Friday, December 02, 2005

Coming Soon: The Big Brains at AthPo Win the War on Poverty

[Editors' Note, part deux: Back at the top of the page, for your convenience. Who says we don't give the people what they want? By the way, if any of you fine folks have contact with any of our local candidates, you might invite them to participate as well. We bet Elton Dodson would enjoy this discussion.]
[Editors' Note: We've gotten such a great response in the comments section, and since the comments continue to roll in, we're moving this post back to the top of the page, temporarily. Please note, however, new posts continue below, so please check them out too.]


Frequent commenter Fishplate weighed in on one of our earlier posts about poverty, and gave us a pretty darn good idea. Sez the Plate:

“You think Iraq or Viet Nam are quagmires? The War on Poverty makes them look like an eyeblink.I would like to hear some new, practical solutions to the problem.”

Well, here’s your chance. You know, as much as we disagree, there are a lot of smart people reading this here blog, so, if you’ve got an opinion, here’s your forum. Let’s start putting out some ideas.

Maybe we’ll even forward them on to the proper local, state, or federal electeds for their perusal.

One thing though. This thread is about the future, about policy solutions. We know that there are poor people, and we know that some of them are poor through their own action or inaction. So, keep the focus on how we help, and keep the poor-bashing to a minimum.

I’ll kick the discussion off below. The more ideas, the better.

68 comments:

Publius said...

As promised, here is the first idea in the AthPo War on Poverty.

Predatory Lending. Sure, people drive themselves into poverty by making bad financial decisions, but you've gotta admit that sometimes they get more than a little help making those bad decisions from unscrupulous credit providers.

Now, for a few years there, Georgia had the toughest predatory lending law in the US? Did it help? Unclear, because the GOP repealed it as soon as they got a majority. In any event, we need a tough national lending law, to put the fly-by-night mortgage companies out of business. And, while we're at it, let's apply the same law to credit card companies and auto loans too. (Sidebar: there's a case in front of the Supreme Court now relating to whether localities can pass their own PL laws; I'm not sure if they've ruled on that yet or not.)

Along with that, we should enforce the laws we already have, like the Fiar Lending Act and the Fair Credit Collections Act. A lot of the enforcement work on those is actually a matter of education consumers about what collections companies or lenders can and cannot do. In addition, a lot of states have existing contract laws that say that contracts have to be more or less free of legal jargon, and readable by the average consumer. I'm not sure if that's a national thing, or if Georgia has that provision. I'll let the legal editor handle that one.

Fishplate said...

In my earlier rant, I said the key to fighting poverty is to keep kids in school, un-pregnant, and interested in their future. Coincidentally, I read in today's fishwrapper that the trades (carpentry, plumbing, etc.) were having trouble getting new recruits, since the modern emphasis is on college...maybe we need something new in education? A kind of Technische Hochschule, wehre the last two years of high school are split into two tracks...one for those that are interested in college, and one for those that don't ever want to know what a lemma is. You could teach kids a trade, arrange for apprenticeships, maybe even pay a little money. In return, a kid could learn a useful trade without having to join the Army, and they could get some basic instruction on budgeting, keeping a checkbook, avoiding predatory lenders, and so forth.

monticello_pres said...

Fishplate is onto something. I have always thought that trade schools are our untapped resource for helping folks succeed.

We can't legislate good parenting because no one listens to my ideas about pregnancy licenses. Regardless of whether barbers and drivers (and now voters) have to have licenses before they can perform their acts, anyone can procreate. Not everyone can parent, and that is unfortunate. So fatherless homes and unguided children will continue to exist.

The welfare system that we have today is broken. It just doesn't work. When someone takes a paycut to work at Micky-Dees rather than sitting on their tail watching Springer, something is wrong. And it's NOT the minimum wage. It's the payscale of the welfare system.

And we can't give folks the G.A.D. factor. If you don't Give A Darn, then you don't. And until you do, you aren't going to amount to much. For these folks, we can't expend much effort to reduce their poverty. It has to take some personal responsibility. But it would be nice if folks like 50 or Snoop would create some positive image rather than "Get Rich or Die Tryin" and gang bang crap. Come on, guys.

So we're back to the things we as a society can put out there to allow those who want to help themselves to do so. And the trade school is just that option. I also like the split tracks in HS. College Prep is important but so should be H&A Tech. Or Plumbing.

Let's run with that. ATC and schools like that could provide the resources for quick implementation.

But is there anyone out there that thinks a pregnancy license could work? Just sayin...

Happy Turkey Day folks.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

This may come as a shock, but with the possible exception of a few passing phrases, I think I *gasp* agree with you both. On just about everything you said.

I'm gonna have to get back to you with a later post on my thoughts on the legal side of the predatory lending stuff.

andyrusk said...

Never once have I ever encountered a sixteen or seventeen year old kid who could say with any certainty what they wanted to do with their lives, let alone were ready to jump into a Plumbing 101 class.

We have a "Tech Prep" certificate available in CC high schools, or at least we did when I went through them (not too long ago). I can't say for sure that anyone with a Tech Prep diploma got snatched up by a major contractor upon graduation, but I doubt it.

The Trades are unglamorous, and in a culture that prizes material wealth above all else, the simple satisfaction that comes from turning a pile of sticks into a house will never appeal to the person who only sees the labor, the sweat, and the modest hourly wage.

Hard work sucks. Send as many kids to college as possible, give them a chance to make a living with their brains. If they wanna work construction after that, it's pretty easy to get hired at a 7 or 8 dollar hourly rate for unskilled day labor- just show up on time and sober.

Predatory lending law is a good idea. One small step in the right direction.

Pregnancy License? What happens when mama gets caught birthin' babies without a license? Jail time? Terminate the pregnancy?

Anonymous said...

see the article on Stonehenge today?

It presents a great opportunity for the resident renters to buy their properties and have some affordable housing.

I wish I thought this would work but, I fear that some of our communities notorious slime-lords are already circling like buzzards out there. I hope I am wrong.

Adrian said...

Seriously, which components of the poverty problem can greatly be affected by the local government? The effects of globalization and corporate decisions can hardly be touched by the smallest county in Georgia, and our economy is significantly tied to the Atlanta area.

