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Are You Concerned About the Very Poor?

This article was written by in Society. 74 comments.


Whether you agree with it or not, the reason this country has supported programs like welfare, Social Security, the GI Bill, food stamps, Medicare, government-backed mortgages, FEMA insurance, and other social programs is because a modern society benefits when as many citizens as possible have opportunities to succeed financially. Social programs aren’t perfect and don’t always provide what they promise, and there’s always a small percentage who take advantage of the system.

The push-and-pull between the focus on the society and the focus on the individual existed even before the founding of the nation, and this particular Weeble that wobbles between left and right without falling down (yet) has allowed the United States to become the biggest economy in the world in a relatively short period of time, and that’s a good thing.

From an individual perspective, it might not be that intuitive that one needs to be concerned about the “very poor.” After all, with social safety nets, one might think that the “very poor” have little to worry about. Regardless of the existence of programs — both public and private — poverty is still an issue in this country, even if you don’t see it in your daily life as you shuffle in an office building from meeting to meeting or shuttle from city to city on business trips. It’s hard to be concerned about something if you aren’t faced with it every day.

If, however, you are concerned about the “very poor,” there are ways to help, even if you don’t believe that handouts are effective. The most popular rationalization for not caring about poverty is the idea that helping another individual teaches complacency rather than responsibility, interdependence rather than independence. The incorrect assumption is that families in destitute situations have no desire to work for their money like those who have built wealth for themselves and have earned the right to let their money do the work for them and receive income from dividends and interest rather than working in the middle-class and working-middle-class sense of the word.

The real problem is tied into that psychology 101 concept I turn to repeatedly, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If most waking minutes in your day are spent worrying about your shelter, your food, and having a safe place to sleep, “income mobility” is a fantasy. You’re a victim of “class warfare,” but in your reality, you don’t have time or energy for political arguments about class warfare.

If you are concerned about the very poor, there are options. Helping bring attention to poverty can form provide opportunities to those without them without much sacrifice from those with opportunities.

  • Give money directly to organizations that run programs focusing on providing opportunities. The top-rated charities focusing on poverty according to Charity Navigator are Direct Relief International (although International is in the name, they also work to eliminate domestic poverty, particularly in disaster-stricken areas), SOME (So Others Might Eat, focusing on the D.C. area), and the People’s Resource Center (based in Chicago). If you prefer to give a hand-up rather than a hand-out, focus on organizations that provide job training and placement, programs that expand the reach of educational opportunities, and programs that present positive financial role models.
  • Volunteer with the organizations that run these programs. Build houses. Build schools. Help at a food bank. When you are actively involved, you get to experience the results of your work much more closely than if you were to send a check every month. No, you won’t get a tax deduction for volunteer work, but that’s not the point.
  • Become a community leader. When people from poor communities manage to succeed financially, they often don’t return to be the role model their community needs. This is the reason financial illiteracy is a problem that will continue from generation to generation, keeping low socio-economic status communities from thriving.

Are you concerned about the very poor? Does paying your taxes and being satisfied with existing social safety nets relieve you from any other possible responsibilities for how the country fares as a whole? Do we even have any responsibilities to anyone other than ourselves and our families?

Related: Here’s how you might be able to avoid poverty for your family. Also, could you survive at the poverty line?

Published or updated February 3, 2012. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

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{ 74 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Money Beagle

I think a society should be measured not in terms of overall riches, but also in how they treat their poor. There should be concern for them and there should be measures taken to guide them out of their situation. I’m not in favor of handouts but I do believe there should be more education and opportunities to allow the very poor to have more opportunities.

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avatar Well Heeled Blog

Here’s what a professor told me: when you construct a safety net, you have to decide on which side do you want to fall: do you want to (1) make it so that no one can unduly take advantage of the net, even though you will have some people truly need and can benefit from the help slip through the cracks, or do you (2) make it broad enough that hopefully everyone who needs the net receives help, but that means that some undeserving people will be able to take advantage of it?

There can be no perfect system, but I think when it comes down to it I would be in favor of the latter.

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avatar Juan

I’m also for the second option, the truth is that we need to try and take care of the whole nation, not just the people that already have it made.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

I agree that a country’s success should be judged on how they care for their poor. Everyone needs shelter, food and clothing.

The sad fact is there is a food chain. If the lowest rung were lifted higher, it would still be the lowest rung. But, maybe it would be high enough to provide the essentials.

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avatar wylerassociate ♦162 (Cent)

Our first priority is to make sure that we as americans take care of ourselves and our families first then helping the poor especially in these tough economic times. Many of us as americans do what we can by supporting food banks, rescue missions, churches that feed & help the poor.

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avatar tom

This was such a dumb soundbite comment by Romney, but you have to focus your attention somewhere.

