On Entitlements, Defensively

I’m annoyed (oh man, what’s new?).

One of my absolute favorite teachers from high school posted a Facebook status about hearing he could quit his job teaching because he could get government handouts that total more than he makes per year. Cue the slew of comments from people advocating for people who work and decrying the lazy poor. And for people only deserving to earn money for the work that they do, and comments suggesting that people are lazy, and we live in a sick country dependent on handouts.

This is untrue. How do I know this? It’s no secret that I work my ass off. But there was a time when I made significantly less than I do now. And during that time, there was a lot of panic. Sometimes, I’d stare at my bank account and wonder how I was going to make that last me the entire month, with rent, bills, insurance, and gas and food. It goes fast.

So out of curiosity, I checked out government assistance. (Food stamps, bitch.) And guess what? I made too much to qualify for ANY of the assistance programs. (Not just food stamps, bitch.)

I started babysitting. And then I started freelancing. And then I started working at Dairy Queen. And I also got a raise or three at work.

I’m frustrated by the ideas tossed around – many of them lack any sort of basis in fact. Granted, there are a multitude of programs that fall under the umbrella of government assistance. Stafford loans, unemployment, Medicare/Medicaid, etc. And yes, there are people who are ridiculously dependent on the government without the expectation that they should have to work for it. But there are also people who need the help that they get.

I’m frustrated that the dialogue here is so critical. I’m frustrated that instead of focusing on the cause of the poverty and need in our nation, we have created a system that doesn’t allow for equal opportunity, that has magnified the cyclical situation of the working poor, that divides our nation into socio-economic groups, and so on. We’re reaping the “benefits” of an economic clusterfuck that we’ve been complicit in creating.

I harp on this all the time, but it’s because I really do see it as a barrier to progress: our societal devaluation of various types of labor has created the situation we’re in and it’s simply not sustainable. Gone are the days when someone could begin a career and work up through the ranks of a company. They may not have been wealthy, but the idea of a pension and a comfortable retirement was possible. The dream of owning a home and putting food on the table was a reality.

Now, we are forced into a hyper-competitive (and unrealistic) model of unattainable career advancement. The white-collar workforce has become an oppressively elitist segment of society, neglecting to remind themselves that their luxury cars had to be built by a laborer – someone who possesses skills they themselves most likely don’t have.

Personally, I wasn’t cut out for manual labor (apparently a lack of muscles makes me unfit for jobs that require them). Or the daily grind of a statistician (lack of mathematical prowess and logical thinking disqualifies me). Instead, I work at a job that suits my own strengths. It’s high time that we reminded ourselves that any society needs variety – variety of skill sets and variety in life. But the fact that one person runs a company and another wires houses or fixes clogged toilets does not mean that any person is of any greater value than the next. (Trust me, no amount of luxury cars in a garage is going to fix your overflowing toilet. There’s no app for that.) (There probably is an app for that.)

The discussion now focuses on the stereotype that the poor are lazy, which is something I’d love to put to the test. Let’s take your $70k/year job and pay you $12/hour for it. Let’s say that what you do isn’t worth that much. Let’s see you have to deal with not only the aching muscles, but the condescending tone of customers that so much resemble you by day. (Yeah, I get this a lot at Dairy Queen – somehow, my uniform and position behind the counter make me open to belittling, yet when I pass these same people on the street dressed in my professional attire, they open doors for me and say hello. Curious, isn’t it?)  Let’s see how you cope. Let’s see how good you are at balancing your budget, at cutting coupons, at working 14 hour days to feed your family. After you’ve spent time being part of the working poor, I’d love to hear you talk about entitlements and handouts. (Better yet, I’d love it if you’d start your arguments with facts instead of conjecture.)

Oh, and while I’m the subject of entitlement, let’s tax the shit out of capital gains. Sorry. If my $14/hour job gets taxed at a certain rate and your millions in interest and dividends don’t count, I have every right to spit your own arguments back at you. Entitled? Yeah, I think I am. I’m entitled to same services you, services such as education, roads, and police. The services that my tax dollars pay for. The services that you expect but don’t want to pay for.

I’m not saying that our government or economy or society are in a good place. They’re not. They’re corrupt. They’re every bit as corrupt as the governments we criticize. But to attempt to deny people things that they are entitled to, especially if they work and work and still can’t make enough to make ends meet, is a travesty.

I urge you to reexamine the way the you treat other people. All people. Poor. White. Black. Rich. I urge you to think about the advantages that you had. My advantages? Education. I come from a family that put education first and foremost. And I was very lucky to have the help and assistance and support that I did. I want to use my gifts to give back to my community. I want to use my gifts to help empower all people – and to give them the gifts that I had, and ultimately, give everyone a chance to make the life they want.

I don’t support handouts to people who don’t deserve them, and I do think that often, the idea of handouts leads to a dependence on them and a perpetuation of a problem that couldn’t have been solved with assistance in the first place. But I think that everyone in our society deserves the chance to live a life that’s fruitful and happy. In order to create a sustainable future for all of our citizens, not just the rich white ones, we need to come together as a people and do some serious reevaluation of our principles. Perhaps some moral compass re-calibration is necessary, too.

Just a thought.

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2 thoughts on “On Entitlements, Defensively

  1. Well-spoken. I think a major shift in growth of poverty is jobs lost or moved out of North America. I am a bit old and the stereotypicalisations of the ‘poor’ as ‘lazy’ and undermotivated or addicts or junkies or whatever have persisted since I was a teen-ager. Advocacy for economic redistribution may not be the only solution. Enjoyed the post.

  2. Language is everything, when it’s for the poor it’s an entitlement and when it’s for the wealthy it’s a subsidy.

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