The one thing that does come to mind is the affordable housing issue. But what can our local government do there to make a difference?

Publius said...

It's nice to be back, even if that does mean that I have to actually go back to work too. Looks like everyone's been pretty productive in my absence. (Dr. Mace, I promise I didn't cancel the blog on Wednesday.)

Here's what I'm seeing after reading over all of the comments. I think we're all in agreement that education is the silver bullet. I couldn't agree more.

Now, surprisingly, I don't disagree with the suggestions with respect to trade school. Because until we figure out a way for someone in Calcutta to spot-weld in Atlanta, or for someone in Singapore to fix my toilet in Athens, we are always going to need welders and plumbers, and tons of other legitimate tradesmen. (and tradeswomen, for that matter.)

But, while I agree, I'd point out one lingering question I have. The German system was mentioned. That's all well and good, but what works in Germany may not necessarily work in America. So, question number one, if we are a society that brags that anyone with the moxie and drive can go to college, then how do we start telling kids, "Sorry, maybe you should be engineering trains, not bridges?" I've got an answer on that later on, but my point is, I'd hate to see this develop some sort of educational caste system. And, before you answer too quickly, ask yourself, what if it was your kid who wanted to be a doctor, but his school says he's not cut out for college?

The answer is that the choice has to be the child's, and not society's. We've got to show kids that being a carpenter or a plumber is every bit as socially redeeming and important as being a doctor or a lawyer. (Perhaps the latter is a bad example.)

One way we can do that is by getting the unions, especially the trade unions, on board. They're the ones with the existing programs to turn apprentices into journeymen, into masters. They're also the ones that have a huge vested interest in making this thing work out. It's going to take some time and some (*gasp*) social re-engineering though.

Another, non-political solution would be to refocus the public education curriculum around Howard Gardner and his Theory of Multiple Intelligences. I won't bore everyone with the details here, but I will say that it casts a new light on how we teach, and accounts well for the individual differences between people of nominally the same intelligence. Read more about it here: http://www.education-world.com/a_curr/curr054.shtml

Publius said...

In RE Adrian's comments: No one can do anything if we sit around waiting on the feds to step in. Don't believe me? Ask anyone from New Orleans.

There's tons of things that even the local government can do. Pay a living wage. We're fortunate in the respect here in Athens, in that our local government actually does pay pretty close to a living wage.

There's also, as you mentioned, affordable housing. In that regard, a lot of times, it's a zoning and land use issue, both of which are quite the local government's bailiwick.

Finally, as mentioned up in the comments, educaiton is the silver bullet.

A few other things that local governments could do would fall under the category of picking up the feds' slack. The first thing that jumps to my mind is providing child care for single parents doing welfare to work. It would also be fantastic is the local govt could augment public assistance to avoid the situation described earlier, where we've got folks sitting at home watching Springer because it's more financially beneficial than working minimum wage. But that last one is probably a pipe dream.

Adrian said...

Let us not actually overstate education. I was pretty well offended by Bush during a debate with Kerry when his response to a question about unemployment was to get unemployed people education and job training.

Look, I just graduated from Athens Tech in 2001. I was laid off from electronics-related jobs in 2002 and 2003, and I haven't worked in that field since. I was driving a commercial vehicle for $9 an hour when I was listening to that debate on the radio.

Granted, electronics is a bad field, but all workers are threatened by rapid changes in the job market and major economic forces. What is the incentive to get two years of education when it might not even get you two years of employment?

Education and training is very important, but it is not quite the magic bullet. Obviously not everyone can build houses because more than just the builders themselves have to be earning money to buy the houses. Healthcare is certainly a growing field, but again the economy must be healthy for the healthcare providers to get paid properly.

There is something really wrong with our economy, and education is only going to solve part of the problem. People aren't jobless or underemployed simply because they don't have enough education. I'm sickened at the number of tradesmen with no job security or benefits and at the number of applicants with master's degrees competing for entry-level clerical jobs.

andyrusk said...

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I reckon I'll bring up the poverty vs. unemployment in ACC stats. If we've got 25% to 28% poverty in this town and only 4% unemployment, it seems pretty obvious that we've got people working for less than adequate wages.

Minimum wage has been the same for the past decade.

Time to do something about that.

Publius said...

Good points by both Adrian and Andy there. I still believe that education is the silver bullet though. By education, I don't necessarily mean "book learning," or even the curricula that are being taught in classrooms now. We've got to talk about life skills, especially money management.

We mentioned earlier that a lot of poor people (especially the "working poor," which ties nicely into Andy's math) are in financial trouble because they made bad decisions early on and spend years and years making up for one or two significant mistakes. That's where life skills come in. And, while I don't think having a required "life skills" class ought to be part of every high school curriculum, the concept is worth thinking about.

I'm just riffing here, but those life skills should be part of every class, every subject, in every school. In math, you should learn how to balance a checkbook, make a budget (and stick to it!), and how not to get screwed over by credit corporations who promise the gold mine and give you the shaft. In history and government, you should learn about the issues affecting modern political discourse, and how they affect you. And in health class, we're going to need sex ed.

Of course, I also think home ec and shop classes should be required for students of both genders. Every man should know how to iron, and every woman ought to know how to fix stuff around the house. So, what the hell do I know?

andyrusk said...

All of the above mentioned lessons are available (to varying degrees, admittedly) in Clarke County schools. I learned to balance a checkbook in the 5th grade. I was also the only kid in the class to do it RIGHT. (NOT tooting my own horn here, just a nerd.)

How much of your high school history do you remember? Wolfe vs. Montcalm- which war was that? Where was the battle? Who won?
How about lit class? Can you name all the authors you read? Every single one of 'em? Titles, too?

Chances are, some of you can. Which maybe proves my point that CC schools (public schools in general?) are all over the board when it comes to results.

I went to Clarke Central during a time when folks were pulling their kids out of it left and right to attend Oconee or one of the privates. I came out okay, though (Wolfe vs. Montcalm- Plains of Abraham, French and Indian War, Montcalm defeated, Wolfe killed).

Don't mean to piss in anyone's cornflakes, here. And I'm not espousing a lack of faith in the public schools per se. I'll admit to playing devil's advocate, though; I simply recognize that some kids learn something in school and some don't. Educators have been struggling with that chesnut forever.

