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Chances are poor will remain poor

Monday, April 3, 2006

Without a doubt, there is a widening gap between the rich and the poor in this country. Every study available will tell you so but the truth is, you really don't need a study to prove that which is obvious.

Politicians look at this economic gap and their solution is to take money away from the rich and give it to the poor. Now granted, they don't say it in those terms but that's exactly what they mean. The reasoning behind this notion is that it's much easier to take something away from a class of people than it is to inspire, educate and motivate another class a people. Doesn't take a genius to figure that one out.

I argue that even if you give outright cash to the poor, chances are they will remain poor. They often lack the skills necessary to make the decisions that will move them up the economic ladder. Call it a generational fault because most have not been taught (effectively) how to save, how to budget nor how to use that money to plan for tomorrow instead of spending it today.

I read an interesting article this week from the New York Times, no less, that said the immigration issue is not a matter of opening our borders to a new working class; it's opening our border to an expanded low income population that will, for the most part, remain dependent on the government for some or all of their needs generation after generation. And that came from the New York Times!

Because of this newspaper's long history with the Christmas Campaign, I often visit with people in need of financial assistance. I don't often question that their needs are legitimate. They don't want money for designer clothes, they need money for utility bills, late rent, food for kids, etc. Those are sincere, legitimate needs. But without exception, the people we deal with in financial crisis all share some or all of the blame for their predicament. They have made and continue to make bad decisions because they were never taught otherwise. They continue to spend today because they are accustomed to the uncertainty of tomorrow. And they will never, ever change their place on the economic ladder and have no plans to change. Put simply, they have reluctantly accepted their position.

Forty years or more of financing the lifestyles of the poor - limited as they are - has created a culture of dependency that we cannot reverse. Throughout the year, I visit with well over a hundred low income individuals who visit this office looking for assistance. Now let me explain right up front, these very same individuals have already visited with dozens of other agencies, churches, clubs, etc. seeking assistance there as well. Instead of seeking employment, they have learned that their jobs are to go from agency to agency in search of funds to supplement the government assistance they receive through the mail. It has become their life.

I'm more convinced today than ever before that the issue of the haves and the have nots will remain the greatest struggle for society. You can say it's an issue of education, job opportunities, health or whatever reasons you can name. The dirty little secret however is that many in this population have no hope of altering their life because they can "get along" as they have. In many cases, it's the same process that sustained their parents and grandparents.

Raise the minimum wage, provide free housing, provide food and all health care needs. And when you have done all of that, the poor will remain poor and the rich will figure out a way to remain rich. And those caught in that great middle ground will fight for their dear lives to stay one step ahead of the poor.

Unfortunately, that middle class fight will get tougher every time we provide just one more program that tries desperately to accomplish the impossible - elevating a class of people who are unable to elevate themselves.



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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen