Why Do Poor Folks Not Just Get a Job?

A friend with whom I am often in philosophic disagreement with posted the following response to my infamous article; “Harsh Advice for the Unemployed Folks.”  I have contemplated the question, “Why Do Poor Folks Not Just Get a Job?”  I think my friend’s comments deserve some attention!

Though your suggestion are practical it does not apply to a significant population of urban/rural poor and uneducated…many city/rural dwellers are captured by birth into an environment that cannot provide simple things like how to speak in complete sentences, read or fill out an application, lack clean clothes, hot water or have something as simple as a hair brush, toothpaste and a tooth brush. Many of poor must use all the resources they have to find food and shelter for the day…yes, there are those unemployed who are fortunate to find themselves driven and become more empowered to apply some of the practicum you suggest…from my perspective the question remains: how can we help those who cannot help themselves due to poverty, ignorance, drugs, violence, lack of shelter, clothing or other basic resources?…This quagmire is a very long standing problem with solutions that require significant resources and time…I often find myself at a loss when working in the belly of the city’s poor…where does one start? What will take to help them help themselves?..I often hear negative criticism about those who are born into such dire situations “why don’t they just go get a job”…To this group I recommend they broaden their understanding by personal investment, roll up their sleeves and reach out to touch the down caste. Once they have done this they will come to see the complexity of the problem and find the solutions very hard to find…I appreciate your effort to stimulate thinking and encourage you to continue to do so…I do ask that those who criticize the poor do not be so quick to condemn them until they have been in their shoes…It is heart breaking to see the perpetuation of poverty and the solution to be a complex cycle to stop and reverse…Here are some obvious solutions to this issue of unemployed and poverty stricken..we need to reach out and provide resources like education, a place to clean up, a safe place to get a good nights sleep…this process is slow but effective…the world we live in is unfair, some of us are lucky to have been born into a more affluent situation while others unlucky to be born into abject poverty. The underprivileged need our resources to help and a warm amount of sympathy.

I do not agree in entirety with the above opinion, however I agree with much of it.  I will not dwell much on that with which I agree, but will instead investigate our differences.  I will liberally use terms like “rich” and “poor” and unless otherwise stated, my intended meaning is to explain a level of financial net worth.  I recognize and appreciate that some are “rich in love” but that is not the thrust of this piece.  This piece assumes that the reader values financial means highly.

This brings to mind a question I would like to pose for our contemplation.  Is it “better” to be rich than to be poor?  When neighbor children play in a dirt lot collecting pieces of broken glass and stacking them as high as possible, those with means observe them with sympathy, noting their dirty little hands and poor verbal skills.  Other children the same age, across town in the big homes, likely have clean hands and are “gaming” alone in front of their large television screen.  Which is ‘better?”

I am convinced that poor kids that have ambition and drive can take themselves out of poverty and become “successful” adults.  I am at the top of the political spectrum, and I think that those in the other three corners as well as the middle mostly agree with me.  There are numerous examples of children working odd jobs, dropping out of the lousy Prussian “public” school system, and building businesses to become affluent.  If one really really wants it; they can do it!

I want those I love and those I contemplate to have the things they dream of, including nice safe homes, fun vehicles and “financial security.”  I seem to want that for them more than they want it.  One could suggest that I should not interfere with their choice by attempting to help the poor become rich.  This is a good point, and if I flip things around, I wonder if some folks exist who value poverty but lots of time with their children as a higher value than wealth, and wonder what I would think of them if they came into MY world to “help” me break the chains of wealth and enter into the bliss of poverty.  I realize that I am arrogant in assuming that the things I value should be of value to others.  Why Do Poor Folks Not Just Get a Job?  Maybe some would prefer to spend time with their family sorting through trash piles like folks in other poorer lands?

Why Do Poor Folks Not Just Get a Job?

What gives me and other do-gooders the moral right to judge other folks?  Tens of thousands of dollars each year are stolen from me to “help” the poor have more fruits of other’s labor.  I don’t agree to have the money stolen, and I don’t agree with how it is spent.  Since I am being victimized and am footing the bill, I have the absolute right to weigh in.  Additionally, what I advocate is voluntary, I never initiate force to “help” others. Much like offering a drowning person a flotation device,  I am simply offering and while I am disappointed when my offer is refused, I accept it.

