Thursday, September 5, 2013

Earning the Maximum: Let’s Educate to Reduce Poverty

Earning the Maximum: Let’s Educate to Reduce Poverty
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
September 4, 2013

In his Labor Day column, September 2, “Beyond bare minimum,” Duncan Black, a fellow at Media Matters for America, lives up to his organization’s progressive bent when he admits to pushing “a crazy idea,” pertaining to the poverty crisis in these United States.

“If I ran the country I’d implement ‘crazier’ ideas than a higher federal minimum wage. Specifically, I’d enact a guaranteed, if small, minimum annual income for all adults. A crazy idea, perhaps, but a crazy idea which would help to alleviate poverty while reducing the cost of other parts of our stingy welfare state,” wrote Black, who clearly lacks an economics background.

To be fair, he does at least recognize the insanity of his socialist scheme.

A guaranteed income for all adults? Seems like Black commandeered a page out of Karl Marx. Let me remind Mr. Black that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” wrote that ubiquitous Founding Father Thomas Jefferson in The Declaration of Independence.

The key to Jefferson’s genius was that all men are created equal. What they do from there is up to them. We live in a country that rewards hard work and smart decision making. Jefferson never said we are guaranteed a life of equality, for if that were so, it would be a life of the lowest common denominator.

Mr. Black challenged readers to formulate a better solution than his.

For starters, a minimum annual income for all adults could only be mandated by government and that would be the end of the capitalist system enjoyed since before the colonists told King George III to take a hike. A minimum annual income is not an incentive to work harder and strive for higher wages, as some people are willing to do the minimum, for the minimum, and then demand more from the government, which has no obligation to take care of healthy, able-bodied, agile-minded American citizens.

Referencing the “stingy welfare state,” Mr. Black failed to mention that in 35 states welfare benefits are actually higher than what a minimum wage worker would earn in a year. That must change. Welfare should never be higher than minimum wage. There should never be a reason for people to shun a job in favor of a government handout. The answer is not to raise the minimum wage, but lower the welfare benefits to encourage recipients to collect benefits for as short a period as possible. This would lower government payouts derived from the pockets of working people.

As someone “genuinely interested in helping the working poor,” as Black called for, I agree with him that “People who either work hard or who are willing to work hard should not face a marginal existence with near-poverty incomes.”

Returning to Black’s suggestion to conjure up a better solution than he offered, it starts with education and discipline. The hard work Black references begins in the classroom, and if we are talking about the working poor, it may be generational poverty where education may not have been stressed in the household. Coupled with a high chance that said household may be single-parent, here’s where the discipline enters the picture. Babies having babies – teen parenting leading to dropping out of school, thus a paucity of education leading to low wage jobs requiring a minimum amount of skill, thus the minimum wage as those workers are easily expendable and replaced.

I don’t want to hear the oft-repeated mantra of this is not realistic from the left. Or, you don’t understand. Having taught in inner city public and charter schools, I understand. I understand that in order to break the cycle of poverty, hard work is required. I understand that in order to stay in school and earn an education, hard work is required. I understand that in order to avoid teen motherhood or gang membership when so much negative influence is about, hard work is required.

That is the key, as stated by Mr. Black – “people who work hard or are willing to work hard.” It just starts at home and in the classroom, not once the pregnant teen or gang member already has two strikes on them. These strikes can be avoided by listening to good teachers, good parents, good priests, ministers, and rabbis who offer guidance. No, it’s not easy with all the negative stimuli abound. Neither I nor Mr. Black said it would be, nor was it meant to be, easy.

The public school system in the United States must be drastically amended if not scrapped altogether. School choice, charter schools, vouchers, and old fashioned American competition is the answer. Better schools cannot be mandated by government. Strict discipline must be meted out in all schools and a return to respect for ones elders, ones teachers, and ones parents must become the norm again along with dress codes, honor codes, and a daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Order must be restored in the schools as an imperative for anyone to learn, garner a good education, and earn a job paying above minimum wage. A minimum wage job is not meant to be an end, but a beginning as one gains experience one climbs the ladder to a better job and better wages.

The crux, as Mr. Black and I agree, is the desire and ability to work hard. The difference is that he wants government to work hard to provide for the people, while I want people to work hard to provide for themselves and their families setting the examples that will permanently be ingrained in all future generations.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.

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