Often, Baby Boomers, like me, are heard lamenting about things that aren’t “like they were when we were growing up.” These complaints can come off as one wishing to relive their childhood. In some instances, that, in fact, may be the case. In this instance, my grief is over losing a foundational quality to the greatness of American culture, a quality that drew our predecessors to this land in the first place. The following brief piece, presented by Bret Baier and Peter Boyer, of Fox News, is a good way to set the stage for what I want to address in this article:
This is a picture of things turned upside down relative to being “like they were when (I was) growing up.” Without going into painfully boring detail, let me tell you a little about my own personal circumstances, just for contrast:
When I was three years old and my mother was in her early 30s, she became a Single Mom to me and my two older siblings. To support us, she found work as a Long Distance Operator. She worked split shifts so that she could see us off in the morning and be with us for supper in the evening. Since we didn’t have a car, Mom took a bus four times a day between our home and the telephone office downtown. My sister was six years older than I so her presence was helpful. An aunt moved in with us, while she finished high school and that helped too. Neighborhood ladies provided babysitting for the youngest (me) and the neighborhood itself provided a wholesome environment for us to come and go to church, school, social activities, etc. My sister grew up to be the wife of a very successful manufacturing executive, while raising three children and running the office for a group of vision care professionals. My brother became a family man too, while developing a career in retail and at one time, serving as his city’s Mayor while running his own hardware and sporting goods store. I’m a family man too and if you want to know about my career successes, you should click on the tab at the top of the page entitled, Gary Wiram – Editor. As noted, we didn’t succeed in our circumstances without the help of others but, to my knowledge, none of what we accomplished was the result of the government handing us anything.
So, you can probably see why what is described in the video as an effort to break down “Mountain Pride” is so disconcerting to me. During the time described above, help along the lines of SNAP was available but most people looked at it as a last resort – i.e. it was looked upon as being a hand-up, not a handout. The majority would exhaust their own efforts before accepting “Relief.” Now, incredibly, the USDA and SNAP have a network of social service workers whose full-time jobs are to work against that quality. And, they reward those who are the best at it.
As the British say, the proof of the pudding is in its eating. So, let’s compare some results from my personal experience to those of the SNAP “success” in Asheville, NC:
My mother is 94 years old, living in an assisted living facility in my hometown and enjoying life with other Greatest Generation folks, including buddies she worked with at the phone company. My sister is “retired” but working her fingers to the bone as a volunteer in a local hospital emergency room. My brother is retired and while his wife continues to work, he keeps both their home and their family life/social life in order. In addition to what you’ll find on the Gary Wiram – Editor Page, I can tell you that I have a very full life, with a wonderful wife, who is continuing in her career in a local elementary school. And, there are eight children of the three couples just mentioned, all of whom have families and successful careers of their own.
In Asheville, NC, there are two sawmills looking for workers. However, only one is running because prospective workers can get more income from government programs than they can from an honest day’s work at a decent wage. Apparently, this is also reflected in local restaurants not being able to hire enough service workers. One can only imagine what this unsustainable foundation holds for the future of these proud mountain people as well as for their children and grandchildren.
Sadder still is the fact that stories similar to what is going on in the Appalachians are commonly found all over the U.S. As an example, according to an article on The Tribune Papers.com entitled Cato compares wages for work and welfare, “… an employee in New York would have to earn over $21/hr to bring home more than they could get on welfare. The average entry-level teacher in New York would not earn that much.” The article goes on to lay out numerous other cringe-inducing statistics. Rather than recount those here, I’ll just say that it’s clear we are rapidly replacing the firm foundation I knew “when I was growing up” with a weak and shifting foundation that is sure to collapse. So, what do we do about this? I say, “Chew the fruit and spit out the seeds.” Here are a couple of examples of what I mean:
There were certainly improvements to be made over the circumstances of my day. I wish I’d had mentors around to point me to scholarships or grants or student loans I was qualified for that would have made my completing college more attainable as compared to what I did, working 40 or more hours per week in a factory while carrying a full course-load. But those are not things I would have been given, they’re things I would have earned.
And, I wish there had been a minimum wage in my day. I was 15 years old when I took my first job that had a weekly paycheck. I worked as a busboy at $.50 per hour and after 10 hours, if I stayed around to be a bar-skip, I’d get $.75 per hour. Of course, that wasn’t far off from the “going rate” and I was just a high school kid working a summer job and living at home. But what if that was the only work you could find and you were an adult with a family? If we want to encourage folks to earn their way, we should assure that they get a livable wage. With that said, though those who are presently protesting for a higher minimum wage may have a point, I’ve heard some go too far by saying things like, “The minimum wage should be raised so that everyone can buy a home.” I disagree with that. If the minimum wage makes it possible for everyone to buy a home in the first year of their first job, that just brings the majority of income earners down to being closer to that of the minimum wage earner. Certainly, we should assure that, “if (it’s) the only work you (can) find and you (are) an adult with a family”, you can afford decent housing but incentives to do better are healthy for our community and should remain in place. I didn’t like $.50 per hour nor did I like the four- figure job I worked in college nor the four-figure job I started in with the management training program job I took out of college. But I was able to provide a home for myself, my wife and our baby with my post-management-training-program job and as the result of “incentives to do better”, I eventually achieved an income-level that afforded being able to buy a home, etc.
Summarizing my meaning, then, for “Chew the fruit and spit out the seeds” is focusing on ways to assure the success of those who first look to self-reliance, while recognizing that what Senator Sessions says in the video is true – i.e. “There is nothing wrong with people who need help getting it” – and we should assure that help is readily available.
What do you think? Please share your related comments below.