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And the rich seem to have convinced the middle class to apply the feathers.

A few posts below, I ranted about civility and how we can’t lump all people into one group just because we’re too stupid to think hard enough about an issue to realize there is no blanket solution for any problem for 300+ million people.

If you think life is easy on government assistance or you believe that people are happy dealing with the simple and free life provided by poverty, you may want to introduce yourself to the real world someday.  I know it is easier to make a villain out of the poor than address the more complex and horrible reality that our system thrives on keeping people that way but people don’t like living under the oppression of poverty.

Today I take a day off to rant.   You are hereby warned.

A few points:

  • The age of minimum wage representing “starter pay” is over. While we fondly (or at least nostalgically) remember our first jobs and like to talk about them as our introduction to humility and progressive responsibility, the fact is that many of the jobs that used to be dominated by those of us with pimpled-faces and work permits are now occupied by…well, US again. Because corporations exist for profit and not to perpetuate the economic stability of the middle class, personnel are treated the same as other budget line items.   When we talk about “trickle down” economics, what happens is that a corporation will shed its least essential employees to improve profit or market position and those employees “trickle down” to lower paying jobs. Why?
  • Well, people who made $25.24/hour (the median salary for PA residence based on $54.5K/yr) just can’t stop buying things to make up the loss, can they? No. Because in America, we buy things on credit, or more to the point DEBT. We buy things bigger than we need and push out the payments. The economy is driven by this attitude of circulating money for the banks. The house on the cul-de-sac and the two cars parked there are not actually owned by the people who use them. They are on loan from the banks that paid for them until those notes are paid off.   If you have credit card debt or have anything that you didn’t pay for with cash – you don’t really own them.   And when you have to keep paying for them, you have to maintain an income. Maintaining a lifestyle at $70K a year (household) is difficult when you suddenly only make 50% of that. And if you disrupt the delicate ballet of commerce by not paying the banks, they can destroy your life.
  • But you have Savings, right? Sure, all the cool kids are doing it. You were responsible and put together a rainy day fund. But you already have a big umbrella on loan to you from Bank of America, right? When you have credit cards (including the one you sensibly put in the freezer in a block of ice to avoid using it) and a decent income (which facilitates comprehensive insurance for home, auto, health, life, etc.), your definition of “emergency” is somewhat different than those who live on $7.25 an hour.    A “rainy day fund” doesn’t last long in the rain forest of poverty. Even if you can put something aside, the lack of credit means you have to go out of pocket for every “emergency” – torn clothes, medical expenses, auto repairs, home repair – and when you rent or buy lower quality at a lower price, you spend more to maintain those things.   Being poor means buying cheap and buying cheap means…
  • You pay more for things in the long run. If you bought a car with a 5-year, 50K mile warranty, you’re far better off than the guy who bought a ten year old car with 150K miles.   I was making $12/hr as an assistant manager of a copy shop with “meh” credit that would not approve a new car. The transmission on my 10 year-old van died and the bill was $2,400 on a vehicle worth $550. That was a fun experience to have with a new baby. I was almost 40 before I bought my first financed newer used car. When there was a mechanical problem, I panicked about it until I remembered the warranty would cover the $900 repair bill. I was 42 years old before I could finance my first NEW car and was only able to because my wife and I combined our FICO and got the 6 year old Hyundai paid off. Part of the reason we could do that was because our budget for auto repair dropped to almost nothing thanks to the transferrable warranty and also because we no longer had to pay $11K a year for day care. Oh, yeah… that.
  • Day care is damned expensive. I’m not saying it isn’t worth it. But consider the math. The National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies writes that, in 2011, the average cost to put an infant in day care full time in Pennsylvania was over $11K. Gross, FULL TIME salary at minimum wage is a hair over $15K (or, with 25% withholding, $11.3K). I’ll just leave that there for you to think about.
    If you work full time, that’s 9-10 hours of day care per day. Of course, you could have parents or uncles or agree to let the lady up the street watch your kid for you. And then there’s the “24 hour” rule if your child has a slight fever (and what child EVER demonstrates a low grade fever or a runny nose? Day care facilities are always spotless and hygienic places where all the children work and play in HAZ-MAT suits. Right? You have to lose a day’s wage, but you likely still have to pay for the day as part of the weekly rate.