You want to help the very poor, boost the middle class. Only then will you see a large increase in giving to poverty focused charities, and other charities in general. In a way, Romney is correct. The middle class of this country is so big, it is where the main focus should be. That isn’t to say, forget about the poor, but you want to pull people out of poverty? Prop up the middle class.

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avatar Tom Dziubek

It think it’s important to point out Romney’s exact quote, and not just the abbreviated sound bite:

“I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor–we have a safety net there,” he said Wednesday. “If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich–they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,550 (Platinum)

I’m not sure the full quotation makes the statement any better. He’s out of touch with the reality of poverty — but so are all successful politicians at this level, regardless of what they might say to any particular audience, so it’s not an adequate point for choosing which politician to support.

And that’s also why I chose to focus on poverty as an issue rather than politics in this article.

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avatar tom

Romney just created more campaign soundbite fodder. It was a dumb thing to say overall.

Aside from directly propping up the poor, they need to rely on the services you mention above. If the middle class is strong, these organizations will more donations. The middle class is extremely generous when looking at a ratio of income to donations.

I don’t blame him for focusing on the middle class, that makes the most positive impact on the country, but don’t say you don’t care about the poor, that’s just plain stupid.

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avatar Mike

As a MA resident I actually got to experience Romney as a governor first hand. His actions are what I care about. There is no better way to take care of the poor than to provide them jobs. He reduced unemployment here while he was governor. It was 5.6% when he arrived and 4.6% when he left. He also signed the MA healthcare plan. This plan took care of those that could not afford healthcare in MA. He also donated millions to charity.

http://campaign2012.washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/beltway-confidential/romney%E2%80%99s-public-callousness-and-private-charity/353616

(S)everal days later, Smith got a phone call. It was Romney. “He personally called and said something to the effect of, ‘I want you to know that I truly do support American veterans, regardless of what has been said or how this was portrayed.’” Romney told Smith he wanted to cover part of the shelter’s milk costs, and he didn’t want any publicity for it. “He said something like, ‘I’m looking to do it because it’s the right thing,’” Smith said. He didn’t know exactly how Romney had done it – he figured Romney had arranged something with one of the shelter’s milk suppliers. But now, instead of paying for a thousand pints a day, the shelter was paying for just five hundred. And it wasn’t just some political stratagem. “It wasn’t a short-term ‘Let me stroke you a check,’” he said. “It happened not once, not twice, but for a long period of time.” In fact, Smith said he understood that Romney was still supporting the shelter when Smith left in 1996.

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avatar Tom Dziubek

It doesn’t make it much better, but he at least explains WHY he said it. It’s better than just the flat “I’m not concerned about the very poor” which is what’s making the rounds.

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avatar Melissa

Thanks, great post.

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avatar Squeezer

I think most people are poor for reasons they had control over such as having kids at an early age, dropping out of school just because they didn’t like it, or the person lacks motivation.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,550 (Platinum)

Nothing you mentioned is a primary cause of poverty, nor are “most” people poor for those reasons. A middle class family doesn’t just enter poverty when a teenager in the household has kids (the young parent or parents have access to financial support and helping hands), middle class children don’t just drop out of school nearly as often as children already in poverty, and motivation is not a problem — they’re just motivated to survive and don’t have the opportunity to thrive.

They may be factors keeping people in poverty, for some, but they’re not significant root causes.

I’m all for taking control over your financial life… and motivating yourself to build success… but that’s a luxury that poverty-stricken households do not necessarily have.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

Flexo, You have just earned my respect.

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avatar Investor Junkie

Flexo,

It’s not just one bad decision, but multiple dad decisions that adds up. Having a child could be motivation to improve themselves and get out of poverty. I have personally seen friends who have it all mess things up badly, and on the flip side those who’ve started with nothing do very well. There are many in the public eye also that follow these same paths.

In the end it is ultimately up to the person to be poor and not be middle class (lets forget about being wealthy for a moment). I think having bad role models is a good part of the issue. The cycle of poverty is because that is all they know, not because of what’s possible.

Helping the poor in my opinion is about teaching them how to fish, not giving the fish away.

In Romney’s case is absolutely correct we already have many social programs in place for the poor. Needing fixing is another issue. The middle class is getting completely ignored and is getting the shaft IMHO.

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avatar Steve Mertz

Good thoughts Flexo. I am probably also out of touch with the very poor but I’m more in tune with those who are working and still struggling financially. One of my major concerns are those who get devastated by some medical condition and they literally get wiped out. I like the suggestions of others about contributing to food banks etc and one of my favorite charities is The Ronald McDonald House Charities. Keep up the good work Flexo!!

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avatar Kevin @ Thousandaire.com

I don’t believe theft is the answer.

Forcibly taking money from someone who has it and giving it to someone who does is theft. The government can’t give the poor anything because the government doesn’t have anything. The government can only take from one person and give to another.

The answer is to get the federal government out of the way and let local charities like the ones you mentioned and local governments figure out the best ways to care for their needy.

