The Rich and the Rest of Us – Some Potential Solutions

Ten days ago, I introduced the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us – A Poverty Manifesto” by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West as a must read. This book speaks to the issues facing our country as we have become more delineated into two economic classes, the rich and the rest of us. I noted I have used the phrase the “Haves” and the “Have-Nots” with the same purpose. In my earlier post, I highlighted from their book, “The Ten Lies About Poverty That America Can No Longer Afford.” I received well thought out feed back from a number of commenters, but I want to particularly thank Momma E. for her very detailed thoughts along with that of many others.

Also, there was good discussion about the comment made in the book that manufacturing is never coming back to the US. While I echo the disagreement with that comment in its strictest terms, I interpreted it to mean that manufacturing will likely not regain its pre-1980’s order magnitude. I do agree that manufacturing is returning to these shores, especially due to being closer to innovation and leadership, as well as becoming more cost-effective due to labor and shipping costs, yet I think it is viewed under a global construct and manufacturing will continue to be spread around the globe. Since we could devote an entire series of post on this topic, let me state we need to find ways to make it easier and more productive to manufacture things here. If we do that, we will see a greater shift of jobs back to the US than has been the case which will help this issue under discussion.

The authors noted twelve poverty changing ideas from their studies, which I will note below. I will add some commentary based on my experience and will shed a few additional thoughts at the end.

From Poverty to Prosperity – 12 Poverty Changing Ideas

1. Fundamental Fairness – This terms means jobs with living-wage salaries and an economic system that lets people live above the poverty line, so they no longer have to rely on welfare, food stamps, e.g. A living wage for a one adult, one child household is about $17.50 in my area (it varies by geography) and is about $9.60 for a single adult. Minimum wage jobs perpetuate poverty. We must pay people more at the bottom end and lessen the severity of these near-slave labor jobs.

2. Women and Children First – We must invest in workplace day care and Head Start programs, so moms don’t have to choose between working and caring for their children. An earlier blog noted that children in poverty have heard 32 million fewer words by the time they get to kindergarten than other kids. This will help break a chain of poverty in that family. I tutor kids in poverty on occasion. They need coaching and time. I saw a video called “Souls of our Neighbors” where a minister noted who knows the untapped intellectual capital that resides in these kids.

3. The Jobs, Jobs and More Jobs Plan – In addition to greasing the skids to make it easier to return or keep jobs here, we must retrain our low skilled workers and direct them to community based infrastructure projects or with local employers who have sorely needed job groups. Personally, I have seen Goodwill Industries get a lot of traction with retraining people in poverty in green construction jobs as well as call center and teller jobs partnering with local banks. And, the community college system is doing marvelous things throughout our country, yet we need to invest more in this regard.

4. Home is Where the Heart Is – Homelessness is a national tragedy. We need low density public housing and housing rehabilitation. The low density is an idea to spread the affordable housing throughout the community and along with market rate housing. From my perspective, I want this paired with social worker case management with reasonable numbers of clients per social worker (such as 16 to 1 not 50 to 1). And, we must find ways to keep people in their houses. Eviction and foreclosures don’t serve anyone well, so we need to look for ways to adjust mortgages or change the terms with people renting their old house. Vacant houses are more than eyesores, so let’s try not to have them.

5. Universal Food Delivery System – We need to end hunger and food insecurity. The authors promote small regional farms and urban farming which also promote jobs in growing, harvesting and distributing food. The lack of fresh food is a major issue in impoverished areas. If we can combat that with more orchestrated food delivery then it will help on multiple fronts.

6. Prison and Mass Incarceration – The authors note incarcerating minorities bankrupts the country and creates permanently second class citizens. They advocate a major overhaul to our “prison industrial complex” as well as the lost war on drugs.

7. Privatization versus Public Investment – The authors note the privatization of once publicly staffed and funded community enterprises is not necessarily a good thing given the profit-driven motivation of corporations. In particular they see the need for public financing of hospitals, prisons, and education. At a bare minimum, they advocate the transparency on all transfers of major public assets to private investors.

