Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Mayor Seybold and Poverty

The front page of the Marion Chronicle-Tribune featured a piece on a State of the City address Mayor Wayne Seybold gave yesterday.  The article featured especially some of his comments on poverty.  Here is an excerpt:
"Seybold also said the city needs to continue a 'tough love' approach to poverty.  The mayor said jobs aren't the answer to ending poverty.  'We've brought a lot of jobs here,' Seabold said, 'and yet 44 percent of the Grant County population still receives some form of public assistance.

" 'Some people who have been unemployed for weeks and even months have learned they can survive without working,' he said.  He characterized poverty as 'big business,' saying federal funding for many programs is based in part by a community's poverty rate, and the definition of poverty keeps expanding.

" 'We no longer have money for those who abuse the system,' Seybold said. 'If we continue to allow abuse, we will not have the money to take care of those who really need help, love and support.  Tackling the issue will require hard, politically incorrect conversations,' he warned."
I do not completely disagree with Seybold, but it's hard for me to know what to make of these sorts of comments, so let me only give some of my thoughts and questions.

1. First, I do agree that the system can promote and enable dysfunction.  People frequently can get more by not working than they can by working.  I agree that the system does not motivate individuals to integrate into working society but seems to reinforce remaining in poverty.

2. I am not convinced, however, that Marion's job market does what Seybold suggests it does.  I do not believe that the jobs available for those in longstanding poverty could maintain a similar standard of living to what these individuals currently have on welfare.  I do not believe Marion has much of a "middle class" job market either.

3. The most troublesome thing about Seybold's words is the assumption that impoverished people think like middle class people think.  Normally, when a middle class person speaks of "those who really need help, love and support," what they mean is middle class people who have been displaced by the economy.  These are individuals who want to work, are oriented around working, but who suddenly find themselves in hard times.

4. But those he says need "tough love" are not oriented around working.  They almost certainly will not act like middle class people just because you cut off their supply.  They have to have support to retrain the way they think.  They may not know how to get a job.  Where would I go?  What would I do?  Get them a job--they might not show up.

Trying to empower a person without a home or a person in a cycle of poverty is like trying to help someone who is an alcoholic.  In fact, drugs are often in the mix of poverty.  My bottom line is that if by "tough love" he simply means cutting off unemployment or welfare without coming alongside them and retraining them, it's just "tough."


FrGregACCA said...

I'm not going to respond to all of this, but I would point out that not all jobs are created equal. There are many folks these days who are working and who yet require various forms of assistance, such as Food Stamps.

In the following piece, Robert Reich comprehensively addresses the underlying issues.


Ken Schenck said...

I can't comment on the specifics but I do believe that the current rhetoric that equates taxes with stealing misses a fundamental truth that this article gets at. The fact that a CEO earns millions, a Dean or professor earns tens of thousands, and a janitor earns 20,000 does not correlate to "my stuff" in any moral sense. The CEO does not clearly deserve more for what she does than the janitor does. It's not like a vase that is mine and if you take it you are stealing.

So we will have to determine appropriate levels of income and taxation by using some other category. The stealing one does not apply.

Jake Hogan said...

I think the idea that we coddle the poor with welfare, etc and that they need to work harder comes from a specific place: Privilege and the belief that we get what we deserve.

Folks who are so angry or militant about getting poor folks to work and getting them off welfare assume that we have a just system--that we all get what we work for, and so, those who don't have much need to work for more. While I don't argue that welfare doesn't sometimes encourage complacency or laziness, the biggest problem is that our system is unjust.

Our world is unjust. And our economic system is particularly so. I'm not advocating any specific solution, but our faith in capitalism to create just outcomes is antithetical to a belief in Christ that sees his life and death as a way to shake the oppressive systems of an unjust and hateful world.

While I'm sure Seybold means well, he is blinded by his straight, white, male privilege and us unable to see just how warped and messed-up the social and economic systems are in our world.

As far as specifics go, try being a single mother making a service-job wage while keeping 2 kids in daycare during her evening and morning work hours. It's simply not possible.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I imagine you know about the story of the homeless man, who was given 1 mil plus and gave much of it away to his family, only to end up in poverty again. In fact, he preferred sleeping on the floor, to a bed. Learned behavior is comfortable bahavior. And this is what you address when you speak about their way of thinking...

Attitudes towards and about money is just as much an issue with anyone, not just the poor. Priorities are not necessarily "in order" when it comes to meeting family responsibilities, as you pointed out that many might be alcoholics.

