Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Insulting the Working Poor?

It is an inconvenient truth that income inequality is not caused by the 1%, but by the growing segment of society which lacks marketable skills and education. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, 40% of babies are born to single moms and each year half a million teens have children. Are Republicans the only ones who think this is a problem?

A study in Sweden found that single-parent children were twice as likely to have serious health problems, addictions, mental illnesses, and to commit suicide. This was not a right-wing hate study. Of course, other studies have found the same problems here which are contributing to a rapidly growing underclass that requires ever-increasing support services such as day care, Medicaid, housing assistance, and remedial education, to name just a few chronic and increasing problem areas. Will these problems go away if we avoid looking at a primary root cause? That’s what we’ve been doing, and it’s only getting worse.

Unemployment is bad at 8.6% (12% in California), and only looks like it is getting better because of seasonal hiring. However, good jobs go unfilled because Americans don’t have the education, skills, or required willingness to work. Many high-tech, high-paying jobs go begging unless businesses can hire foreign workers. In Wyoming (3.5% unemployment) over 16,000 high-paying energy jobs go unfilled because Americans are unwilling to relocate and work hard. Fifty years ago in Point Arena many of us worked at jobs that only illegal immigrants will take now, which depresses wages for unskilled and undereducated Americans, including college graduates.

The cartoon “Zits” summed it up nicely: Jeremy wants to major in music theory to “totally justify playing in a band while racking up $100,000 in student loans and graduating with minimal marketable skills.” Unfortunately, he’s not alone.

One of our local college students read the above in our local weekly newspaper. He is a history major, so I understand him erroneously writing that I “insult the working poor whose taxes pay (my) military pension.” However, the bottom 48% pay none while the top 25% pay 90% of personal income taxes, so the working poor pay nobody anything. Fifty years ago my poor working-class family paid income taxes instead of receiving tax credits. Now Alice and I pay income taxes (including on Social Security) which cover most of my retirement.

I also understand him confusing facts from studies of employment and single-parent families from Sweden and the United States and considering them my opinions, since few today value facts over opinions.

I don’t insult the working poor, since for many years that included my family. After we towed our trailer to Point Arena in 1949 we lived in an abandoned high school. In 1954, when I was 12 and brother Ron was11, we borrowed a workhorse and dug a full-sized basement and helped build the house east of the Pacific Charter School. Pop was an oil field “roughneck” before becoming a lumberjack, and Mom cleaned the Arena Theater and hotels before her crippled leg prevented her from walking downtown, so she cut and set hair in our kitchen.

I bucked hay bales for Vic Soldani and Walt Stornetta, worked at Bojock Lumber and the Biaggi Lane veneer mill, hand-milked a cow, and other jobs. My friends did as much or more. None of the best Point Arena High graduates, including me, received scholarships.

To supplement my Air Force income I drove school buses, and later taught accounting, management, and economics at night for eight colleges in a 10-year period.

Our local college student apparently overlooked my solutions: pursue marketable skills and education; go where the jobs are and work hard; discourage single parenthood. 

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