8. The Fundamental Fairness Lobby – We must no longer let the think tanks and lobbyists bankrolled by “Haves” to summarily determine the fate of the “Have-Nots.” The poor need better representation to combat the efforts of 13,000 lobbyists. Citizens United will only make things worse.

9. Equitable Progressive Tax Codes – Per the authors, it is time to end tax breaks and concessions for rich corporations that outsource jobs and hide profits in secret offshore accounts. The rich should pay their fair share. I believe we need to revamp the entire tax system, so that we get back to a more progressive tax code which generate more revenue. We cannot fund what is needed with our current taxes and loopholes to forego them.

10. Recession Restitution Act – The authors want the US government to come down harder on those who caused the great recession. I agree. Some of the bad players in our mess have not been held accountable. The Consumer Protection Bureau has punished some credit card companies since its creation and some fines have been levied, but folks from Lehman, Bear Stearns, etc. need to be put on trial for egregious acts.

11. Health Care Assurance – Nearly 45,000 people die each year because of lack of health insurance. We must continue down the path of the Affordable Care Act or something tangible to replace it. From my work with homeless people, lack of healthcare insurance is a huge factor in people losing their house after a healthcare tragedy hits. Personal bankruptcies have risen significantly due to the lack of healthcare or poor healthcare insurance. I have strongly advocated the continuation of the ACA with additional tweaking. It will garner more coverage for the uninsured and is already paying dividends.

12. White House Conference on the Eradication of Poverty – This is a must to heighten the awareness of the issue and bring tangible solutions to bear. And, it has to end up with more than the creation of a shelf document.

The authors note that some of these ideas may be too radical. Yet, in my work with homeless families and people in poverty, I witness people with minimum or close to minimum wage jobs trying to make ends meet, I witness people living paycheck to paycheck who had to forego healthcare coverage as it was too expensive, I witness people who have been incarcerated finding it extra tough to gain employment, I witness people who must buy unhealthy fast food as it is cheaper (or even forego meals between jobs), I witness people who don’t have the same network that others have to navigate their world.

I also see people who do not have advocates. In a post last week in, the Bruce Hornsby song “That’s Just the Way it Is” was highlighted. In the song is the line spat out by someone who has not walked in the shoes of another to “get a job.” Yes, we all need jobs and we should help people find them. I love to help people network, especially young adult children of people I know. A professional friend or acquaintance will connect me to his or her child to help. That is what is missing here – someone to connect these people in need to help.

I am a big believer in empowering people and helping them climb the ladder. We cannot push them up the ladder. Some are on the bottom rung and need more help. Some are on rung three and need less help, but still are in need. Yet, they have to do it. They have to climb it. We have a huge problem in America right now that is not talked about enough. We have too many people in poverty that need help in climbing the ladders. It is incumbent on all of us to help our fellow citizens. It gets down to economics – the more people who are vibrant, tax paying citizens, the larger the ROI relative to the cost of paying for people in poverty.

In an earlier post, one of my frequent commenters, Mrs. Neutron said I would like to see the definition of what makes a great country. She was lamenting that we have people who have strong opinions that differ from her view. I agree with this need for clarity. My firm belief is a society’s greatness is measured in terms of how it takes care of its less fortunate. One of my favorite movie moments is in “Cinderella Man” when the fighter Jimmy Braddock stands in the welfare line to pay back the money that was given to him when he and his family was down on their luck during the depression.

The Christian bible tells us “there but by the grace of God go I.” If you do not believe this then you should have been with me the day we were giving a tour of a homeless family shelter to a prospective board member who worked at a major bank. The person turned the corner and saw a fellow employee who was living in the shelter. It took a few seconds to dawn on her that her fellow employee was homeless and living in a shelter. Let me reiterate this comment – the homeless families we (the agency I volunteer with) help are employed. They need better paying employment with healthcare coverage.