A 21st century survival class would have tremendous potential, I think, but a lot of what we learn about 'getting by' we learn at home. I'm a carpenter because my dad was one. I cook like my ma.

Christ, I hope I just didn't start the Nature vs, Nurture argument, here.

Publius said...

Yeah, I learned most of my useful day-to-day knowledge at home, but I was lucky.

What do we do when the parents won't fill that role? The schools have to take over, or we have to write off the kids entirely.

hillary said...

Are we just talking about local solutions? Or bigger ones? One of the most important things we can do is create a national health care system that covers birth control as well as your more standard things. Health care costs are a major contributing factor to keeping the poor poor, and if businesses are freed from the burden of them too, they at least can't use that as an excuse when they decide to cut jobs.

Publius said...

Local, national, whatever. Health care is huge. There was a Senate candidate in PA once upon a time who campaigned on the line that, if an accused murderer has the right to have a lawyer, why doesn't a hardworking middle class family have the right to see a doctor?

Fishplate said...

It's my understanding that health care, like much of what's wrong with society today, came out of welll-intentioned laws passed in the WWII era. Wages were frozen, so companies had to find a new way of adding compensation to attract scarce workers. Hence, adding benefits like insurance.

Prior to passage of Medicare, it's been reported that poor people saw doctors almost as often as rich people, hinting that cost was not a problem prior to that act. You might infer that Government health care programs are in fact the reason poor people are limited in medical choices today.

As far as a lawyer for a convicted felon, I believe the Constitution preserves the right to representation (see Gideon v. Wainwright). But I can't find the Article that guarantees health care...

Publius said...

"But I can't find the Article that guarantees health care..."

It was campaign rhetoric, fer Pete's sake!

But, the candidate (I think it might have been Harris Wofford) won his race, and the rhetoric does bring up some interesting points. We have the best health care system in the industrialized world, yet one of the worst systems to deliver that care.

As far as your historical analysis of health care goes, you're right, but be careful with the post hoc, ergo propter hoc assumption that government health care caused the problem. The real problem lies with the insurance companies, who realized that, even though something like 90% of medical malpractice claims are caused by 4% of doctors, the insurance cartel could still jack up malpractice insurance on 100% of doctors. (Step 3: Profit)

Doctors are paying too much in malpractice insurance, and the fault doesn't lie with the legitimate suits being brought against bad doctors. The fault lies with the insurance cartel, which spreads around enough money (to candidates of both parties) to make sure that the industry will never be seriously regulated or even cracked down upon; as well as with the AMA for being insular and refusing to implement even the most minimal standards of internal discipline or ethics for its members.

hillary said...

Atul Gawande has had some pretty good pieces in the New Yorker about how a no-fault malpractice system would work: less cost all around, more openness on the part of doctors, more people being compensated (even if in smaller amounts), less time taken up.

andyrusk said...

Guaranteed health care might fall under the "right to life" and/or "pursuit of happiness" chapters of our government credo, but I'm kinda hazy on that.

Most modern healthcare? Yes. Best system? No.

Ditto what Publius said about insurance. Insurance is a racket. Legalized gambling, and the house always wins.

Me: "I'll bet you a couple of grand a year that I break my
leg and wind up in the hospital."
Blue Cross Agent: "Okey dokey. Sign here."

Either way, I lose.

******
So far, we have isolated the root causes at issue in the War on Poverty. They are, in no particular order:
-Education
-Health Care
-Unemployment
-Predatory Lending

Care to add any more? Transportation issues? Perfectly valid. Depressed Nat'l Economy? Of course.

This problem is bigger than any one solution.

Am I a pessimist? I don't think so, but it's hard not to be when you read that the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, which provides beds, showers, and job opportunities for a hundred poor people is facing a $60,000 budget shortfall and will likely be closing its doors for MONTHS.

If any of the M&C truly care about poverty, they will address this at once.

Dawg Corleone said...

I would begin with an economic truism: We get more of that which is subsidized and less of that which is taxed.

As someone suggested on the radio the other day, it might be time to consider the possibility that Athens might not have so many poor people if Athens were not so accommodating to poor people.

andyrusk said...

Dawg C. launches us into the real debate-

"Why can't those lazy bastards put down the crack pipe, stop milking the fat welfare teat, and go get a job?"

It's real easy to say "screw 'em", ain't it?

Unfortunately, 4 out of 5 of all the people living in poverty are children, who cannot possibly be held responsible for their lot in life.

Go ahead- shut down the free clinics and homeless shelters. Cut all the welfare programs. Teach those bums a lesson, right?

hillary said...

So, uh, how exactly is Athens accommodating to poor people? With its amazing homeless shelters that aren't funded and have to close at night? Its extensive jobs program? Or maybe it's just that the cost of living is so low. We should _do_ something about that. Or the warm weather that lets people sleep outside. Seed the clouds, I say, and the poor will migrate elsewhere.

Dawg Corleone said...

The Bible says "the poor will always be with us." And for the purposes of this discussion, we can amend that to say: "The poor children will always be with us," always to be whipped out as an example of why we can't really do anything to take anybody off the dole.

And that, by the way, is the goal, is it not? Shouldn't it be? I suppose we should ask ourselves whether what we want to do is have fewer poor people, or whether we want to have the same number of poor people we have now, only somehow making them more comfortable.

My vote, for what it's worth, is for the former.

hillary said...

Because "poor" is a static concept, determined not at all by relation to those who have more? Varying not from country to country?

You haven't further specified how Athens is accommodating to the poor. Or how to reduce the numbers of the poor.

RandomThoughts said...

As much as it grieves me to agree with Corlean - even slightly - there is some truth in what he says. Well, in two points that he makes. First, the goal IS to get them off welfare. But how do we do that when it pays them more to be on welfare than to work at a minimum paying job? If we cut welfare payments then we are hurting everyone and I, for one, don't want to hurt those who are on welfare through no fault of their own - the elderly, the ill and the children. But I really would like to ream those who sit home watching TV all day - let's call them "springers". The problem is how to wean them without hurting those in real need. Well, the only way is for the minimum wage to be raised so that it pays more than welfare. Then enforce the rules about looking for work and actually finding work. And, I know it won't be popular for me to say this, but how about mothers raising children? I wish they could stay home with their children but if they can't afford to they need to work. I didn't have the priviledge of staying home with my child, I needed the money and had to work. They can too. And how many mothers work and have to pay child care? It's hard but it can be done. Many, many people do it every day. I'm sorry if this offends some of you but I'm an old lady and I've had to make those choices and I know it can be done.