It has baffled Wim and me, when we see those who complain of financial difficulties driving the new model car, and living in a mansion. The poor don't live in mansions, but they might buy cigerettes, get manicures weekly, etc. Wrong attitudes about money is what has gotten the U.S. in the state its in now. As well as thinking that we are everyone's "savior around the globe"!

Donald Trump was on the radio this afternoon, and he is concerned about our debt. Since he doesn't have any need for money or fame, he would be a good candidate to serve in some capacity...as a public servant.

You suggest walking alongside the imporverished. Do you do this? Kid's Hope is an "attempt". Teachers, social workers, and others are also influencers.

As for those that make more than others, that is just the "facts of life". Life isn't fair is it? There are many times that things would have worked differently if life had been fair. The question I think that is more valid, is what values do we give to certain jobs? Should sports stars get millions upon millions, when the average doctor gets only a hundred thousand?

How should we judge the value of a job? its need? its production? is production effort, quality, or both? of public interest? does training have anything to do with value? When you have a Ph.D. should I.W.U. pay you more than someone with a Masters? Does a Ph.D. with experience add any value or desireability to applicants? I could go on but you get my point.

Bethany Brengan said...

I'm inclined to agree with Jake (to the surprise of my conservative little soul).

There's a tendency to believe that people who live consistently below the poverty level because of difficulties beyond their control are anomalies--*most* people could pull themselves out poverty if they just had the will-power, drive, principles, etc.

To make a poor comparison: before I had chronic health problems, people who did were largely invisible to me. Their difficulties were exceptions to the needs of average healthy individuals; their complaints were unfortunate but rare. Now, I'm struck by how very many "exceptions" exist.

Also, I don't want to sound like I'm casting aspersions; it's obvious that everyone here is concerned about poverty. But I feel a little nervous about the continual use of "they" and "their" when talking about the poor. I know it's natural when talking about a group you can't honestly say you belong to. But sometimes it leads to a dangerous sort of detachment. It reminds me a bit too much of how Western writers used to speak of "savages." Almost a "Well, all we know is they're not like *us*. Who can understand *their* motivations?"

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I understand your concern about using "they" or "their", but no one can think, or make categorizations, which we all must to even begin to plan, strategize, etc.

I categorize this blog, some organization I attend that has a particular focus/purpose, and myself. So, it's not about distancing, necessarily.

You don't suppose that we MUST only care about the poor, because the Bible tells us so, do you? There are many other social ills, besides the poor that are also in need of societal answers....the orphan, the widow, the fatherless, the discriminated, the disabled, the politically oppressed, the etc...

Ken Schenck said...

Bethany--great to hear from you!

Angie, one of the best comments you've ever made, IMHO

Bethany Brengan said...

That's a good point. Even when thinking about how to respond your comment, I find myself categorizing. I suppose my concern is not so much that we categorize (which I just did), but that we forget and mentally/emotionally separate ourselves. When Dr. Schenk wrote that impoverished people don't "think like middle class people think," I understood what he meant. But a part of me still reared up in protest--not to what he said or even implied, but to the conclusions are sometimes drawn from that kind of statement. The point that I'm struggling to make is that we shouldn't forget that in the same circumstances we'd likely think the same way, follow the same solutions. The middle class isn't oriented toward work because of some innate virtue, but because greater opportunities have made work "work" for them.

Now that I review what people have actually said, I see that the last part of my previous comment was a bit preemptive. I was responding to things that hadn't been expressed.

I wasn't sure if your last paragraph was still addressed to me. I didn't mean to imply that I don't care issues beyond poverty. I believe that every person made in the image of God is worthy of my concern.

Thank you for responding! You helped me clarify my thoughts.

Bethany Brengan said...

"...care *about* issues beyond poverty," I mean.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Thanks, Ken.

I am very weary of "collectivily" agreeing about anything, because it leads to blindless and mindless "followship".

I personally think that collective thinking is dangerous, because of categorization, unifromity, and the tendency for men to make judgemnts that are not made with knowledge or understanding.

It is true that humans tend to act like humans (duh) given certain conditions or circumstances.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much of this has to do with the population of Marion itself. A good number of the working class of Marion are people who had to learn how to survive without "work" when jobs slowly disappeared over the years. It has been a 50 year process to train people how to live without "working". I imagine it will take a while when the jobs come back- if the jobs really do come back- to learn how to work again, freely and independent of governement subsidy.

Glenn Knepp

Anonymous said...

I meant to also add that, in my experience, many of the people who were really wanting the jobs that would allow them to be upwardly mobile either retired or left town over this extended period of time.