Monday, May 19, 2008

How Do We Help The Poor in America?

Poverty is a tough issue.  Unfortunately, it's an issue that has been oversimplified.  Granted, it's really easy to oversimplify.  The conservatives tend to think that the poor should get jobs and work for a living like everybody else.  The liberals think it's unconscionable that a person starve and/or live on the street simply because they don't have the means to take care of themselves.  Therefore, it's the government's responsibility to feed and house them (or at least provide them with the resources to feed and house themselves).

So who's right?  I admit that I side more with the conservative view.  People need work, not handouts.  However, I recently learned that the issue is more complicated than that.  

My original idea was to eliminate welfare and have that money go toward employment.  So, if somebody qualifies for welfare, instead of giving them money, you give them a job.  Doesn't matter what the job is - they can clean up the streets, paint over grafitti, run day-care for other people with "welfare jobs", etc.  The point being that people worked for their money.  Free hand-outs only encourage sloth and dependence in the long term and doesn't help people to help themselves.

I figured that my plan would be the best of both worlds.  It makes conservatives happy by putting people to work and it makes liberals happy by giving help to those in need.  So, in my plan, if you starve to death it's because you're not willing to work, not because you can't find work.  Best of all, it encourages the poor to get better jobs (welfare work would only pay minimum wage or something like that) so that they can earn more money for the same amount of work and get off of government support.  So it helps people and the economy.

So what's wrong with my idea?  It operates off of the assumption that those who have grown up in poverty are simply middle class Americans with less money.  Well that's simply not true.  My wife recently went to a conference where one of the speakers had actually started out poor and was able to work her way up to financial security.  From that speaker my wife and, by association, I learned that poverty is as much a mental as it is financial.  The poor see the world differently than those who have enough and it's this mindset that has to be changed before the poor can really improve themselves.

So how do we do it?  I don't know for sure but my best guess at this point would be to add education/counseling to the work program.  Maybe for an hour a day (part of the work day so they get paid for it) we teach the people.  Teach them how to manage money, teach them how to live in middle class society, teach them what their potential is and help them develop a drive to reach that potential.

Although we may never be able to truly eliminate the poor from among us, we should be trying our best to help them help themselves.  Welfare, as it currently stands, is not a long term answer.  If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day.  If you teach a man to fish, he may end up starting a seafood business that employs hundreds of people and revolutionizes the fishing industry.  We should never sell anyone short on their potential.

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