The other thing that Corlean is marginally right about is being accommodating to the poor. I am all in favor of helping those in guinine need but not the bastards who take our tax money and spend it on expensive cars and designer clothes. The problem, again, is how to differentiate between them. The only answer is more workers to do more checks on need. And more workers will cost more money. So, would you rather spend your tax dollars on eliminating the deadbeats or on giving them a handout? I'll vote for eliminating them. And in the process we establish more jobs. I realize this is simplistic, but sometimes a task is so overwhelming that you just have to pick a point and start. I say, let's pick a point and just do it.

Dawg Corleone said...

First, Don't raise the minimum wage. Abolish it.

Aside from the question of privacy and freedom--as a free man, my wages are a personal matter between me and my employer and hence none of your damned business--is the economic factor: every time government arbitrarily increases the state-mandated wage, employers everywhere sit down and decide which employees to lay off, or which workers not to hire to begin with.

Don't give me the bleeding heart trip about how hard it is to live on the minimum wage. You're not supposed to live on it; you're supposed to learn on it, developing skills that will allow you to someday earn more than minimum wage.

Second, lower taxes. Across the board. A lower tax rate equals a broader tax base. Put another way: lower taxes means more taxpayers. You cut taxes, the economy grows, and--here's the kicker--the tax take increases. Works every time.

Cut my taxes, I'll take the money and buy something, something someone has to make, sell, and service. When I spend my tax cut, I'm creating jobs. Works every time.

In fact, it is the only thing that will work, long-term. Or even short-term. All the well-intentioned social programs in the world, designed to use the force of government to give my money to someone who did not work for it, will never, ever do near the good I can do by spending my own money as I see fit. So let me keep more of it.

Jmac said...

The Bible says "the poor will always be with us." And for the purposes of this discussion, we can amend that to say: "The poor children will always be with us," always to be whipped out as an example of why we can't really do anything to take anybody off the dole.

I don't think that's a fair interpretation of that Scripture. One way of examining that verse is rather than assume he was talking about poor being in the society, it was rather a critique of the church's makeup. That what Christ was getting at was that the church will always have a good mix of rich and poor, and that isn't necessarily the case in these days.

It's a verse which conservatives trump out everytime someone starts talking about programs - public mostly and private/non-profit too - to assist the poor. The Bible also commands us to help the poor, so citing that verse is merely cherry-picking what you want to see.

gap said...

dawg c is right on about the minimum wage. When you set an arbitrary "living wage", employers have to look at the value of an employee's work. If a low or non skilled position does not generate the value of the "living wage" ($10 per hour for example) then the employer must make the decision not to hire new employees or lay of those who are not economicaly viable.

People in the community and employers can help reduce poverty in ACC by taking the time to help individuals they personally come in contact with. Taking the time to help them to create a budget, obtain a loan, or just give practical advice would be a good start

Jmac said...

As for other points you raised, I don't see eye-to-eye with you (not shocking though Corelone :) ).

For instance, I do agree with you that people aren't supposed to live on minimum wage ... but the catch is some people do, and it's not their fault. There are plenty of people who have a high school education and work mininum wage jobs to support families.

We had one lady at IHN who was a young single mom, only had a high school degree with a two-year-old child and could only make minimum wage. She didn't have the time, ability or resources to attend a trade school or college (though she wanted to and saved whatever meager pennies she had to put away for such a venture), and scraped by on what she made. And it wasn't like she was some irresponsible girl who got pregnant. She got married out of high school to an older man because she sincerely loved him and honestly believed they would be together forever. He, however, turned out to be a punk and left her high and dry, and she had to get out.

It happens to men and women all the time, the only difference is some people are more financially stable to withstand such a blow. She, however, wasn't. And she sincerely wanted to get her life back together, but could only find minumum wage.

The problem is partly education, but it's also breaking a cycle. This woman was trapped. She had to work this job to take care of her child, but the requirements of the job and her child made it impossible to pursue higher education. And, in turn, she gets passed over for promotions for people with said higher education.

Here's someone who works hard, loves her family and friends and just needs a bit of help. Maybe a living wage or minimum wage bump would help ... maybe it wouldn't. But how do we break that cycle which is preventing her from doing what you urge her to do, which is learn?

As for lowering taxes works every time? Really? Targeted tax cuts work, but investments in infrastructure and transportation and education are necessary in conjunction with those tax cuts to do any serious action. Remember the success of the 1990s where our economy grew? It was a bipartisan combination of targeted tax cuts, tax increases, investments in the above items as well as good economic fortune and planning by the business community which got things going. To merely say 'lower all the taxes' won't do it as doing such reduces investments in the other areas.

Plus, as this commentary states, tax cuts don't help across the board.

In fact, it is the only thing that will work, long-term. Or even short-term. All the well-intentioned social programs in the world, designed to use the force of government to give my money to someone who did not work for it, will never, ever do near the good I can do by spending my own money as I see fit. So let me keep more of it.

OK, let's be clear here. I'm not one of those progressives who thinks that American poverty is running rampant. It is awful, and it has been on the rise in recent years. But compare poverty now to poverty prior to creation of these social programs you decry, and it's apples-and-oranges. Programs like Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and welfare have dramatically reduced those living in poverty. Much work is still to be done, but to say that these programs have failed is flat-out wrong, particularly in comparison with a pre-New Deal America.

These programs, in addition to the development and modernization of our economy, have helped lower the poverty rates in our country.

Now, again, you may have ideological differences with these programs ... and that's a perfectly legitimate position to hold. But to suggest they're failures - as well as saying they go only to people who don't deserve them - is false.

I'd say we're making progress, and rather than cut and run on this thing, let's bring together the public and private sectors and make even more progress.

Jmac said...

And while I don't see eye-to-eye with gap's minimum wage theory ... that post's second paragraph is dead-on. I agree wholeheartedly.

hillary said...