A government worker assigned to help poor people has two motivations: help poor people and take home a paycheck. And I would be willing to bet the latter is more important than the former for some of those federal employees.

If we leave it to private charities, the only motivation people will have is to help the needy, which creates a much more efficient and altruistic system. Plus, individuals will have more money and/or time to donate because they aren’t taxed as much by the federal government.

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avatar Kevin @ Thousandaire.com

edit: Forcibly taking money from someone who has it and giving it to someone who DOESN’T is theft.

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avatar Daniel

It’s not exactly theft when you actually are giving the “theives” your money willingly. You might not agree with policies, but you are choosing to live here and abide by the laws. Taxes are part of the law, so by definition, I doubt this is thievery.

Why is it ok for local governments to steal from the rich and give to the poor?

I’m going to use this “theft” soundbite when you are on the campaign trail, I don’t think Americans will like to know they are supporting someone who calls our leaders thieves ;)

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avatar Kevin @ Thousandaire.com

What do you mean “choosing to live here”? I live here, first and foremost, because I am not a citizen or permanent resident of any other country. You act like I can just plop down in another country anytime I wish. That’s called illegal immigration.

And I’m not giving the “thieves” my money willingly. I’m giving it to them because if I don’t they are going to come to my house, arrest me and put me in jail. And if I resist their arrest, they can “legally” shoot me. I am literally being forced to give my money at gunpoint. I’m not sure what world you are living in, but I live in the world where if someone violently demands your money, it is theft.

The only difference between government theft and individual theft is government theft has been “legal” since the 16th amendment was passed in 1913.

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avatar Daniel

“I am literally being forced to give my money at gunpoint.” – Really? Have the gunman type something so I know this is really happening.

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avatar Kevin @ Thousandaire.com

Come on now Daniel. You’re smart enough to realize that crime is not punished immediately. That’s like suggesting that you’re not being forced at gunpoint not to murder someone because you don’t have a police officer right next to you.

I will be forced at gunpoint to pay taxes in the future if I don’t pay today. Does that satisfy your semantic concerns?

avatar Daniel

Yah, I’m still not buying it. There are lots of non-paying taxpayers in this country, I don’t think there are a lot of IRS agents surrounding houses every day.

There’s a difference between having to face the consequences later and ‘being forced at gunpoint.’

avatar Peter

For the most part I’m with Kevin on this one. We’re moving from a society where individuals can choose to give and care for the poor of their own free will through local organizations and charities, to one where people are made to give by the government so that it can care for the poor through large government programs. Not sure that’s a good trend. When we are made to give via taxes it also means that the rate of giving to charities/etc by individuals will be lower, just look at the current average rates of giving to charity in our country. It’s low.

I’ve seen it from the inside growing up as my father worked with a social service agency and food shelf for years and years, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that a majority of the people coming through there were trapped in poverty due to their own bad choices (drugs, crime, etc), or the choices of others around them (bad family situations, culture, etc). Of course still others were poor because of chronic health or mental health conditions or other things keeping them from moving up, but they weren’t the majority that I saw. In any event, there are also social and governmental policies helping to exacerbate the problem to be sure. It isn’t a simple problem with a simple solution.

Do we need to help the poor? Certainly. I think it’s important that we care for and give to the poor, but when that “giving” is forced upon us and we’re forced to give even when we think the methods of helping the poor are fundamentally short sighted, I don’t think it’s a good thing.

So yes, we are concerned about the poor, and we give to our local church and charities besides our taxes – because we feel that there are people that need help, no matter what the reasons for their poverty.

avatar Well Heeled Blog

Plenty of folks have moved to the U.S. legally, just as some U.S. citizens have relinquished their citizenship and become citizens of another country. It’s not easy, but it’s far from impossible. And U.S. taxes are actually on the lower end for an industrialized country.

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avatar Kevin @ Thousandaire.com

I’m not saying I want to move. I want the laws to change. I want Americans to accept personal liberty. I want a government that is more free and more fair to people of all income levels, instead of one that punishes the middle class to benefit the very rich and the very poor.

I’m staying in America because I believe it will happen eventually. Just look at how much Ron Paul is winning the youth vote. It may not happen in the 2012 election, but it’s coming.

avatar Invest It Wisely

Come on Daniel, if you choose to accept that line of thought, then you ultimately have to accept that racism was also OK because black people lived in white America, and chose to stay instead of leaving en masse to Africa. Whatever the majority thinks is right must be right, at least at the time. Don’t like it? Get out! ;)

I don’t know if no taxes is feasible any time soon, but surely the current system is not very just and can be vastly improved upon.

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avatar popokigirl

“A government worker assigned to help poor people has two motivations: help poor people and take home a paycheck. And I would be willing to bet the latter is more important than the former for some of those federal employees.”

