Several years ago, after this author had moved from her hometown, she received word about a young, unwed mother in that town who was using food stamps. The complaint was many pronged, as the girl was driving around town in a new little red car. The time was before unwed pregnancies were commonplace. It was a place where food stamps were unacceptable. It was extremely inappropriate to have food stamps and a new red car.
The basic story is true, though the grapevine may have embroidered the particulars. The father refused to acknowledge the child -- before DNA. He refused to support the child. The town preferred to bad-mouth the unwed mother than to offer her a decent job. The poor baby needed food, clothing and shelter. All the boy's parents could see their way clear to do was to offer the girl a little red consolation prize. Hence, food stamps and a car. That was the face of welfare then.
This is the face of welfare now. Several television interviews have featured highly educated couples -- both wage earners -- the most highly paid member of the unit, laid off from his or her job. In some cases, both have been cut due to the economy. They paid mortgages and bought food until savings ran out and their unemployment benefits expired. For the love of their 2.3 American children, they were forced to apply for food stamps and medical assistance. An humiliating experience, indeed.
Senior citizens had no raises during 2010 and 2011. Why? Because there was no cost of living increase in the third quarters of 2009 and 2010. Not the whole year, just one quarter. This is a group of people who, at best, are always living on last year's cost of living increase during the current year. The economy doesn't care, folks. Utilities continued to go up. Rents increased. Charges for Supplemental Health Insurance soared. In other words, seniors used their savings to pay these expenses until, for many, their cash reserves ran out.
A lot of people lost their retirement packages because they were "laid off" by their companies. Others lose them to corporate theft and mishandling. Nationally, people know of the Enron and Madhoff scandals, but there are smaller-level thieves and incompetents who are known only to their own communities.
Yes, these people are all the face of welfare today. They are white, Asian, Hispanic, African American. They are the rich, the upper, middle and lower middle classes of the past. They are also the always poor of our country. They represent all races and walks off life. They are American.
Do we just let them starve? Do we let them die from lack of medical care?
A friend of this author once said their families and friends should take care of them. Can they afford it? Do they have extra dollars? Are they willing to risk their own futures to help a friend or relative?
Others think churches should do it. Do church members in affluent neighborhoods know the poorest of the poor? Probably they know very few of them. Do they know how to help?
Food pantries abound. Some, like Kansas City's Harvesters, are good. But do they offer showers, jobs, clothing, transportation? Shelters are overflowing during inclement weather.
Small business owners and corporate boards and leaders bitch continuously that they have to pay not only the salaries of their employees, but also medical insurance, fees for social security and workman's comp and taxes for welfare. In other words, because they refuse to pay a wage adequate enough that their employees can save for their futures, the government programs exact the wage from them.
Because of small business and corporate greed of the '80's, or the '70's, or the '90's or now, liberal congressmen of the past stepped in to exact a toll to protect all Americans of the future. And never let it be said that you will never be one of them. Share the wealth while you have it -- partake of the plenty when you don't. We all need to quit hollering for me, me, me and start thinking of we, we, we.
Whatever was congress thinking to expect a millionaire to live on $900,000 a year instead of their whole $1,000,000? (For my more literal, left-brained readers, the figures are hypothetical, not literal.) Only the "me" generation could fail to see the humor in this.
Lou Hough, B. S. in Journalism, SIU-Carbondale, IL; M. A. in Educational Research and Psychology, UMKC, Kansas City; All But Dissertation, University of Kansas, Lawrence.
Among Ms. Hough's publications are Changes, a novel, and Food for the Soul: A Book of Devotional Essays. Both were published by Jamie Carr Publishing in 2004. Changes is available at Barnes and Noble on-line service.
The only address for reaching Jamie Carr Publishing or Lou Hough is firstname.lastname@example.org.