I'm not one of those progressives who thinks that American poverty is running rampant.

Johnathan, are there progressives who genuinely think poverty today is worse than it was pre-FDR social programs? Or are there just progressives who point out that it's gotten worse over the past such-and-such number of years since those were enacted?

Dawg Corleone said...

Poverty will, generally speaking, get "worse" quite often. That's because we quite often adjust the line of demarcation for poverty.

We should put in perspective. Poverty in the US frequently means you have cable TV, cell phones, and Nikes.

And we have to be the only country in the world--hell, the only country in the history of the world--with OVERWEIGHT poor people.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

Your anecdotal "evidence" of those in poverty in the U.S. not really being that bad off, if I can paraphrase your prejorative characterization, does not change the fact that there are a substantial number of people living here in what, under any reasonable definition of the word, is poverty (by the way, I thought we started off this post by saying we weren't going to trash the poor).

Of course we adjust the dollar amount by which we define poverty, because the dollar amounts of things it takes to live, like food, clothing, and housing, continually "adjust", primarily upward.

And, yes, obesity is a particularly American problem, which probably happens at even a greater rate in poorer people. It's cheaper to eat badly than to eat healthy in this country. Reference the $1 menu at McDonald's.

Jmac said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jmac said...

We should put in perspective. Poverty in the US frequently means you have cable TV, cell phones, and Nikes.

OK ... but it doesn't. The more conservatives I hear who trump out that tired line makes me all the more convinced they've never encountered anyone who actually lives in poverty.

With all due respect, are you able to compose a coherent argument? You toss out baseless points with no evidence to back them up, post your two or three sentences and assume you've refuted our points ... when in actuality you come across as someone who is so out of touch with reality, it's staggering.

Dawg Corleone said...

I'm simply suggesting that the best way to beat poverty is to not be poor.

Note the time of this post: I'm at my desk (admittedly, taking a couple minutes to goof off by blogging here), where I've been for about 2 hours now. I'll be here til late this afternoon. And this is just one of my jobs--I have several others.

My day is not spent watching Jerry Springer and waiting for the mailman to deliver my subsistence. If I'm bashing the poor, I'm sorry.

Anonymous said...

Let's be real. Here in Athens, poverty is almost at 30%. And since unemployment is (I believe) at only 3%, INCLUDING poor elderly and disabled folks who cannot work, the problem occurs in the wages. Period.
Clearly Athens employers are paying their workers less than it takes to live. The government is using our tax bucks to subsidize these cheapskates, by providing the working poor with food stamps, day care, health care for kids, housing/section 8 subsidies, etc.
I'm really going to try to refrain from name calling, but greedy pigism dressed up for Sunday church services as respectability disgusts me.
What will work for the poor of Athens-Clarke is paying them living wages. And that money will be spent here in Athens-Clarke, because while most poor people do have clothing and shoes, they do not have cars to leave the county and shop elsewhere. You know, the million or so bus rides that are taken every year. And the bus doesn't even cover 25% of the county. What if the bus went everywhere, in a timely manner and at hours (like after work?) that people actually needed it? I bet ridership would double!
The key to conservatism is to underfund stuff so then you can point to it and say "see, nobody's using it", we should stop paying for it. Conservatives would rather slip a bribe to our county's largest polluter, so they can pollute more, and then local conservatives say "But they pay a living wage... we would never support an industry that didn't pay a living wage".
AAAARARRRRRGH!!! It's enough to make a thinking girl scream, go ahead, you know you want to!
Greedy pigism is, people. Sorry, but there it is. That attitude "what's mine is mine, you fuck off" is so last millenium.
Humans are trying to evolve, aren't we? I mean, I dream of one day living in a world where people don't exploit an entire class of people and then blame the sub-class they created for its' circumstances.

Sheesh.

aquariusrizing

Fishplate said...


For instance, I do agree with you that people aren't supposed to live on minimum wage ... but the catch is some people do, and it's not their fault. There are plenty of people who have a high school education and work mininum wage jobs to support families.


But...do you think that raising the minimum wage will somehow fix that problem?

And it wasn't like she was some irresponsible girl who got pregnant. She got married out of high school to an older man because she sincerely loved him and honestly believed they would be together forever. He, however, turned out to be a punk and left her high and dry, and she had to get out.

I wonder how much he pays in child support? Is it possible that absence of parental support is part of her problem?

It also occurs to me that education of a more practical sort may have helped in this case...The State of Georgia requires me to have a license to cut your hair, which requires something over a thousand hours of education to acquire. Even a driver's license requires a demonstration of minimal skills. But all a marriage licence requires is three bucks and an x mark on an application. Of course, you don't need a license to have children...but maybe we are back to the idea of mandatory high school classes in life skills.

Perhaps some Lottery money could be used to support the education of folks who find themselves in the same position as your example...providing tuition and child care for a limited period while an individual gets an education and works to move forward. But it would have to be a one-shot, hard work, good grades deal. I've had some experience with UGa. students appealing for readmittance...there is a kind of entitlement mindset that exists in some college kids such that they think screwing up three times shouldn't preclude being readmitted a fourth time. I wouldn't be in favor of state money supporting that.

Our Government guarantees us opportunity, not results. I honestly don't know what to do with the truly hopeless, though -- we live too far south to just set them adrift on an ice floe. We are always going to be stuck with people around us who can't seem to get it together and make their life work, and it's in our best interest to provide some means of basic support. But it's also in our best interest to see that we get every bit of effort out of those we are supporting, even if we put them to work picking up trash while we care for their children. If that is too demeaning, then live outside the system - and don't expect taxpayers to support your choice.

Fishplate said...

Here's a couple of questions for aquariusrizing:

1. What will happen when you raise the minimum wage?

2. Where does the money come from to raise that wage?

3. Where does the money come from to increase the bus route milege and operating hours?



(NB: I'm not taking a position by asking these questions, merely trying to understand the economic consequences)

Jmac said...

Good questions and points fishplate.

With regard to the minimum wage, I don't think raising it will solve anything because the economy will adjust to compensate for the losses in profits. While it's noble to think that managers would understand they still make a lot by making X-1 rather than merely X, most of them still want to make X ... which is their perogative.

