their staff and numbers?

Davids mom
Davids mom's picture
Offline
Joined: 10/30/2005
Wedge - cut government programs?

Are you sure that this is what a Republican president will do?

meanoldconservatives
meanoldconservatives's picture
Offline
Joined: 09/09/2008
Heard a similar thing....

I have a good friend whose wife works for the EPA. He told me two months ago "If Romney wins, he is planning to do away with the EPA". Wonder where that came from????

AtHomeGym
AtHomeGym's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/18/2007
MOC & EPA

How about Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Al Gore!!!

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Offline
Joined: 04/23/2007
Wedge - Perception

The fact is the founders knew that this was a big issue, that's why it took 203 years for the 27th Amendment to be ratified.

To AHG's point I don't think you can point to many individual examples where people overtly state that they will vote themselves a raise, but to suggest that there is not collective interest, is a bit naive.

AtHomeGym
AtHomeGym's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/18/2007
PTCO & "collective interest"

Is that anything like "self-preservation"? Which does not automatically translate into 'activism'!

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Offline
Joined: 04/23/2007
Oops AHG - Activism

again I am afraid,

Sep 18 2008, 12:17 PM

The National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), a union representing 100,000 federal government workers nationwide, has endorsed Senator Barack Obama for President.

It is true however, that out of the approximately 2.5 million, yes million, Federal workers only 800,000 (33%) are union members. However, if you decided for some reason to downsize the government, my guess that number would go up considerably.

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Offline
Joined: 04/23/2007
AHG - Yes and

it is also called dependency on others for a living. It comes without much risk, military excepted of course, that is why many want to work for the government. It's safe, stable, good benefits, excellent pay, nice retirement and all on the backs of someone else. What could be better?

But of above all else, it is all self perpetuating AHG.

Government was not intended to be the source of employment for the masses, it had very specific enumerated powers.

A listing of Federal employee "activism"

http://www.afgecouncil238.org/history/federal-unions

AtHomeGym
AtHomeGym's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/18/2007
Wedge & disagreement

Read my updated cmt where I included Unions and see what you think. I wasn't allowed to join a Union==not that I ws interested anyway. And I can easily believe your cmt about the FAA--if the right guy gets elected and they continue that path, history may repeat itself!

Davids mom
Davids mom's picture
Offline
Joined: 10/30/2005
PTCO???

You're not just dull - but dangerous. Offer your life in service of your country - but give up your right to vote?

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Offline
Joined: 04/23/2007
Yes DM, because

I love my country and I want to save it from people with your philosophy.

Davids mom
Davids mom's picture
Offline
Joined: 10/30/2005
Well PTCO

As you say - we are in the majority so go live somewhere else, if you can find a place that will accept your philosophy of classism, elitism, etc. You profess to 'know' the history of your country - but wish to turn it into the European governance that our forefathers ran from. Please everyone, encourage EVERYONE to vote. It is our 'leverage' as American citizens. It doesn't matter who 'wins' - but the powers (monied class) that be need to know that the final decision is in the hands of the American people - not corporate America's pocketbook! Keep talking PTCO. I hope your philosophy sends all citizens to the voting booth!

Give your life - but give up your right to vote. Geez.

MajorMike
MajorMike's picture
Offline
Joined: 10/20/2005
DM

If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.
Samuel Adams, speech at the Philadelphia State House, August 1, 1776.

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Offline
Joined: 04/23/2007
DM - Well

I think I will stand and fight, thanks for your tolerant suggestion.

Look DM, I know my ideas are a threat to the world as you know it, that's because you are a socialist, my ideas center on the reduction of government power, your ideas are based on government as a solution to our ills.

You have nothing to worry about DM, I will not be silenced by you or others like you, I promise.

Veritas numquam perit - Seneca; ca. 4 BC – AD 65

Davids mom
Davids mom's picture
Offline
Joined: 10/30/2005
PTCO

Oh no - please don't stop posting. . .there has been more agreement against your policy of limiting the vote in this country than on any other topic. The extreme - either left or right - is anti-American. Regardless of opposing policies - I believe that everyone who is participating wants a stronger, healthier, United States. The discussion is a demonstration of our most valued 'right' - freedom of speech. Speak on PTCO!

Citizen_Steve
Citizen_Steve's picture
Offline
Joined: 11/20/2005
Nothing will get done for the poor

As illustrated here, the most likely thing to happen for the poor is that folks that could otherwise help them will take up contrary positions based upon perceived ideologies they've adopted for their false sense of identity and purpose; after which they'll continue to bicker and argue about how they're right and the other side is wrong, and expend all of their energies toward the purpose of prevailing over the other side. Nothing will get done for the poor.