  • But why do you keep seeing “poor” people with flashy cars and cell phones and jewelry? Surely they don’t deserve – I mean – they can’t afford those things, right? Well, if you judge people based on appearance and not by their circumstance, then I would agree that’s how you might see things, but I would also suggest that you’re a superficial, pedantic assclown. Is there abuse of the socialist policies that bathe the poor in free money? YES. The evidence is there in the form of criminal cases and convictions against people who have abused or defrauded the system. You know that that means? It means there is a system in place that deals with fraud and abuse. Does it catch all of it? Does the war on crime make it impossible to buy drugs? No! But then the system must strike a balance between order and liberty, not cater to your paranoid suspicions about how people live. Jeez. It is a good thing that there isn’t a uniform for poor people and that they don’t make it easy for you to pick them out of the crowd by wearing a badge or a patch of shame like some fiscal Hester Prynne.When you lost your job (you did lose your job or live an extended period under the poverty line at some point, right? After all I would hate for you to be criticizing people with merely an academic understanding of the long-term effects of poverty.) or things were financially grim, did you voluntarily surrender the things that you had left? When you lost your job I assume you immediately sold your house in suburbia and moved into the projects. I assume you traded the $40K Lexus you bought on the 5 year financing deal when you had a $60K/year job for something more worthy of your lesser status as a human being. I’m sure you threw out all your children’s electronics and toys because – let’s face it – why does a financial failure like you deserve to let his kids walk around with expensive stuff when you can’t afford it?   Dress for the job you want? Screw that. Here’s a burlap sack and some dirt for your nose.   Obviously if you don’t shed all that luxury you no longer deserve you are an irresponsible, lazy government leech.   Am I following you right on this? Or are you the exception? Oh, right…you’re just temporarily set-upon by this terrible economy.   You’re not really “poor” like – THOSE people.
  • Debt does not go away on its own. It needs to be fed. You will give it your meat or it will take you instead. Debt will to circle you like a pack of hungry dogs and keep you hiding in plain sight, unmoving and afraid. It wasn’t always that way, was it? When you paid, they protected you and loved you, didn’t they? You were the best person ever, a loyal master to them, right? Now, when the meal is gone and the meat scarce, the relationship is different. Corporations want theirs. You owe what you owe and that’s fair. But sometimes, there is no meat for the dogs. But the dogs just get hungrier. And you become just another source of food. You never answer the phone. You cringe when someone knocks on the door. You start to think like Uncle Vernon in Harry Potter whose favorite day is Sunday because there’s no “post” to bring you unwanted reminders of the bills you can’t pay and the consequences that might be coming as a result.   When you’re poor, you know who your masters are. When you’re not, you suffer from the illusion that you are in control of your own life. The difference is that some people recognize this and other choose to believe that they are masters of the game while the poor are just too lazy or stupid to understand how to play.
  • Ever wonder why the bank can take your money right away but wait a few business days to give it back?
    Ever have a transaction error where a few hundred dollars just vanish into bank limbo awaiting someone’s careful examination of the ledger? The only thing they’re certain of is that the money might NOT be yours so they’ll keep holding on to it for a while.
    Ever have your checking account hacked and drained on payday? I have. Twice. Once upon a time It hit on bill-pay day leading me into a two week period where my checking account balance was in the negative by about $500 with accumulating penalties taking it below (-$700) before I convinced the bank it was not my fault. And I didn’t even really convince them. They had to read the data I provided and come to their own conclusion. Meanwhile, for the days I spent waiting for them to agree with me, I had to contact everyone who had a check bounce or a payment stopped, many of whom were not happy with me because they were hit with NSF charges as well.
    Ever have a bank sort your deposits and debits in a way that maximized the overdrafts? If processed in chronological order, things would have been fine, but in the bank’s secret/random process, the highest debits hit first meaning the subsequent smaller charges were fined per transaction and pulled from the deposit once that was processed. $45-70 per NSF transaction. Guaranteed, if you’re one of those accounts where your money is out shortly after it goes in (meaning you maintain a low balance most of the time) the bank isn’t really interested in working with you to minimize the rape and robbery it commits against your life and family. Again, if you have credit or you maintain several accounts with a bank, they’re willing to continue pretending you’re not only a valued customer but a keen human being deserving of special treatment as a “courtesy”.
    Ever take out a payday loan? Borrow money from a legal loan shark? Do you think people want to do these things? If so, you’re an idiot. No, you’re a special idiot.  You’re a fucking exclusive Gold-Club Membership-holding fuckwit.  The very existence of these kinds of loans is predatory and evidence that many people living in poverty are so screwed that their best pals in that moment are lenders who eat souls and drink human shame.
