Saturday, June 13, 2015

Get a job!

I'd pay a lot to see this uninformed fellow work alongside my friends
in the real world.  He'd lose a little weight and a lot of attitude.
“Some people are self-starters, and some people are born lazy.  Some people are born victims.  Some people are just born to be slaves.”
~ Rush Limbaugh, on economic inequality, a poorly worded but generally consistent expression of current conservative opinion; 60% say the poor are lazy, more than 80% think the poor have it easy.
It's perhaps easy to think we know what's best for others. Does our own success place us somehow above with a comprehensive perspective?  Such thinking is always inaccurate; no exceptions.

Living and working in several countries began to open our understanding on how persistent poverty happens.  It's not from unwillingness to work in any of the venues we've observed.  In the U.S. and elsewhere, poverty seems to persist for a very short list of reasons.

The decline of two-parent families is greatest in the lower
economic demographics.  Cause and effect are controversial.
Lack of opportunity is first and largest on the list.  There are few viable exits from poverty.  Most make the attempt; few succeed.  For the poor, completing their education and getting a job with upward prospects are more difficult than one might expect.

For nations, well intentioned policy efforts are perhaps second. Effects can be destructive.  Unintended consequences of assistance programs in the U.S. include the decline of lower-quintiles' economic mobility, family unity, and a generation of children with absent fathers.

Those are the top-level categories; there are subordinate causal elements from environment and culture.  Regional economic inequality is a useful indicator.

Read 'poverty level' as 'survival level'.  Survival is basic, just food and shelter perhaps.  Getting a quality education, staying healthy, eating well, having a stable home in which to do homework, those are unlikely at the survival level.

The poverty level (survival level) is a threshold, not the income level for all the households in the category.  In the U.S., the number of households with children living in extreme poverty (at $2/person/day) is about 1.7 million; more if you include the elderly and others without kids.

The U.S. suicide rate among African American men stems pointedly from their inability to find a place where they can join the mainstream, be productive, provide for a family, and get ahead.  Similar distress spans the globe.
In Africa, a father wept in shame and despair because he could not provide for his wife and children no matter how hard he tried.  His lament was not that he had no money but that he had no opportunity, no voice, no significance.
We put a young fellow through trade school and internship only to find that employment was available but not to him.  He's from the wrong tribe, Africa's equivalent to the good old boy network of influence and discrimination we're familiar with in the west.
In Africa as in the rest of the world, it's not the land that brings people to poverty, nor is it an unwillingness to work.  It's a wealth-focused economy (and government and culture) that marginalizes the lower economic segment of the population. Inequality is a weapon by which the few profit at the expense of others.  We in the west who claim the moral high-ground of equality, of law and justice, will perhaps eventually see that such a position is bent by self-interest and that what we have collectively become is in many ways unhelpful, sometimes even harmful.

No one chooses to be poor, to have their children be malnourished or undereducated, homeless or trapped in extreme poverty.  Such circumstances are imposed, not chosen.

As individuals, what options are available to us for a meaningful way forward?  And how do we avoid wrong thinking?

An interesting side note: a technical military career (particularly non-infantry) is a viable path upward for many.  Technical and leadership training, certifications, and years of performance are quite marketable and easily built upon.  Know why?  Recruits show up from everywhere, get groomed and clothed as equals, get trained according to interests and ability, and advance based on effort and skill.  It's an accessible opportunity for some.  A good educational foundation is the prerequisite, of course.  What might we deduce from that proven scenario?