Who Cares for the Poor?

It is very hard to understand why any politician would be opposed to paying people a living wage – meaning, a wage that would allow them to live with dignity as opposed to living as virtual slaves to an unfair economic system.

 

It is clear that capitalism and democracy are not one in the same thing;  apparently, if  Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson had a face-to-face conversation, they would lock horns on principle: capitalism does not pretend to want to, or to be about, providing a level playing field for all people, as democracy purports to be about.

 

But to be against helping people get paid what their work contribution is really worth seems immoral. Actually, allowing poverty, or ignoring it, seems to be immoral too, especially in such a wealthy and religious nation.  It seems like more and more, people are just a beggar’s cup away from abject poverty.

 

The growing gap between rich and poor, the shrinking of the middle class, is not just an American problem. In China, reports Rob Schmitz, “the number of people …who still live on less than two dollars a day is equal to the entire population of the United States.”  (http://www.marketplace.org/topics/world/street-eternal-happiness/celebrating-chinese-new-year-street-eternal-happiness). Ironically, the very poor sit on a street named “The Street of Eternal Happiness.” The well to do most often walk past the beggars; the sense of disdain is hardly unnoticeable.

 

There is nothing “happy,” though, about being poor. There is nothing “happy” about having to choose between food and medicine, or between diapers or milk for the baby who needs the diaper. Many families cannot afford diapers; hence in some places diaper banks have been created. Many elderly do not have enough to eat. And many adults are working their buns off with hardly anything to show for it except extreme fatigue and deepening depression.

 

There seems to be such an insensitivity to the poor. In China, Kang Xiaoguang, Professor of Regional Economics and Politics, actually said, publicly, “Although there are hundreds of millions of workers and peasants, they don’t count. You can ignore them. You can also rob and exploit them. It’s not a problem. The most important thing is to get the powerful on your side.”

 

While Xiaoguang’s statement is harsh and insensitive, it is hard to believe that he is not saying out loud what many people feel.  When President Obama said, in his 2013 State of the Union Address, that he wanted Congress to approve a hike in the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour, he apparently caught Republicans and some Democrats off-guard.  The president said, “Today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, 19 states have chosen to bump theirs even higher. Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty, and raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour.”

 

Those who are criticizing big government are not impressed with the president’s suggestion, nor are they apt to seriously consider it, and those who stay far enough from the poor to see the misery in which they live are not likely to “encourage” their state and federal lawmakers by threatening to withdraw support for them if they don’t raise the minimum wage.

 

If you do not see poverty, it is easy to minimize it and the suffering it causes.

 

Before the 2008 election, CNN anchor Lou Dobbs said, over and over, that America was losing its middle class.  He seemed not to get a lot of support, and I don’t remember what his solution was to the problem, but the fact is, Dobbs correctly called that there would be a crisis of the middle class, which has come to be.

 

The state and federal jobs which allowed so many people to reach middle class are shrinking, as are the manufacturing jobs. There are jobs available, but many of them require technical training which the vast majority of people do not have.

 

“Find a way to go to school and get some training,” those who are insensitive would say, not understanding that the working poor don’t have a penny to spend and would probably not qualify for a student loan. The working poor often cannot take a day off, or refuse to take a day off, even when they’re sick, because they cannot afford to miss a day’s wages. Their families suffer, as do they, in all areas of life.

 

Marco Rubio, who delivered the GOP rebuttal to President Obama’s speech, said, “I don’t think a minimum wage law works.” Addressing and raising the minimum wage would threaten the creation of jobs, those who oppose big government would say, but what kind of jobs? Probably more that are wont to pay workers what their work is worth.

 

It is no secret that wealth often accrues on the backs of the poor, with the poor getting little benefit. But there is something inherently wrong in that. There is something wrong with a system that allows the wealthy to make and hoard more money they can ever use, while those whose labor made them rich can barely make ends meet.

 

Professor Susan Thistlewaite, in her book, Occupy the Bible, encourages a moral and religious response to the issue of poverty. She spends a lot of time addressing the debt students are in who took out loans to go to college. Too many of them are not only struggling financially, but they are struggling emotionally as well. To not be able to find a job, or to get a job which does not pay a living wage, is demeaning. Many former students are committing suicide, she writes.

 

Thistlewaite encourages the religious of our society to read the Bible and interpret it from the perspective of those who struggle with poverty and financial hardship. The struggling don’t have trouble doing that; the wealthy would probably toss it off as Liberal dribble.

 

But there is no “dribble” in the fact that in this nation there is an oligarchy, not a democracy. There are too many people struggling to obtain the bare necessities for themselves and their families. The Republicans have criticized President Obama for the fact that more people receive food stamps than in the previous administration, but without help, how are the poor and working poor supposed to make it?  To require and expect them to work for the increase of profits for the wealthy and then to give them pittance in return …just does not seem right.

 

In fact, it seems that in doing that, the wealthy and powers that be are merely ignoring the poor.

 

The pervasiveness of poverty is not new; the society in which Jesus lived was as imbalanced economically as are the societies of China and Haiti and our own nation. But what is troubling is that it feels like it’s getting easier and easier for the wealthy to act like the poor and working poor don’t exist, that they are whiners and takers, like …they don’t matter.