I do think, however, that raising the mininum wage can assist in the grand scheme of things. And one would implement such a raise in a gradual fashion and couple it with tax incentives for businesses - particularly small businesses - to help offset transistion costs. Plus, the economy itself has moved along and $5.15 doesn't get you the same amount of stuff today as it did merely 10 years ago, let alone 20. And that's the real crux of the living wage, that the cost of living - such as rent, transportation, food and clothing - has gone up and the minumum wage doesn't cover those things.

While I'd like to see businesses raise wages, there are economic ramifications to all actions which affect goods and services and labor, and they must be taken seriously and done cautiously.

It's important, however, to understand that merely raising the minumum wage or encouraging businesses to pay a living wage, can only be successful as one part of a larger anti-poverty effort enacted by the community (and I mean, as I always do, public and private sectors).

Your idea of the lottery money is interesting. Working at UGA and having attended that university, I often feel that those who benefit the most from the HOPE Scholarship often are the ones who could have gotten by without it (I was one of those students). Maybe a cap would help and free up funds to do some of the things you mentioned. Of course, I know so little of where those funds go, it isn't entirely fair of me to comment on them.

You also mentioned funds for public transporation, and one of the problems with Athens-Clarke County is our geographical limitations. We have a limited tax base to draw from which can provide the needed funds for such an expansion, which we sorely need. It's one of the reasons I'd like to see the Navy School be split up between the public sector (preferably for some sort of affordable housing) and the private sector. Also generating more business in the community can greatly help our tax revenues, as well the potential of selling advertising for our buses and at the bus shelters.

RandomThoughts said...

Theorizing about possible cures for poverty is a good - and fun - intelluctual exercise and I have nothing against it. But my impression was that this blog wanted to actually DO something about poverty. We, at the level, can only vote for changes suggested at higher levels and while that is fine, it takes time. My question for all you people who have contributed to this thread: what can we do NOW, HERE, to help the problem?

Jmac said...

Right off the bat, I'd say get involved with a local non-profit. The Athens Area Homeless Shelter is in dire need of funds and fresh ideas for fundraising. My wife, actually, just met with Courtney Davis who is the new director there, and volunteered to offer her financial skills (my wife being the CPA she is) to give them a hand. They can use some help right now.

Other groups like Habitat for Humanity and the East Athens Development Corporation are always looking for some help - be it manual labor or offering assistance in a field you know (be it accounting, public relations, fundraising, plumbing, what-have-you).

As I've mentioned here before, I'm on the board for the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Athens and I volunteer a good bit with them as well, so I'll plug for them. Look 'em up and ask for Patty Freeman-Lynde if you want to lend a hand.

The main thing is giving your time and your money. I'd also recommend checking out the Benevolence Market this Sunday at First Baptist Church of Athens (which is my church ... we're not Southern Baptist, but a CBF church), which is the annual showcase for area non-profits. It's from noon to 3 p.m. and most of our non-profits - religious and non-religious - attend to discuss what they do and how you can help.

RandomThoughts said...

Johnathan:

All good ideas but I was not looking for personal ways to assist - those are in place and I stay busy. What I am looking for are ways that a group such the bloggers on this and similar web sites can help. Is there a simple, low-cost idea that can be implemented at the ACC level fairly quickly that will help? If so, can we get a sponsor for the idea? Then can we all get behind it like we did with the restaurant. That's the kind of suggestions I was hoping to get.

Dawg Corleone said...

Not trying to be argumentative, just trying to understand the goal of "helping."

Do you want to help reduce the number of poor people, or are you looking to to make life more comfortable for those who are poor? I hope you can appreciate: those are entirely different proposals.

FWIW, I have ideas on the former; not so much about the latter.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

Both.

I like the way you say "make life more comfortable for the poor", as if living in poverty were merely a mild discomfort.

I can't speak for anybody else, but my definition of "helping" is to:

1) reduce the overall number of people living in poverty; and
2) provide assistance to those on the margins of poverty to make life "comfortable"; I would use instead the word "bearable"; and provide specific types of assistance that can eventually lead these people out of the margins of poverty into a productive life, both for themselves and the community.

From what I understand about the IHN, it sounds like they do a lot of the latter. Thanks, jonathan, for the info about the fair and about IHN. I will be looking into getting involved personally there.

In response to randomthoughts question, the first thing that jumps to my mind is the living wage initiative. Obviously there's been a lot of debate on here about whether such a thing is wise or even useful, and I'm not going to rehash that in this post. Suffice it to say that it is my personal opinion that it is wise and should be done, and it is the type of thing that we could support like we did "the restaurant" and perhaps generate momentum for passage.

Anonymous said...

Here's a couple of questions for aquariusrizing:

1. What will happen when you raise the minimum wage?

I didn't say anything about the minimum wage. I spoke of a living/moral wage. When wages are raised, spending increases, and those in a position to do so (locally owned and located) benefit.

2. Where does the money come from to raise that wage?

The folks who are profiting by the labor of the workers. They should cut their profits to pay their workers. At least to the point that their workers are not qualified or incentivized to come to us, via various social services, for basic expenses.
These include: healthcare,
education, housing, food, daycare and some dadburn nikes once in a while.
No-one should be living in a mansion who cannot swear that everyone by whom they have profited is at least not depending upon the rest of us for actual sustenance.


3. Where does the money come from to increase the bus route milege and operating hours?

Oh don't even get me started. But then, please do!

If we make this investment on the front end, the service will absolutely prove profitable on the back end. There is ample ridership, but their needs are not being met. When they can actually catch a bus that goes where they want to go when they want to get there, ridership will zoom.

It is a matter of where to invest our resources. Transportation is freedom, both economic and literal.
Yes, we all love education, we claim to love the masses, we act as if we care about their priorities, at least when it's convenient.

This is a matter of life and breadth.

There are fed, state and local discretionary funds that are practically tailor made for such as athens transit.

And we do have an advocate for transit in the person of Butch MacDuffie. He is an awesome, creative guy. Bad news is he's in Iraq right now, for the second time in recent memory.
He of course is the manager for a company with whom A-CC contracts to manage our transit service.
Yes, a sub-contractor.

What was the question again? lol...

aquariusrizing

Dawg Corleone said...

You guys are awfully generous with other people's money.