Steve

Davids mom
Davids mom's picture
Offline
Joined: 10/30/2005
NOTHING Citizen Steve?

I hope after this election - concentration will be on the 'nation building' activities that we need to implement, Some of those activities will provide jobs - and help the poor. Adherence to the welfare to work reform MAY help the poor, Improved education policies MAY help the poor. You are right - if our legislators continue to fight over who is right and who is wrong - there will be no progress for ANYONE. I have lived long enough to see the projected failure of our country not occur. The 50's were great for some - and a challenge for others. The challenges of the 21st century are before us now - no time to look back, except to learn from mistakes and move on. Keep your eyes open Citizen Steve - and don't become a part of the gloom and doom crowd.

renault314
renault314's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/03/2007
PTCO- i dont think they are the same at all

I know you are just posing a hypothetical here, but employes, even government ones, recieve pay for their work. It is not a benefit provided by others for doing no work. I personally cant stand unions. I think they are destructive and operate contrary to the economic interests of the country. I dont think federal workers should be allowed to form unions, including and especially teachers. What happend in Chicago last week was a disgrace. What would happen if the U.S. Army went on strike? Who wants to live in a country like that? But military pay is not an entitlement. Its is pay for service rendered. That money was earned. Likewise I do not think that government employees should earn more than civilian sector workers in similar positions, which I understand is happening a lot right now. The Gov't should not be a jobs/works program. Still, I just dont see the guy in a bullet factory pressing his button all day as quite the drain on gov't that a welfare recipient is. Yes they can vote, but contracts are awarded by committee, not voted on by congress. Plus, anybody promising to award contracts for votes would be jailed. Unfortunatly, however, promising to vote for more public entitlements after getting elected is still leagal. I just think that if the entitlement recipients werent allowed to vote, people would stop campaigning on that issue.

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Offline
Joined: 04/23/2007
Renault

OK, but public unions are legal, so.........?

The fact is that there are a whole lot of people that gain their livelihood through government spending. As you say those people get paid, so why wouldn't they always vote for the promise of more money. You know, just like that mom on welfare?

Well I would say they would always vote for people like that and you know what? They would re-elect them over and over again if they delivered. Hmmm come to think of it that's exactly how it works Renault, isn't it?

Could it be that's why we have out of control spending even as the total number of government employees decline? Doesn't that suggest that fewer people are getting more? Or could it mean that those jobs are being outsourced to "friends" who run companies contracted through politicians. No, I suppose that is just not happening. :-)

Think about it

renault314
renault314's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/03/2007
PTCO- dude, i can only fix one problem at a time.

I agree with you that people are always going to vote for those who give them more. I only put those suggestions out there as a way to reform entitlements. Not to fix government spending at large. You seem to be trying really hard to convince me that the FBI, military, park rangers and IRS agents are no different than people getting welfare of food stamps. I disagree, and im surprised that you dont see a difference. But after thinking about it for a while, I think I may have stumbled upon the piece your missing that will help you see more clearly. The answer is, like to so many other things, free-market competition. If you are in the military, yes, you have the right to vote for someone that promisies to increase your pay. But in order to keep your pay, you have to be good at your job. You have to be able to keep that job. The more they job pays, the more highly qualifoed applicants are going to apply for the limited number of positions. If youre terrible, you get kicked out ( I saw it happen plenty of times in my 9 yrs in the military) and someone better comes along who earns, deserves and is worth the higher pay. Entitlement programs dont work like that. You dont have to compete. You dont have to earn. You dont have to be good at anything or do anything more than exist to collect the money. In fact, it was their very lack of skill , decision making skills and competitivness that likely lead to them being on the dole in the first place, yet they are rewarded for it. There is clearly a difference between the two situations, I hope you can see it.

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Offline
Joined: 04/23/2007
Renault - Well no,

I don't see it, but that's OK.

As to law enforcement and the military I suppose there are justifications for letting them vote. However, money does corrupt government, as long as government is a pay master the system will always be subject to corruption. I believe you simply must disconnect the franchise from those that benefit from receiving government money. It won't eliminate corruption but it certainly will limit the potential of it happening.