These are the same motivations, then, for those who work for non-profits. I’m assuming you don’t think that those who do the same job in the private sector somehow have nobler motivations, or only the first motivation mentioned above. A check of executive salaries of many of our well-known non-profit organizations addressing poverty might be instructive.

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avatar Invest It Wisely

I had no idea you were so libertarian, and we both share the same name, haha. I am not as artistic as you, though. ;)

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avatar Pam Whitlock

I was first introduced to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs when I was in college, studying to become a teacher. It really struck a chord with me and stays with me today (just “a few” years later). In order for true learning and high level thinking to occur (not just rote memorization), the first four needs should be met in the child. A good teacher keeps this in mind every day when working with the children. I definitely think this correlates to society. If you are worried about putting food on your table or keeping the power on in your home, you will probably not be thinking of the upcoming election or politics. This doesn’t mean that you are disengaged, lazy or suffer from entitlement. It just means that you are focused on the basic needs of the day.

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avatar Kevin @ Thousandaire.com

Applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to people who are impoverished and on government assistance, isn’t it obvious that they would do everything they can to continue to qualify for government assistance? Even if that means refusing to get a job or having more children they can’t afford, they will do whatever it takes to ensure their basic needs continue to be met.

This is why government assistance is so dangerous. People become dependent on the government for even their most basic needs, which never allows them to advance up the hierarchy. They focus their efforts on qualifying for government assistance instead of meeting their needs other ways that would give them the skills and drive to go further towards self actualization.

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avatar Pam Whitlock

There is a danger of abuse of all programs but that shouldn’t prevent the program from existing for those who use it for the purposes for which it was intended. I am sure there are those in the extreme who use government assistance to support a lifestyle; just as I am sure there are those in the opposite extreme who focus solely on increasing their wealth while turning a blind eye to the world around them and use unethical methods of achieving the wealth. I am hopeful that most of us are more moderate and can improve our lives and our own wealth while maintaining compassion and the desire to help others improve their own lives, even if that means helping them through temporary rough spots.

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avatar Investor Junkie

Kevin comment of the day! So true. I’m all for government assistance, and think it should exist. Being a libertarian also I’m not dumb enough to believe some social systems should not exist. They most definitely should, but just at some level. Everyone needs an emergency stop gap.

Where I do have a beef with is the never ending cycle. Isn’t it ironic that many find a job just after unemployment insurance ends? Hmm… Yes it might be lower paying than previous, but it is a job and you are still self sufficient. Someone who’s out of work for 2+ years is considered “bad goods” by employers because they haven’t had a job for so long. Their skills are out of date. So extending the unemployment insurance isn’t the answer.

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avatar Tyler S.

Most of the conversation here has been about American poverty, but I have seen the incredible amount of poverty first-hand in both Mexico and Guatemala, where it was not uncommon for families of 5+ to live in a house that’s less than the size of my bedroom and bathroom. We build bigger (10′x15′) houses for these people, and they were so thankful that they were in tears. It was so humbling, because I’m used to having everything I want, and complaining if I don’t get my way. Mission trips like these are how I try to give back.

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avatar Invest It Wisely

Oh, yeah, I don’t think people have seen real poverty until they have left their rich western country. I think that building houses and giving back in any way you can is a really great thing to do, and a very humbling experience, too. It can be tough to find that line between helping and enabling sometimes — you don’t want to be the walking dollar sign that everyone runs to expecting a hand-out, so just giving out money is not always the best thing.

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avatar Melissa@LittleHouseInTheValley

I agree with you. While the situation for the very poor is difficult in the U.S., in some other countries these conditions are typical for most residents. There is a safety net available, and if you yourself don’t have money to give beyond the taxes you pay, there is always your time to give.

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avatar Earn Save Live

Yes, I am incredibly concerned about the poor. I’ve worked in places such as community centers and homeless shelters where I’ve encountered many poor families. There are so many reasons why someone may end up in poverty. But I don’t think that we can deny that we need to address systemic poverty and help all families, but especially those living in poverty.

When I worked at the homeless shelter, the state governor implemented new rules regarding how families could qualify for welfare and other benefits. The new rules were so complicated – and often, contradictory – that both families and organizations struggled to make sense of them. Out of frustration, some families moved in with friends, headed out of state, or skipped meals. Months later, the governor touted how he had slashed the welfare rolls.

I think that a lot of people can’t wrap their head around poverty because they have never experienced it themselves. (It’s the same reason why someone who has never experienced depression or anxiety or addiction can fully understand it). It’s hard to put ourselves in someone’s shoes, to feel empathetic, and to act in a way that is compassionate. You can tell someone in poverty to, “Make better choices!” and “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” but unless you support them to do so, nothing will change. That support, I think, needs to allow parents and children to pursue education, have food and shelter, and access to medical care.