So, to address my friend’s points.  Some folks:

  1. Don’t know how to speak in complete sentences or how to read or fill out an application.
  2. Lack clean clothes, hot water or have something as simple as a hair brush, toothpaste and a tooth brush. Many of poor must use all the resources they have to find food and shelter for the day.

As for point 1, I agree that this is a challenge.  Their family and friends have placed higher values on other things, and have set a bad example.  They have attended government schools, which are designed to dumb down folks so that they will be “employees” and not free thinking entrepreneurs.  They are conditioned to obey authority and to effect change through voting or other force.  They are not forced into exposures of poetry or intellectual thought.

My response is that it is still possible for them to make choices that will be misunderstood by their peers, choices like reading difficult books, watching videos on YouTube about philosophy etc.  Few people that are born into the cycle of poverty break free, and that is sad.

As for point 2, I don’t buy it.  Begging on a street corner for 1 hour would surely yield $5, which is enough to buy a toothbrush, toothpaste, a hairbrush.  A visit to McDonald’s restroom during slow times can be the source of hot water for a face wash.  Of the millions of “poor” people who might complain of #2, I really doubt very many face that issue.  Those that do are likely mentally ill and are not capable of being anything other than deadwood.  Harsh?  Yep.  Would I donate some money to help them have bare necessities?  Yes. give me 5 minutes on the phone with a “typical” unemployed poor person in a bad neighborhood in a bad situation, and I can give solid advice on how to fix the problem.

“I appreciate your effort to stimulate thinking and encourage you to continue to do so…I do ask that those who criticize the poor do not be so quick to condemn them until they have been in their shoes.”

I do not think that one must “be in someone’s shoes” to understand their perspective or engage in meaningful discourse.  For example, I do not need to spend time as a battle-weary soldier to discuss the appropriateness of burning down a village filled with children.

In this situation however, I HAVE been in those shoes.  My mother reared me on government welfare, which was in truth, money stolen from producers.  I have taken many sponge baths with water boiled on a stove, I have lived with only basic food, and by age 18 I had never been to high school.  My mother and I moved to a new state with NO contacts with a $1200 car and $700 in savings from our combined work at Dollywood over a summer.  Mom worked as a maid at Motel 6 and I got a job as a dishwasher.  20 years later I am a millionaire.  I am a success story, and other folks can be as well.  I do not condemn those that will make continued efforts to learn and grow.

Here are some obvious solutions to this issue of unemployed and poverty stricken..we need to reach out and provide resources like education, a place to clean up, a safe place to get a good nights sleep…this process is slow but effective…the world we live in is unfair, some of us are lucky to have been born into a more affluent situation while others unlucky to be born into abject poverty. The underprivileged need our resources to help and a warm amount of sympathy.

I must first clarify a few basic words, “We” and “must.”  If by “we” my friend was referring to “individuals who take interest in this topic” then I agree.  If by “must” my friend meant “a good option if one chooses” then I agree.  If he instead meant that the collective is morally required to take actions they do not already voluntarily take, then I disagree.  I would also like to make clear that I think these poor youth are better off dropping out of “public” schools and would be better off with useful education rather than schooling.

As a person that wants to help, I am horrified by the programs currently being used by “government” and some “do-gooder” organizations.  The parable, “Give a man a fish; feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and he will be fed for a lifetime” is an economic truth.  I am not sure HOW to help.  I think the best way might be to do what is necessary to stop the continued gifting of fish, but the government is too large for me to stop.

Solutions?  Why Do Poor Folks Not Just Get a Job?

I would love to discover a voluntary solution, that unlike government solutions, does not require the initiation of force.  I would love to discover or create a process whereby producers would voluntarily help non-producers launch themselves toward success.  The scope of my interest is not to help everyone, primarily because that is another problem for another person and day.  Some people are in such a sad mental condition that they don’t care enough to allow helpful folks to lead them to water.  These people are not my project’s concern, though I do pity them.  The people I care about are those that are in a tough place, lack the knowledge to make opportunities bloom and that are open to improving their lives.

I think millions of entrepreneurs and other financially successful people would be very happy to provide quality education through mentoring to these young poor folks. Some of the obstacles that I see are that most of the poor folks would not do the hard work required to become successful so long as welfare is such an easy and readily accessible option.  Those of us that value our time highly do not want it wasted on folks that are not willing to follow through with our recommendations.

What about this idea for a Program to Help the Poor Become Rich?

There are other worthwhile things to consider, like the state of disabled homeless people, the mentally ill and how to make airplanes fly faster and safer.  I can’t fix everything.  😉

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