This idea is not new, limiting the franchise to those that pay for government is better known as a Republic.

renault314
renault314's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/03/2007
PTCO - look at it this way

Giving gov't employees the right to vote means their is the possibility that they would always vote for the person who wants to give them more benefits. But, in the ideal condition of a balanced budget, the increases to their benefits could only come as a result of increased taxes, WHICH THEY THEMSELVES PAY. People on public assistance (welfare) do not pay those same taxes, even income tax, on their entitlements. People who have jobs are a lot less likely to vote themselves increases when they will have to pay nore in taxes to make it happen. People on welfare have no such constraint. Also, i feel like giving the military the right to vote makes it less liekly for a coup than more likely, since they will already feel represented and that their voices are heard. Not giving them the right to vote makes them feel like they have no voice, no say in what happens and more likely to follow some crackpot general who wants to take over. Those other countries you speak of where they dont get to vote are the ones that have coups. Not here. besides, weve had lots of former military become president, with no hint of that kind of trouble, becasue they respect the system.

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Offline
Joined: 04/23/2007
Renault - Well

If I had to pay some tax that goes back into the pot that pays me, if I was a government worker it would be a small price to pay. The money I pay however goes into the pocket of the government worker, and they can vote to take even more of it. I am certain that they do at every opportunity.

Do you see this point?

As to coups d'état they are unlikely because the military has always been separated from our political dialogue, if you wear a uniform you had better not be found camaigning in it, it can get you in big trouble. No Renault, for me there is a lot of emotion surrounding this issue personally, but in the best interest of the country, the best way is to treat our uniformed services just like anyone else that voluntarily chooses to work for the government.

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Offline
Joined: 04/23/2007
Dup

Dup

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Offline
Joined: 04/23/2007
Dup

Dup

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Offline
Joined: 04/23/2007
Dup

Dup

AtHomeGym
AtHomeGym's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/18/2007
Renault, Fed employees & Unions

I was a Fed employee for 21 yrs and people in my career field (GS-0132) were not allowed to join a union--never bothered me!

renault314
renault314's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/03/2007
AHG - never bothered me either

As a military guy for 9 yrs and as a teacher now for the last 6 I was never in a union and never felt the need. Those teachers in chicago last week average $75k/yr and still walked out in this economy. Disgusting.

AtHomeGym
AtHomeGym's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/18/2007
Renault & military svc

You just become disenchanted after 9 yrs or what? I also did 21 yrs active duty before the 21 as a Civil Servant.

renault314
renault314's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/03/2007
AHG no, no disenchantment

I just did 3 yrs in the army resrves during college and 6 yrs active duty in the AF after. i never wanted to make it a career. I did my bit for king and country and was proud to do so, but that was plenty.

AtHomeGym
AtHomeGym's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/18/2007
Renault & Service

Understand--surely it's not a career for all. Thanks for serving.

AtHomeGym
AtHomeGym's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/18/2007
Renault & Service

Understand--surely it's not a career for all. Thanks for serving.

Davids mom
Davids mom's picture
Offline
Joined: 10/30/2005
Ms. Willis

Outstanding!! Thank you for sharing a unique talent for seeing two sides of an issue - and guiding both 'sides' to a workable solution!! Hopefully, our legislators will be able to use their talents to guide our country towards workable solutions. You bring an interesting background to community service. Are you interested in serving in a leadership capacity? You'd have this 'liberal' support!! You are what we call a compassionate, intelligent conservative!! (A human being with children and common sense!)

NUK_1
NUK_1's picture
Offline
Joined: 12/17/2007
Great column, Ms. Willis

Very well stated!

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Offline
Joined: 04/23/2007
Ms. Willis - WOW

What great thoughts and principles that are expressed in this column. By living the life based on the wisdom of your mother, you have nailed the fundamental principles of what we are as a country.

Sadly, we will always have poor people and they will always need our help. I would only re-title your column to "How should we help the poor?". My answer is as yours, as individuals, everyday and anyway we freely can.

You are really a sunbeam Ms. Willis.

Citizen_Steve
Citizen_Steve's picture
Offline
Joined: 11/20/2005
Ms. Willis

I agree, this is the best essay I've read in The Citizen in I don't know how long. It has me thinking of how we could better ensure opportunities for the poor. Providing subsistence alone unfortunately results in many poor families simply subsisting and remaining poor.

Steve

kcchiefandy
kcchiefandy's picture
Offline
Joined: 09/18/2009
Agreed, Ms. Willis...

...as I don't know much but I do know the GOV'T won't make them 'un-poor'! They may offer a helping hand, but it takes personal initiative to use that hand to pull yourself up!

Recent Comments