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avatar DA

I don’t know much about poverty other than growing up in a rural isolated community in the midwest. That being said I wonder if the culture of poverty is the biggest contributor towards the continuation of poverty in a family…What I mean is this…

Perhaps the individuals in families raised in poverty don’t really know anything different than living this way. If you are surrounded by poverty and your grandparents, parents, and extended family are living in poverty one may just resign themselves to doing the same things that got their family in this position in the first place.

If all you know is poverty perhaps not deciding to get out of it is the single biggest predictor of future success!

For example I have decided along with my wife to pay off our mortgage early and live in a paid for house. This was a paradigm shift of thinking for us b/c most people we are around have mortgages. Long ago we just assumed we would always have one…Until a new exposure to Dave Ramsey and his way of thinking we would have never thought it possible to pay it off early! Not knowing it was possible was keeping us in debt!

Also who doesn’t know of a family full of doctors/lawyers/firemen/police officers/armed service members? If your granddaddy and your dad and your uncles and brothers are all cops, maybe your choice of occupation is limited…if not only in your mind!

The parable about the elephant that grew up in the circus who ever since it was born was tied by a puny rope and stake…When it was young it learned it couldn’t break free of the ropes that bound it. One may think it quite odd that a multi ton beast unwilling to try to break free. Perhaps poverty is also such a rope that binds…

DA

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avatar jim

Well written article Flexo.

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avatar Money Infant

I am probably not really in touch with the poor in America, but I do believe that because of our social safety nets they have both the opportunity and the resources to make a better life for themselves. If you truly want to see what poverty looks like come visit me in SE Asia and we can go visit places like the Klong Toey slums in Bangkok or even rural Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos. People in these places are living on $100-200 a month and there are no social programs designed to help them get out of this poverty.

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avatar Tom Dziubek

When are we, as a society, going to start putting an emphasis on personal responsibility as opposed to blaming poverty on the environment in which the those affected people live?

There are plenty of people in this country who, for one reason or another, need help to survive and/or succeed. I have no problem with the government assisting them when necessary.

However there are far more people in this country who place their priorities elsewhere. I have problems feeling sorry for supposedly poor people who own big-screen TVs, cell phones, drink, smoke, do drugs, have more children than they can afford, etc. but otherwise live in squalor. And then they complain about needing free healthcare because they “can’t afford to go to a doctor”. There are plenty of opportunities for people to better themselves, it’s just that many people choose not to take advantage of them.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

I’m a conservative, yet -with all due respect- your views appear callous. Not everyone has the brain power to know and do things the same way some do. There will always be people who need to be cared for. If we are able, then we can accept the responsibility.

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avatar Tom Dziubek

As I stated, I have no problem with giving people like that assistance. My problem is with those who willingly make poor decisions.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

And my point is, some people don’t have the ability to make appropriate decisions.
I’m not looking to argue, just bringing to light that humans each have different abilities. What we need to remember is the ability to figure out such things is a gift.

avatar jim

“those who willingly make poor decisions.”

Do you think that the majority of poor people are purposefully screwing up their own finances by doing things they honestly know they shouldn’t do?

Whats an example of someone willingly making such a poor decision?

avatar popokigirl

I assume you would never paint with such a broad brush unless you had the data to back it up. I refer to your comment that “there are far more people in this country who place their priorities elsewhere”.

If fairness is indeed a concern, impressions that are by definition limited to the narrow slice of the country available for your observation are no substitute for facts that take into account a much larger slice.

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avatar Tom Dziubek

“I assume you would never paint with such a broad brush unless you had the data to back it up.”

I’d love to get you data but, unfortunately, “priorities” are not something that are quantifiable. Aside from the basics that Flexo mentioned in Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs, priorities may differ from person to person. Many people know what their priorities should be, but fail to act accordingly. I’m very confident in saying that fault exists, to an extent, with all of us. However, some people are worse than others. Why is it that so many people claim bankruptcy after running up enormous credit card bills on frivolous items? Why do we drink, smoke or even eat cheeseburgers, knowing it can be a huge health risk? Why do people have unsafe, unprotected sex? All of these things are personal decisions that can have direct and indirect impact on people’s finances.

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avatar popokigirl

Indeed priorities are not quantifiable. However, your assertion that there are far more people who are claiming to be poor despite having big-screen TVs, cell phones, etc. is nothing but an impression without data to support it, in the form of statistics of those currently on government assistance who also have these things.

You would also need data to support the claim that “many people claim bankruptcy after running up enormous credit card bills on frivolous items.” Bankruptcy claimants would need to be divided into those who filed due to credit card debt as a percentage of claimants as a whole, and then further divided into those whose credit card debt was comprised mostly of “frivolous” charges, which would also need to be defined.

With regard to the smoking/cheeseburger idea, there is an implication in the connection you draw between such activity and finance that only the rich, who can afford the health care that would be needed to ameliorate these choices at least to some extent, can engage in these activities.

