The poor are just lazy.
That has been—if I had to be honest and admit it—my underlying assumption about wealth distribution in America, since I was a child.
Unfortunately, I’m not the only person with this assumption. It’s rampant.
When I peruse Facebook, I run into it daily. Some friend of mine, or friend of a friend, spouting off a retort, usually in rebuttal to some ‘commie liberal’ meme (pointing to the imbalance of wealth in this country), with the underlying message—if not explicitly so—that the poor in this country are just plain lazy, and scamming the welfare system.
Where does this mentality come from?
I don’t know where most people obtained theirs, but as I was rolling the question around in my cranium this morning, I managed to dig deep enough to find the source of my own affliction. It was Christmas, 1976.
Some of you know—if you’ve been reading my blog so far—that my parents are retired Salvation Army Officers. They worked tirelessly at that calling for over 40 years. While the core of the job is really the Christian ministry—yes, the Salvation Army is a church, or more accurately, a branch of the Protestant denomination—most people in the public know it for its social work and disaster support, especially their work at Christmastime: the ubiquitous Bell-Ringers of the Salvation Army Christmas Kettles, that you’ve all tried to squeeze by unnoticed at the door of K-Mart, or your local grocery store. I know who you are. I used to be a master of catching your eye in the parking lot.
One December, probably about 1976 or so—I would have been about 10 years old—I was helping my parents set up the annual Toy Store. Some of you probably know that the Salvation Army does this every year. A sizable portion of the Christmas Kettle fund goes toward providing toys for underprivileged kids. The rest of the fund is allocated towards other social work throughout the year: food, clothing, shelter, utilities, etc., for those in need.
Anyway, my brother, Dave, and I were helping my mom and dad organize the Toy Store and to distribute toys to the parents that came through to pick up toys for their kids. Back then, some of those toys were used, or what we might call ‘recycled’ toys. It was our job to sort through these—pausing ever so often to inspect (play with) the occasional G.I. Joe with the KungFu Grip, or X-wing Fighter, and to divide them by appropriate age, and sex. We then put them into bags for the pickup day.
When the day of the Toy Store came, we helped to hand out the bags to the parents, and sometimes carry them out to their car. And this is when the seed of welfare scam, and lazy poor people was planted in my young mind, where it grew into a Mirkwood Forest of myth.
There were two ladies, who had come together—a younger African American lady, and an older one, maybe her mother, I don’t know—who came in to pick up bags for 3 or 4 kids, presumably the younger lady’s children. There was nothing remarkable about the two women. I remember nothing about how they were dressed, or what they looked like—it was a long damned time ago. But when they were finished choosing bags of toys, my mom asked me if I would help carry them out to their car. I did, and that’s when it happened.
Because when I got out to the parking lot beside the building, the older lady opened up the trunk of a more-or-less, brand new, shiny maroon, Cadillac, into which I put the toys. I was stunned, shocked, amazed, and at once disillusioned. In one instant, all my assumptions about poor people were seismically altered. I was 10, remember. In my young mind, poor people didn’t drive Cadillacs; rich people did. My family didn’t have a Cadillac; that’s for sure.
Here was someone picking up free toys for their children, driving off with them in the trunk of their rich person’s car. For the majority of the rest of my life—until very recently actually—my view of the poor in this country, and indeed every country, was that they were one of, or a combination of, four things: lazy, disabled, uneducated (because they were lazy), or scamming the system.
There’s only one problem with that assumption; it’s complete bullshit.
What’s the Truth? Where are the real welfare scams?
Yes, there are a few poor people scamming government systems, and the systems set up by non-profits like the Salvation Army. It’s true. Given the chance, a lot of people scam systems. But the poor aren’t the ones really scamming it; the richest 1% of the country are. That, is a fact. Every year, the top ‘earners’ in this country hoard more wealth to themselves, while the rest of us are left with the crumbs of the pie. That used to be mainly a problem for those so-called, lazy poor people, but not anymore. Now the middle class are inexorably slipping into the ranks of the poor, who were never lazy to begin with.
