Let's clear the air over the current discussion about the concentration of taxpayer-funded assistance programs flowing into Sikeston. This point has been discussed in this column on countless occasions and was raised again this past week in a well thought-out Speakout comment.
I am convinced that Sikeston residents by and large are not concerned about the large number of residents receiving financial assistance. I do believe however that there is a growing frustration with those who have adopted a lifestyle built on the backs of taxpayers. This last group of residents is the ones on which our community must focus.
We were taken to task by a disabled readers who wondered how they could survive without state or federal assistance. That point is an accurate one. But the frustration centers not on the truly needy but rather on those who sponge for generations on a system that provides their every need.
I have voiced my opinion that Sikeston's concentration of needy is of our own making. It is convenient in Sikeston to move from program to program and spend an entire lifetime benefiting from those who work and pay their taxes. We house virtually every conceivable form of public assistance under the sun. Furthermore, some in the social service delivery system educate the needy on other forms of assistance. There is no great push toward self-sufficiency by those who should be preaching that theme.
For those truly in need or those in temporary need of assistance, our hearts go out to them. And our community works diligently to help assure their needs are met. Yet we also have far too many who could work and could help to provide for themselves and their families. But they have learned that it's easier to live off of taxpayers than to rise early on a cold winter day and perform in the workplace. And that - to some extent - is our fault. We have made it far too easy and too lucrative for the chronically unemployed to remain that way.
I see this so vividly during the Christmas campaign each year. We try to find the most worthwhile recipients but we also deal with those who stand with their hands out at every conceivable turn. Generational poverty is chronic in our region. Children learn from their parents and their children in turn learn from them. Those doomed to poverty increasingly choose that path because of laziness or a lack of opportunity. Though opportunity may rest elsewhere, they choose to remain where life is familiar. And easy in some ways.
We all seek those who are trying to make it on their own but who need a bridge of assistance. But we disdain those who could work and should work but take the easier path. We've helped them all we can and perhaps, more than we should have in the first place.
I don't want our community to be known as a welfare town. But until we find the resolve to change that situation, it will remain and flourish.
What we need is a total re-examination of our community. We need to explore those who provide the funds to pay for the city services and those who live off of the sweat of others. We need to provide jobs. And we need to lend a helping hand. But we must also demand accountability and responsibility if our community is to survive. We're near a critical point. Much closer than you might imagine.