How about some ideas that don't involve plunder? Or, if we take that card of your deck, are you left empty-handed?

No employer on earth can long afford to pay employees more than they are worth. You can call it the minimum wage, the living wage, the "moral" wage (that's a new one for me); you can call it whatever you like, but until it's your money from your business, the simple fact is you have no idea what you are talking about.

I don't know you, and I don't mean to personalize this, but I would be willing to bet a month's mortgage that you have never, ever met a payroll.

Anonymous said...

left empty handed is better than right running over anyone.

Jmac said...

I don't know you, and I don't mean to personalize this, but I would be willing to bet a month's mortgage that you have never, ever met a payroll.

Actually I have (in some fashion), and I've seen my father do the same in the hardware store my family ran for 30-plus years. And he paid good wages to the people who worked for him because he felt that was the thing to do.

More often than not, the money truly is there but, yes, profits will be slimmer. It's just how much slimmer will they be, and can your customer base absorb a marginal increase in prices ($1.25 versus $1.10 for instance) if that is necessary.

Granted it all depends on the economy. If consumers are not spending and the economy is sluggish as a whole, your profits are down and an owner may have to make some difficult choices. But if the economy is chugging along, then an employer has more options when it comes to compensation and prices.

Also, can we drop the 'spend other people's money' thing? That's one of the most tired and futile arguments trumped out there. It can be made against every expense the government has - from defense spending to infrastructure to social programs. Until we adopt a democratic system where we all vote on every aspect of policy and spending, we have to live with the representative form of democracy where our elected officials speak for us.

Dawg Corleone said...

Until we adopt a democratic system where we all vote on every aspect of policy and spending...

Are you serious about this?

And I wasn't talking about spending "other people's money" in regard to gov't spending. I was talking about other people's money in the strictest of private senses.

You believe you should have the right to dictate what I pay someone who of his own free will contracts with me? From where do you derive this right?

Jmac said...

Are you serious about this?

No, I'm not ... I'm not pointing out the fallacy of the conservative argument concerning spending tax dollars. That was apparently lost on you. It also didn't apply to you since you've since cleared up that point. I misunderstood your original assertion, so my apologies.

I'm still not entirely sure what you're arguing for now. Do I think someone else should come in and tell you how much you should pay someone for their services ... no, not really. That is something for you and the employee to determine. However, we do have a minimum wage requirement which states said employee must be paid at least X amount. I'm sure you'll interpret that as saying that I'm advocating fixed wages and salaries, when I don't believe I'm doing either. Pay him whatever you want, as long as it's at least $5.15 an hour.

As far as rights ... how did you leap to this statement? Is there a provision in the Constitution instructing you not to steal? The Constitution doesn't anywhere mention whether or not you have or don't have a right to steal. Yet I don't think anyone in this country would say that you have a right to steal because it isn't implicitly forbidden in the Constitution. The states are able to develop their own laws which make such a crime illegal, so why isn't feasible to assume that states are able to set their own laws establishing things like a minumum wage (which is what I really think the crux of your last questions is driving at)?

RandomThoughts said...

OK, let's try this thing again. What I would like to accomplish is many fold - some short term and some long term. I'd like the elderly and ill to be more comfortable and to be able to live in dignity. I'd like the children and young people to have adequate food and clothing to concentrate on their education instead of their survival. I'd like the people with more years to work to be allowed to learn a more lucrative trade and not be allowed to collect welfare for longer than it takes to learn a new trade and get placed. I'd also like to see the drug dealers and other criminals put away so that children don't see that way of life as an altrnative to education and hard work.
The problem, of course, is how to accomplish these goals.
What I had hoped was that someone on this group would have a simple way that we in ACC and begin this monumental task. If we can just chip away at this mountain of a problem we will eventually make a dent.
Is that ambitious enough for you?

Jmac said...

I think we're all committed to those tasks, but we've only been discussing this for a little more than a week now. So the ability to put together a plan will take a little bit of time, and I feel very confident in saying that said plan will encompass all of those things.

Anonymous said...

And listen, it's the businesses who are spending other peoples money, by forcing their workers to rely on OUR TAX DOLLARS for the basic neccessities of life.
If you can't afford to pay someone decently, you should scale back your business until you can!
Because I don't owe you a subsidy for your business in the form of food stamps, housing, health care, day care, etc.! Anyone, and I do mean anyone who is working full time deserves not to be living in poverty. Greedy pigism says that American businesses should make as much as they can off of everyone, and that it's not their responsibility to treat their workers with dignity and respect by paying them a decent living.
At least w/transit subsidies, everyone benefits equally, because businesses MAKE money when the poor folks can get to them to shop!

aquariusrizing

RandomThoughts said...

THANK YOU JONATHAN! I appreciate the response. I was afraid that this was becoming an intellectual exercise instead of paving the way for something to actually HAPPEN.

I wonder.....wouldn't it be interesting to see which local businesses pay minimumw wage and which pay more? If I knew which paid their workers a decent wage I would try to buy from them.

Dawg Corleone said...

You could begin by refusing to eat at just about every restaurant in town. They're not paying their wait staff the "living wage." They're not even, in many cases, paying the minimum wage.

So you should probably stop patronizing local restaurants.

Of course, aside from making you feel better, that won't accomplish much. The restaurants will cut jobs and eventually close, so we will then have more poor people to help.

But you will have made a statement, albeit a counterproductive one.

Jmac said...

You've got a slippery slope here, don't you Coreleone ...

True enough, most local restaurants don't pay a living wage, and as has been discussed either here or at Hillary's blog, some don't pay a minimum wage and rely on tips to make up the difference, which they all too often do not. So, yes, not patronizing them won't do a whole lot of good in the grand scheme of things since it deprives them of the money needed to pay more in wages.

However, booms in business for these places don't result in higher wages for the employees, just greater profits for the owners and new avenues for them to explore. Business has been quite good downtown for the restaurants for the past decade, but the wages have stayed the same. Shouldn't increasing profits mean that the owners have more funds to devote to wages - as well as other expenses related to the business? Smart businesses reward their employees with bonuses and pay raises when their economic fortunes are good, not keep things down to the bare minimum.

RandomThoughts said...