How can this be?
Because the wealth created in this country, is trickling: not down—as most conservatives think—but UP. Nearly 50% of Americans are now considered ‘lower income’, while the elite at the top, the 1%, have seen increases in income grossly out of touch with the snail-paced increase in average wages, and not just wages for the unwashed masses at the bottom, but wages for educated, skilled workers as well. The average 1 percenter makes about 400 times what the average WORKING American makes. Let me repeat that; 400 TIMES. There is no other country on Earth with that kind of wealth disparity: not one.
About 400 people in the U.S. hold wealth equal to the amount held buy the lowest half of U.S. citizens, or about 180 Million people. Six heirs of the Walmart fortune hold as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent of the U.S. population. So, about 1 percent of 1 percent of the population of the United States holds enough wealth to obliterate poverty in the country.
Why don’t they?
That’s a very good question. They would argue—much as Mitt Romney did during his disastrous and shameful campaign for president in 2012—that the lower half of the population are simply lazy and/or unambitious, and therefore, inferior to the other 50%, or more accurately, inferior to the 1%.
How can this inequality be justified?
It cannot, by any argument based at all on logic. Those at the top simply do not work that hard, if they work at all, and many do not. Most of them produce nothing, unless you count the ridiculous rhetoric about how they are necessary to provide jobs for those of us at the bottom. What jobs? Are they referring to the minimum-wage, poverty-slave-wage-jobs ‘created’ by companies like Walmart? Most of Walmart’s employees are part-time—so the company can avoid paying for benefits—and many of them are on public welfare assistance because if they weren’t, their families would starve. In some cases, they are starving anyway, because the food they can afford, is basically junk.
So instead of requiring Walmart, and every other employer in the country, to pay livable wages to their employees, WE, the taxpayers—and by ‘we’, I mean the middle class or what’s left of it, because the uber rich don’t pay their share of taxes—have to supplement the wages that employers won’t pay their workers, just so those people won’t starve to death. That’s just crap. It must stop.
So the next time you see a poor person, before you start thinking “lazy, scammer,” you might want to drive through the rich section of town and see how many of them are actually working. They aren’t. Sure, some of them ‘work.’ Some of them actually work, but not many. They are living off of the public dole, subsidies totaling in the billions of dollars that we hand out either directly, or through tax breaks for their big corporations, under the false assumption, that they are creating ‘jobs’. They are not. They are creating yachts, and Leer Jets, and McMansions with swimming pools.
The rich simply don’t spend 400 times as much as everyone else. They don’t eat 400 times as much food, or drive 400 cars, or have 400 times as many pairs of shoes—well not most of them anyway. They bank that wealth, mostly in offshore accounts so they don’t have to pay taxes on it. Occasionally they invest it, or speculate on markets, like the real estate market, which creates huge bubbles, like the one that burst in 2007, and will again, because they’re at it again, thanks to the bailouts that we gave their banking buddies. At least our political leaders shook a firm ‘finger’ at those responsible. Not one banker has even been charged with a crime for that collapse. Instead, they all got bonuses, while millions of hardworking, middle class Americans joined the hardworking poor, and slipped into homelessness, or at the very least, lost what wealth they once had.
And those two ladies with the Cadillac, back in 1976? My dad attempted to explain it to me that day—though it didn’t sink in until recently—talk about delayed reaction. Perhaps, he told me, the older one was giving a ride to the younger one as a charitable act. They may not have even been related. Who knows. I just assumed that the older one was the mother. Assumptions are the most dangerous things we can have, because more often than not, they’re bullshit.
Whether the older lady was, or was not the mother, or whether the younger lady was, or was not scamming the system, it’s not the trunks of so-called, poor, welfare scammers we need to be inspecting, but the bulging, offshore vaults of the 1% in this country, who are pointing at the trunk of the Cadillac, to keep us from searching their yachts.