The same is true of the connection you draw between sexual activity and finance.

avatar Tom Dziubek

@popokigirl, I’ll have my lawyer and resident team of statisticians get back to you all that data. I’m sure they can “ameliorate” on my current argument once they’re finishing scouring the archives. In the meantime, I’m going to rely on the personal and professional experiences I’ve accumulated over the years when I paint with a broad brush in saying that most of the “poor” people out there are “poor” because they piss their money away on stupid sh*t. I’ll also have them look up the data on “stupid sh*t” once the government quantifies what that is.

avatar popokigirl

I do not seem able to reply to your reply. However, the descent of language in your recent screed indicates any reply would be useless.

Good luck to you.

avatar Ceecee ♦53 (Newbie)

Having worked in an inner city welfare office, I can say that the “safety nets” are not that adequate. And there is one thing that those who are better off fail to realize: when you hit a rough patch, usually there are friends or family who will help you out. For the very poor, most of their friends and family are in the same boat. They can’t even let a family member crash on their couch for a month or two if Section 8 is involved, because Sec 8 has rigid rules about the # of people allowed in the household. When my clients found themselves a little short at the end of the month, they had usually had no one to turn to who had the resources to help out. And then there are the simple things. Poorer people on food stamps often have to shop at the local(very expensive) bodega because they don’t have a car to get to the supermarket.

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avatar Invest It Wisely

I am concerned about the poor, but I think you are proposing a false dichotomy here. All societies are composed of individuals, and there are no such things as “goals” of a society apart from the goals of some individuals within that society.

I agree that allowing some individuals more rights than others is a bad thing, but if you look at the progression of history, what has set places like the United States apart is their history of protection for the rights of individuals, including property rights and the freedom of speech. It is these ideas that have allowed for the buildup of capital and wealth, and that is the only thing that makes poor people less poor.

Given the current state of the world, I am fine with some welfare plans being in place, but I believe that all suffer from the law of unintended consequences, and that all contribute to a degeneracy toward mob rule by separating society into two distinct classes: those who pay taxes on net, and those who consume taxes on net. In my view, having a strong and fair legal system, equal rights for all, and low corruption are far more important, and these are the only ways of increasing the amount of pie that everyone gets to eat from.

So, yes, I am concerned about the poor, and I was poor for more than half of my life, myself. Opportunities is what helped me get out, and that is what will help the poor today… not coercive redistribution nor government-sponsored monopolies.

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avatar popokigirl

This is not a confirmed or agreed-upon premise, despite it being stated as such:
“All societies are composed of individuals, and there are no such things as ‘goals’ of a society apart from the goals of some individuals within that society.”

On the contrary, “goals” of *certain* parts of society come into play quite frequently, most notably to my mind in times of war.

I would note that part of that history of protection of property rights which you cite includes the protection of the property rights of slaveowners, which can hardly be thought of as protection of *individual* rights but rather the protection of a certain segment of society.

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avatar Invest It Wisely

One man cannot legitimately have property rights over another man, unless that man consents. But then, it is not slavery if they are not being held against their will. Slavery and taxation are both about the idea that some men have more rights than others, and they also have a common history of being seen as legitimate for thousands of years. Slavery is just more obvious in what’s actually going on, which is why we now consider it to be illegal, and rightly so.

I am also not a supporter of war, except in self-defence. Even then, the war must be limited to the combatants, and not taken to the civilians. To do otherwise is a crime, regardless of if some believe that the ends justify the means.

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avatar popokigirl

It is odd to think that a human being may ever have “legitimate” property rights over another human being, with or without consent. That would appear to undermine the whole premise of “rights of man”.

You’ll have to draw more fully for me the analogy between slavery and taxation, as, on its face, the equation is offensive.

I did not mean to imply that you were a supporter of war; rather that the statement that there are no “society goals” did not take into account circumstances in which there are most definitely society goals.

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avatar Invest It Wisely

To the first point: not really. If I give my wife consent over my body, for example should I be incapacitated or injured, I don’t think that undermines my rights at all.

To the second point: I don’t see much difference between being forced to work directly for the government for X months, or having to fork over X % of income. I find it offensive that others believe that they are entitled to the product of my labour, and furthermore see fit to punish me should I not comply.

To the third point: Ok, I think we agree. I don’t want to be pedantic, but my point is that when a society seems to have goals, it still has no existence apart from individuals: A society goes to war because a few men in power decide to go to war, and everyone under these men acquiesce or believe, and follow along. It is still a concert of actions of individuals. Everyone still has to decide for themselves; people are not dumb automatons or processors, like neurons of a brain or cells of a body. It is the individual that acts, and not “society”. Break the chain and you cannot have a society that goes to war.

avatar popokigirl

On the first point I would still argue that you are by no means reduced to the status of property, regardless of what powers of attorney you give your spouse.