We must help our less fortunate and Tavis Smiley and Cornel West have done a great service in highlighting this problem and potential solutions. If you do no more than the following it will help move us forward. Spread the word that we have a problem that we need to solve. If you can, get involved in some way to help – through your church, synagogue, mosque, temple, employer team, etc. Some groups will take individual volunteers – find out how you best can help. It may be tutoring or mentoring. It may be helping develop community gardens. Follow your passions. Trust me, the psychic income of helping is very rewarding, the people in need will be able to climb the ladder to self-sufficiency and our society will be improved.

12 thoughts on “The Rich and the Rest of Us – Some Potential Solutions

  1. Yes! Yes! Yes!!!!! I LOVE this post! Great ideas that make such dang common sense. I especially love #2. And the realistic caseloads for caseworkers. That is a real problem that exacerbates already difficult circumstances for a family. Well done – this should be posted far and wide!!!

    • Thanks Jenni. Social workers have a hard enough job without giving them too many clients, which happens with budget cuts. And, then a few bad situations happen and people say how could you let that happen. The agency I work with tries to do no more than 16 to 1. But, you are fully aware of this. I am writing this for others to see what happens when we cut where we should not. Thanks for your passionate support. BTG

      • People miss this piece so often. And it is smilar when it comes to child welfare. The media portrays agencies as uncaring and incompetent when really, the people who are doing this work are the most passionate people there are – otherwise they could find other, usually more lucrative work. To me, they should be held up as heroes who are actually tying to do something about the difficult issues. I really appreciate you including this on your list. Keep up the great work!!

  2. You should [seriously] consider sending this piece to several well-placed newspapers that accept editorial/opinion submissions. Your “song” needs to be heard by more than us…your hero worshiping choir. Raye.

  3. Hi BTG,
    I still want to know the definition of what makes a great country. I still don’t think it is ours, just with a lot less poor people. I still don’t think it’s millions more Americans with jobs converting natural resources into MORE crap FASTER… that Madison Avenue tells us we need.

    The line: …”a society’s greatness is measured in terms of how it takes care of its less fortunate”… is a great one, but, what does it mean? What does “take care” really mean? Is it just “stuff”? Do we take care of people by giving them money, shelter, food, a social worker & cell phones? If we disguise the poor into looking like the rest of us so called “non-poor”, or “middle class”, we will STILL be living in a country that where 5% of the worlds population consumes 25% of the natural resources and the lions share of pharmaceuticals manufactured to cover up the fact that a shockingly large percentage of us are friggin miserable in spite of the fact that we already have all the things the poor supposedly need. (take a deep breath)

    From what I can see the God Damned rich aren’t even happy! If they were they wouldn’t be psychologically compelled to stash away that second and third hundred million while denying climate change and stocking up on guns & ammo.

    My point is we don’t have a working definition of what makes a great country. We are not even close. We don’t even know what makes people happy, in the long run. When we go looking for happy people we usually find them living in a hut, very simply, with lots of free time to sing songs, dance and play with their children. People fitting that description once inhabited this real estate we now call America. We exterminated them because they set a miserable example and refused to follow the Christian Work Ethic. They had little interest in stuff and private property. They were primitive. We were “advanced”. We have been scrambling for more and more “stuff” ever since. Happiness remains undefined and things that are undefined can never be achieved.

    Great post BTG… as usual
    Mrs. N.

    • Thanks for sharing your well thought out comments. I don’t think we can get to the nirvana you seek. When I had a health scare ten years ago and had a bunch of wires stuck in me waiting for my wife to meet me in the ER, I can assure you I did not think of work or possessions. I thought of my wife and children in a moment of clarity. I thought of missing my children fall in love and marry. I thought of the things I needed to tell them. You are dead on accurate that money and possessions don’t buy happiness. Yet, the converse is not necessarily true. The lack of money can create unhappiness. People still have to pay for needs. Thanks for reading, digesting and offering your thoughts. BTG

  4. Hi There – Super-splendiferous post as usual. I have many thoughts, some of which were echoed in an open letter style post of mine to our dear presidential candidates. Will have my thoughts and comments marshalled for (hopefully) sometime later today. Best, Donna

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