 

Perhaps if nationally there could be a shift or an outpouring of programs that teach the poor how to compete in our global economy the picture could and would change. The poor don’t want to be poor; many of them are stuck and don’t know how to get out. Some would rather die than take government assistance. They don’t want a hand out. They want a way up and out of their economic misery. Poverty causes people to live in despair and depression; suicide is not all that uncommon for those who have simply given up hope of their lives ever getting better. There is a lot of domestic abuse amongst the poor, and children end up being ignored and neglected, which causes a host of social problems. It doesn’t make sense to ignore and/or ignore the poor. Poverty ends up costing money …but then, those who are investing in private prisons, the so-called Prison Industrial Complex, would not care about that because their wealth is built upon the backs of the hopeless and despairing.

 

Capitalism
Capitalism (Photo credit: Juliano Mattos)

 

You have to have eyes to see that, though, ears to hear it, and a heart to receive it. That, apparently, is what is missing in our great nation.

 

A candid observation …

 

The Big Business Called Prisons

Cover of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarcer...
Cover via Amazon

While the country, or parts of the country, express justified rage and anger toward Rush Limbaugh and his hideous and inappropriate statements directed at Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke, another outrage is being allowed to move forward, quietly but steadily.

In a February 14, 2012 article posted on The Huffington Post, the story was told of how a private corporation, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is offering cash-strapped states big money for their prisons. The article, by Chris Kirkham, said,”As state governments wrestle with massive budget shortfalls, a Wall Street giant is offering a solution: cash in exchange for state property. Prisons, to be exact.”

CCA is a for-profit operator of prisons. That means the corporation, and others like it, exist because there are prisons; their financial success depends upon prisons continuing to exist and continue to be filled. According to Kirkham’s article, CCA is “a swiftly growing business,with revenues expanding more than fivefold since the mid-1990s,” as the “War on Drugs” became a major issue in America.

Harley Lappin, who retired as the head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, is the Chief Corrections Officer (CCO) of CCA, and Board members include only one African-American, Thurgood Marshall, Jr., the son of the late United States Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall.

What’s the big deal, you ask? The big deal is that America cannot seem to let go of its plantation system. With money in the picture, as the driver of how prisons are operated, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that there is a big incentive for America to keep its prisons filled. CCA is doing business; it is not interested in rehabilitating people. In a recent letter to governors of 48 states, Harley Lappin wrote “…CCA is earmarking $250 million for purchasing and managing government-owned corrections facilities. The program is a new opportunity for federal, state or local governments that are considering the benefits of partnership corrections.”

In that same letter, Lappin said that on January 12 of this year, CCA assumed ownership and management responsibility in a transition described as seamless. This transfer culminated a process that, according to state officials, generated more than $72.7 million in proceeds for Ohio taxpayers (he was talking about the purchase of an Ohio prison),about $50 million of which was allocated for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.”

What does all of this mean? It means that the “new Jim Crow,” as Michelle Alexander has so excellently written about in her book by the same name, is alive and kicking. Who will fill the prisons? Black and brown people mostly, as has always been the case. What Alexander describes in her book as “military policing” will increase in urban neighborhoods, so as to make sure the source of profit for those who are buying the prisons, does not disappear.

Clearly, the target of prison inmates, since the Reagan Administration’s declared “War on Drugs” has been black and brown people, primarily men, who are addicted to crack cocaine. From the time the “war” began, there was money to be had for state and local law enforcement agencies for the numbers of people they arrested. Now, with this blatant “prison for profit” industry rising as one of the, if not the, fastest industries in America, there will be even more money earned on the backs of America’s black, brown, and poor people.

CCA has recently found an additional source of revenue-makers: illegal immigrants. The HP article said that CCA has found a “new opportunity in the business of locking up undocumented immigrants.” It’s business, not personal, right?

While the politicians are mouthing off about contraception, nobody talks about this unethical use and misuse of law enforcement; in fact, the very existence of this “in-your-face” modern day plantation system leads one to muse, “what law enforcement?” If the focus of arrests and imprisonments were all drug users, prescription drugs and powder cocaine as well as street drugs, there would be much less room for cynicism. As it stands, however, under the guise of “law and order” and “protecting the taxpayers,” black and brown people are disproportionately going to be the ones who help CCA and other for-profit prison corporations get wealthier and wealthier.

There is so much that goes on in this country that “we the people” know nothing about. It is by design. If we do not know, “they” can do what they want. And in this instance, that is exactly what is happening, and what has been happening since the Conservative darling Ronald Reagan declared this infamous “war on drugs.”

With the war on women being waged in this GOP presidential nominee battle, as well as the war on voting rights, primarily for black, brown and elderly voters, and this unsavory ploy to keep prisons filled with only certain offenders, it makes me wonder about all this talk about “values.” The term seems to have a very narrow focus, but then, that is nothing new. From the beginning, “we the people” was a very narrowly defined group of white, male property owners, and the fight going on today seems intent on trying to keep that vision from slipping into obscurity. Women have pounced on the attack on themselves and their rights, but black and brown people, and now, undocumented immigrants, need to pounce on the very sneaky attack being waged on their very capability to remain free and eligible to become a part of “the American Dream.”

If CCA continues to have its way, the number of black and brown people who are in reality off of the plantation will be greatly decreased, and the new “massa,” big business, will go merrily on its way.

A candid observation …