On the second point I suggest that as you have benefited from the taxes of those who have come before you, through roads, police departments, fire, and perhaps schooling, etc., even though you may have been fortunate enough to avoid using other tax-funded benefits, such as welfare, food stamps, federally funded health care, etc., it isn’t too much to ask that you pay something as well. While I agree that tax rates are currently too high *for some*, I disagree that taxation as a whole is akin to slavery. You are not forced to live in substandard conditions, your movements restricted; you are not beaten nor starved; your family will not be sold away from you; you are not denied education nor punished for pursuing one. These differences, among others, dramatically separate taxation from the true horrors of slavery.

On the third point, not to be redundant while simultaneously being redundant, I agree with you that we, for the most part, agree. :)

Thanks for the lively discussion, Invest it Wisely.

avatar Invest It Wisely

So first and third points we are now on the same page :), and I agree that, as practiced currently, western levels of taxation are not as bad as outright slavery (which is why I said that slavery is more obvious in what is going on). This does not exonerate the harm that comes from taxation.

However, stop paying your taxes and see what happens to you, eh? You’ll quickly find that if you don’t obey, you will also lose your family, lose your opportunities to follow an education, lose your freedom, etc…. and depending on the jail, sure, you can very well get beaten or worse. That might not be as bad as being an outright slave, but it sure seems pretty bad to me.

I also acknowledge that there are many services and products which are provided through coercive taxation. I disagree that this fact leads to the statement that one *ought* to continue supporting these services via coercive taxation. Just because things have been done one way in the past does not mean that that was the best way, nor that that way is justified going into the future. I enjoy seeing tourist attractions in the world, such as the Pyramids, that may have been built with slave labour, but I certainly do think that it is too much to ask to use that fact to justify continued slavery today, whether on the part of the viewer or someone else. You cannot justify something just by saying “well, that’s how we’ve always done it” or “you benefit from us doing it this way, so you should also support us doing it this way”.

I am glad that you agree that overall tax rates are too high for some, and I appreciate the discussions as well! You seem open-minded and intelligent, and would invite you to read “The Revolution: A Manifesto” if you haven’t already. Whether or not you agree with Ron Paul or all of his views (I don’t agree with everything he says), I think you’ll find it an illuminating and refreshing read. Too many of our discussions break down on arbitrary “left-right” lines, when these are often just manufactured lines in the sand that distract us from the real issues out there.

P.S. No,I have not actually seen the pyramids, yet, but I was just trying to make a point. ;)

avatar Invest It Wisely

I spammed this thread enough, but I just wanted to answer your last question: “Are you concerned about the very poor? Does paying your taxes and being satisfied with existing social safety nets relieve you from any other possible responsibilities for how the country fares as a whole? ”

No, I don’t think it does at all, and I think that is a major downside of redistributive taxes. It creates resentment and pits classes against each other. Helping by becoming a community leader, volunteering, and giving to charities that can have a direct impact are all good ways to help. I am 100% behind giving when someone genuinely wants to help, and I think if people saw less of their money being taken each paycheck, especially with all of the waste, there would be more of this to go around. Too many people think “well, I already pay enough taxes, so screw ‘em”.

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avatar Young and Thrifty

People should be concerned about the very poor. If not concerned at least show some compassion. There are plenty of people living on a “paycheck to paycheck” budget where all it takes is one missed paycheck for their entire world to crumble. If you eliminate the government programs that help the poor you will be eliminating public schooling, health care that reduces the amount of sick people coughing on you, and financial aid for college students.

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avatar popokigirl

Completely agree.

It’s sad that the three programs you mention are already being gutted, the results of which are that:
* adequate education will be reserved for those who can pay for it, either via private school or purchase of an expensive home in a well-funded school district;
* adequate health care will be reserved for the same, while others will become victims of the current rationing system;
* labor will be less mobile, and therefore less able to take advantage of opportunities as they arise, because people will not feel that they can risk losing their health care by changing jobs; and,
* college educations will be available only to those who can attend without also incurring debt, a very unlikely prospect for the majority of such students. Should students incur the debt, they are likely to spend a good portion of their post-college life paying it off, which again benefits employers who are better able to dictate terms to those saddled with such debt.

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avatar FG

I think you’re ignoring the biggest beneficiaries of the current system: the unions and bureaucrats who feed off of the rising costs, while providing ever-declining services to their customers. Why are you being an apologist for a monopoly, even if it’s one controlled by the state and nominally in a poor person’s best interest (even if it doesn’t work out that way in practice)?

“adequate education will be reserved for those who can pay for it, either via private school or purchase of an expensive home in a well-funded school district;”

Why couldn’t community-run programs or internet-based programs drastically reduce costs and provide superior service?

“adequate health care will be reserved for the same, while others will become victims of the current rationing system;”

Why do we need to have a rationing system? Things do not get rationed on a free market. They only do because you have an inadequate supply, and this might be do to reasons such as excessive licensing and restrictions to become a family doctor. Nonethess, it doesn’t matter what you believe in: there is proof out there in the world of systems that provide superior care at a lower cost, whether socialist or two-tier or whatnot. P.S.: The US model is most decidedly not a free market, before you rebut with that as an argument.