    Do people grow up in an environment that teaches them they don’t matter in a voice so clear and so frequent that they just give up? YES.
    Do some people understand that they will never atone for the sins of their youth or overcome the stigma against the affliction known as “not being white”? Or straight? Or educated? Or Christian?   So, sure there are bad people out there and there are people who are broken by their inability to master the world in which they live OR they have given up fighting a system that seems intent on keeping them in a small social-economic box for their entire lives OR in a small concrete box if they dare step out of line against so-called decent people.
  • I can’t give special treatment to people who find living in this system hard, but I’m supposed to give a pass to every asshole who buys a frogurt franchise license and sets up shop in a mall?  Fuck you.  I’m supposed to honor the small business set because they promise their success automatically translates to the success of their employees?  Who on Earth older than infancy would believe such a fantastical lie?  Business owners should not be given special welfare treatment over individuals. We call them “job creators” like there’s some mystical life-giving properties here, like they are commercial Jesus handing out miracles in neckties and name tags. This is the economy we’ve chosen. If you lay off workers, you’re failing at your profession. If you lay off workers and reward management, you’re not only failing harder but you are an evil fecal fleck in the anus of Anubis.
    Layoffs happen and downturns are part of a healthy economic reset. Owning a business is a choice. Just like we’re supposed to pretend to be like our conservative Founding Fathers demonstrating self-reliance and the pioneer spirit – Corporate and Business Management is taught to prepare for the inevitable seasons of drought through diversification and creative planning. Capitalism can be patriotic, but only so long as it refuses to do harm to Americans in the name of profit for a few. I know the business world is competitive and if people have to suffer for the profit of the company, that’s the way it is – but that strips the industry of its mystic caregiver façade. Let’s accept that reality, too.
  • We live in a society that rewards corporate incompetence and economic violence against workers. We read a lot about public companies that see a rise in stock value after laying off workers. Laying off workers is sexy and investors respond positively, I guess. Our economic success isn’t in what the company does but how much money it makes and how fast it continues to grow. Success in America is based on the accumulation of wealth.  Or so we’re told.  The news tells me to worry when companies don’t profit enough.  Fox News uses the same “This is scary” tone for bad economic forecasts that they do for discussing the horrors of the liberal agenda or political insanity of the President’s last bowel movement.
  • Now let’s talk about Peeing in a Cup to get welfare. If you say it with just the right inflection you can make the idea sound like it’s a no-brainer. You can rationalize it by comparing it to hiring practices. If you can’t pass a drug test, you can’t work. If you can’t pass a drug test, you can’t get “MY FREE MONEY”!
    Just… get over yourself.
    We all pay taxes for things we didn’t choose. What I don’t like paying taxes for could be a counterweight to the printed US Tax Code.   I don’t like being forced to hear Lee Greenwood sing and tie yellow ribbons everywhere every time we send our armed forces to blow things up around the world.
    And stop talking like you are paying the check for all 300+ million Americans. Like everybody else you stood at the Federal wishing well with a hundred pennies and threw 20 of them wishing for protection from or the power to destroy our enemies, 20 of them went for your own retirement, 15 of them went to pay for older wishes, 10 for the Unemployed… but only 5 for our veterans, 4 to house the homeless and improve our cities, and ONLY 2 each for our aging transportation infrastructure, the education of our youth, and a penny for the environment. The rest you spend to keep the Wishing Well open. THOSE are your priorities.
    At the state wishing well, your mileage may vary. In PA, you pay a nickel for every dollar you throw into the well based on the state budget. So… yeah.
    And if you’re morally okay with your tax money being used to blow up anonymous brown people in places you can’t spell or find on a map but an American family needs to shed its dignity to collect a subsidy… you’re all kinds of messed up that I can’t fix.
    You pay a fair share based on your economic bracket. Don’t like the law, change the law. But let’s get back to the idea that you are pissed off because you’re stuck at the national Olive Garden paying for all these drug-addled freeloaders gorging on the Marxist trough of endless pasta-bilities.   Fine. Hold on to that illusion for a moment. This is about fiscal responsibility, right?
    Dust off your MBA and help me out here.
    What’s your problem statement? I don’t mean what you FEEL is happening. I don’t want to hear about these hypothetical rats you think are getting at the food supply. I want your numbers. How many people are getting through the checkpoints? How much money is being wasted? How many cases are we not prosecuting that have you up in arms? Or are you just suspicious because you can’t trust the poor to use “free money” the way that suits your personal or moral code? Clearly you spend a lot of time researching this, so I’ll wait…