How about we all support loal restaurants that pay a reasonable wage? Then as those who don't lose business and let people go, the ones who do will be experiencing more business and hiring more people at a higher rate? Isn't that how it's supposed to work?

Publius said...

Wow...sometimes it's like I don't even have to be here, which I kind of haven't. Sorry about that, and please look for lots of posting coming up over the weekend when I have just a little free time. We're also getting some guest bloggers lined up (thanks to the folks who volunteered; I'll be emailing you soon) for the upcoming editorial vacation.

Thanks!

Dawg Corleone said...

Johnathon--as is the case with much of the ill-informed national debate re gas prices, you are confusing "profits" and "profit margins," two related but different things.

A restaurant might show a hefty profit (most don't) but they're profit margins are typically small. Which is relevant, but somewhat beside the point: restaurants--and every other business, for that matter--are not in business to make money for their employees, they are in business to make money for their owners.

Anonymous said...

How can something be both "relevant" and "somewhat beside the point?"

Semantics police strike again.

Dawg Corleone said...

Relevant to the question of how businesses make money, but somewhat beside the point of why they're in business.

My boss didn't start this company as a philanthropic gesture. He started it--and operates it to this day--to enrich himself and his family. And I would like to be in the room when someone who has never worked in his business or never met a payroll in his business explains to him why he should be obliged to pay what someone who has no connection to his firm thinks is a "living wage."

Fishplate said...

And listen, it's the businesses who are spending other peoples money, by forcing their workers to rely on OUR TAX DOLLARS for the basic neccessities of life.

OK, some arithmetic... $5.15 per hour times 40 hours times 50 weeks divided by 12 months gives $858.33 per month to live on. Figure 25% as a worst case for SSI and Medicare. That leaves $643.75 to live on each month. Apartments on the bus line are $275 per bedroom in at least one place in Athens, and they are available right now. So, $375 for rent and your share of utilities. Bus passes let you ride for less than a buck a trip - 60 trips for $55 or so. That leaves $213.75 per month for food and extras. I don't know enough about health care to estimate the cost - I pay $90 a month for family coverage, but that is part of a large group policy. I understand an individual plan would cost more )but I can't begin to comprehend the cost of Government-provided health care...look at the prescription drug plan for a hint of what to expect). A practical health care plan ~should~ be less than $150 a month...maybe that's what we need to concentrate on. Food, housing, health care and transportation - what have I left out?

So, why do people who work full time need Government/taxpayer support? Bad luck? Poor choices?

If you can't afford to pay someone decently, you should scale back your business until you can!

By scaling back, you employ fewer people - in effect, destroying jobs and increasing unemployment, forcing more people onto the dole. Is that your intent?

Conversely, I would say if your employer doesn't pay you a decent wage, you should quit and work for someone who does pay a decent wage.

Because I don't owe you a subsidy for your business in the form of food stamps, housing, health care, day care, etc.! Anyone, and I do mean anyone who is working full time deserves not to be living in poverty.

What is the incidence of full-time workers recieving food stamps, etc? How common is this?


By no means do I intend to belittle people who truly need a hand up...but I'd am loath to send my hard-earned money to someone who doesn't need it. And if you don't try to make your own money, you don't have a right to mine.

I've made my case for positive suggestions - better education, and a more universal application of existing money toward ~all~ people who seek to improve their lot in life. But I stand firmly against an entitlement for people, just by virtue of their existence. I want to see some effort before I havd over any of my venture capital, and I expect to see a return on my investment, whether in terms of actual cash (in terms of someone making enough money to pay income taxes) or simply by getting yourself out of the shallow end of the pool.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

Holy crap. I'd have to go back and check that other post with a lot of comments, but I'm pretty sure this is the record.

So much since I last posted, I have no idea where to begin. I think I'll only address one thing due to a lack of time. The question has been raised here why I (or whoever is supporting a living wage) have the right to tell a business owner how much to pay their employees. First, I, personally, do not have that right. However, the government clearly does. Minimum wage laws have been deemed constitutional for, gosh, I guess close to 100 years now. Now you may disagree with that, but that's the law. The only practical question remaining is where to set that minimum at.

I guess more fundamentally you're asking what gives the government the right to do it. One can point to various constitutional provisions, such as the right to regulate interstate commerce, or makes law to promote the general welfare...but fundamentally the reason is that the government (be it state or federal) has been empowered to make a determination that society at large is benefitted by such an infringement on business owners "right to contract". No right, including that one, is absolute, and it must give way if the state has a compelling or rational basis (depending on what kind of right is being invaded) to do so.

And let's take a look at your "the only reason businesses exist is for profit" argument. I'm not sure that's entirely true, but I'll accept it for the sake of argument for now. What is the worker's reason for working? Obviously "profit" in the form of wages as well. In an ideal world with a perfect market, the worker would get exactly what his labor is worth to the business owner. But we don't live in a perfect world. Business owners have all of the leverage when "price" is negotiated. In fact, with the kinds of "contracts" we're talking about, negotation usually doesn't happen. It's "here, I've got a crappy job paying $5.15 an hour because that's what the government tells me I have to pay you, otherwise it'd be $2 an hour. Take it or leave it". And the service worker either takes it and becomes a member of the working poor, or leaves it and becomes part of the welfare state. Are you looking at me with a straight face and telling me that person "agreed" to that pay rate?

The government has a right to regulate wages because otherwise business owners would unfairly use their leverage to set wages BELOW their actual value. That's the bottom line. I again refer you to the industrial revolution days.

Dawg Corleone said...

Voila! The greatest leap forward in the history of human evolution came during the Industrial Revolution. That's why they call it that. Not til the high-tech revolution were we to see anything close to its equal.

The very thing you disparage is what built the world in which you live. Was it perfect? Is it perfect? No, and no.

But nothing has ever been better, and I doubt anything ever will be better, than free men and women setting their price on the market. There is no way to introduce an artificial element into the equation without making me a bit less free.

And, as the bumper sticker says, my freedom is more important than your good idea.

Jmac said...

Nothing is better than living conditions and wages during the Industrial Revolution?

Really?

Fishplate said...

Are you looking at me with a straight face and telling me that person "agreed" to that pay rate?

As long as there are reasonable, legal jobs available that pay more, yes, I am telling you exactly that.

And they are available. And they are on the bus line.