“labor will be less mobile, and therefore less able to take advantage of opportunities as they arise, because people will not feel that they can risk losing their health care by changing jobs; and,”

This is a problem with an insurance-dominated healthcare system, like the U.S. model. It doesn’t make sense, and insurance should not have anything to do with maintenance and prevention, which is not even insurable anyways. It’s like having insurance to cover oil changes. All you’re doing is making some insurance companies and doctors rich for nothing.

“college educations will be available only to those who can attend without also incurring debt, a very unlikely prospect for the majority of such students.”

You can thank government-sponsored and non-dischargeable student loans for this mess.

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avatar D. Brinson

I don’t believe you can talk about “the poor” as if they were one homogenous entity. The reasons why someone isn’t making it should determine how, or if, you help them. There are people that cannot make it without assistance because they are not physically capable of working – such as the disabled or elderly. I don’t know of very many people that would argue against providing needed assistance to these people. Then there are others that are physically capable of working – but do not for whatever reason. The ones that are not able to find work should be given assistance in finding a job. I would prefer providing a government job as opposed to merely handing assistance (money, housing, food stamps, whatever) to these people. Those that simply don’t want to work (and yes – there are a lot of these) should be cut off.

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avatar Go Furself

I fear jobs are becoming automated and the need for people is declining. My company was just acquired and 75% of the employees were cut, no warning, nothing, found out via twitter.

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avatar Paul @ The Frugal Toad

I absolutely feel I have an individual responsibility to help those that are in need. I also feel that I do not have a responsibility to help those that make poor choices. Having said that, it is naive to believe that society will function in a sustainable and efficient manner without some forms of charitable assistance. An example would be the education and healthcare of our young. We all know that there are adults who neglect the needs of their children and for moral and other reasons it is in the best interest of society that these needs are addressed. Society ultimately benefits from it’s investment in early childhood education and healthcare with a healthy and productive member of society.

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avatar Randy

Most of the time, I like your column. I don’t like the politics.

I believe in the motto “thing globally, act locally.” I vote for politicians who try to improve society as a whole, not pockets of people so they can garner votes. Those who work for less dependence on the system.

I work on a local level to help those who need help. A friend who needed $100 to pay bills so her daughter could go to college (application fee and a few groceries). Another friend who needed firewood to stay warm.

I also work locally in my community by preparing taxes for thse who make under $50k. I see some who try to scam the system and some who are legitimately trying to improve themselves. I do the same work for all, and try to point them to ways they can get help. I don’t mix it with politics.

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avatar shellye ♦107 (Cent)

Not to get all ‘Religulous’ on everyone, but one of Jesus’ primary concerns was helping the poor, and modeling that example to everyone he came in contact with. If Romney wants to portray himself as a principled guy with a strong moral compass, he needs to read or re-read the first 3/4 of the New Testament. Most everyone knows that Jesus didn’t just shove poor people aside in the name of some ‘safety net’.

Great post – it’s a shame that the leading Republican presidential candidate had to open his mouth and insert foot to prompt such a discussion, but such are the times in which we live.

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avatar FG

A question I would like to ask: Who is concerned for the middle class? The poor have guilt, the rich have powerful lobbies… who stands up for the middle class and prevents them from being exploited by both ends?

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

This is a valid question. I am assuming that the ‘new’ poor is included in the numbers.

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avatar Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager

I volunteer with the homeless on a weekly basis. The most concerning thing is how invisible they feel.

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avatar Mark D. Cook

Excellent post Flexo. I’ve recently found a way to not only help the poor, but to help them help themselves. Investing in microloans as little as $25 can help bring people out of poverty. The loans allow them to start their own businesses and eventually pay back the loan.

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avatar Bucksome Boomer ♦236 (Cent)

Excellent discussion! I find it interesting that as such a religious nation so many Americans don’t feel it is their duty to help the poor. Is it pick and choose the teachings of Jesus?

Even if I didn’t believe the teachings, I feel it is our duty as a society. Here we are in one of the richest, if not THE richest, country in the world and we want to chip away at the “safety net” for the poor. Yes, some will abuse but I would rather make sure I’m taking care of the needy even if there are scammers.

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avatar qixx ♦1,895 (Half-Dollar)

I think that most Americans are not really all that religious. I find that many of the people that “go to church” don’t engage themselves. Regardless of people’s beliefs i think the safety net is plenty large. I just think the government is not the best moderator of the safety net. I try to put my support to more local organizations. When someone is in need of help i feel that family should be the first to step up to help. Second should be community, be it a local organization, church, food bank. Even city and state governments should be helping out before and national government program.

I think a good part of the discussion here is saying similar things. I don’t people want to eliminate all help for the poor.

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