    … carry the five …
    … void in Montana …
    No? Oh. Well that’s a problem because, as ANY BUSINESS PERSON KNOWS you need to have a problem statement to figure out how to plan a solution.  And in its most simplistic form, the questioning goes like this:
    “What is the problem?”
    “Define the severity of this problem in terms of its impact on the operation as a whole (negligible up to catastrophic)”
    “How much is the problem costing us (money, time, personnel, reputation)?”
    “What parts of the existing system require change to stop the problem?”
    “What new parts must be added to the system to stop the problem?”
    “How much will the solution cost in terms of the project itself and then ongoing support?”
    “What are the long-term organizational changes that will be needed to implement a solution (personnel, infrastructure, administration, legal, etc.)?”
    “Is the cost of this solution higher or lower than the loss currently suffered?”
    Of course, you could add the rare addendum…
    “What are the consequences of not addressing these problems (be specific and not philosophical)?” This is also known as the “Is this a real problem of just something that chuffs your butt?” question.
    “Who is hurt by fixing this process and who is helped?”
    And that’s the thing. Is the intellectual butthurt over 5 pennies in your state dollar worse than the real problems facing families in poverty? How much of your dollar is going to prisons and law enforcement? Does that bother you at all? Is it really the limit of your moral ambition to cut the bad people off from some of your “free money” and not advocating for a permanent solution that elevates people for needing that money in the first place?
    When your solution involves collateral damage, it isn’t a good solution. And when you have no sense of the real cost, it betrays the fact that you simply want to punish people for being different than you. It’s the same as saying “We can kill all the kids on that bus if it kills the one bad guy on it, too.”
    When you create a bureaucracy, you create litigation. Government is about nothing BUT laws that spawn regulations and policies   Litigation costs money. Infrastructure, administration, personnel… it costs actual money. Seriously it does. People don’t just make up laws like this and someone pulls pee cups out of the DGS warehouse for the existing clerical staff to start handing out the next day. If you believe that, you’re naïve or the kind of rube carnies love to entice under the gilly trailer with the promise of moonshine and a special, secret show. NOTHING HAPPENS IN GOVERNMENT UNLESS MONEY IS SPENT. Sometimes, the costs are “soft” and you don’t see them or care. You have people there getting paid and what they work on doesn’t matter, really. What they do have value and if they stop doing one thing, someone else has to do it.
  • But, Jay – you say – I am a special person. I don’t buy things on credit. I pay with cash! I own my home. I own my car. I don’t break the law and I obey the law while saluting the American flag with Jesus in my heart. I excrete sunshine and belch musical rainbows. Because I am exceptional, I disprove the rule! Ergo, your argument is invalid. Well, no. I hear this argument a lot. Someone is so proud of his/her individual accomplishments that they see no problem invalidating the struggle of people they don’t care to know. Life is hard. Yeah, I get it, lived it. And I wasn’t even that far down compared to a lot of people. I’ve gotten shut-off notices, had my electric shut off, had my cell phone cut off and I allowed those things to happen so I could pay my child support and rent on time. I’ve also been in a position where I fell behind on my child support because I found myself out of work and struggling to find a job that paid more than the cost of putting my newborn son into day care. Did Unemployment Compensation help? Help, no. It was absolutely essential.

This is why I have trouble when someone tells me he knows the mind of God because people have a hard enough time empathizing with human beings that exist less than a mile away but in completely different socioeconomic conditions. They are the same people who can morally justify murdering ten times as many people as were killed on 9/11 because it’s easier to wrap their heads around a vague, pleasant feeling of patriotism.

I am better for my experiences and I was helped by friends and family throughout my life. None of them ever asked me to pee in a cup before offering to help me. Why? Because they loved me and they knew that if I failed, my kids suffered. They could think of me as irresponsible or they could recognize that I was trying as hard as I could by picking the best of bad options.

Understand that being poor in this country equates to being weak and easy prey. It is not impossible to beat, but this great nation sure likes to kick people when they try. But hey – let’s solve the problem by passing more laws, making people piss into cups, and spend time in prison for offending the sensibilities of the Haves and endangering the peace of the Elite’s little ant farm of fat and happy American servants.

Worked for the Romans. And the French. And the British…what could go wrong?

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