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Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Poor: Lazy Loafers or Hard-Working Wheeler Dealers?

Some say that the "New Poor", not to mention the "Old Poor", need to learn "personal responsibility" and stop sponging off of those rich "job creators". The rich job creators threaten to move all of the jobs offshore unless the poor start pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and stop sucking on the gub'mint's teat and asking for higher taxes.... 

We've been introducing some of the "New Poor" (and some of the "Old Poor" as well). We have been watching them as they suck on the government's teat while they laze on the couch.

There is nothing unusual about these stories. I personally have met all of these people, and I know enough about them to trust that their stories are basically true. There are millions of people like these people, people who came from middle class backgrounds, or people who worked themselves up from poor backgrounds, who worked, sometimes for decades, who have found themselves on the sidelines, empty and depleted, in this economy. 

Many have bright, cheery profiles on LinkedIn highlighting their current mini-business endeavors. You can't see their struggles on LinkedIn or even Facebook.

I don't know how many of these people would now fall under the official poverty level, but all of them have needed government assistance; many of them have had to move, a few have been in foreclosure, some have not had health insurance or health care, others have had utilities turned off. 

Some have had cars either break down or been booted due to parking tickets that couldn't be paid. Some with kids have qualified for the earned interest credit and/or Pell grants to get through college.

These people are of all races and ethnic backgrounds, though most of them are white. I'm not going to say which person is of what ethnicity.

I know the defenders of the rich will say that these people are exceptions; that most of the poor are content to laze around on the couch, eschew "personal responsibility", let the government take care of them, and have more kids than they can afford.

I'm sure there are poor people lazing around on the couch, but I wouldn't be surprised if they are a minority of the poor.. except for those who are seriously disabled and really can't move from that couch.

Since our family has started struggling in this recession, I have paid more attention to how the "poor" live, and, quite simply, many of them are more resourcefu­l and work harder than the still-midd­le class or the upper classes. They sell things they don't need, they scour garage sales and thrift stores, they do odd jobs, they do temp jobs, they barter, they learn how to fix things. Some seem to be constantly wheeling and dealing.

And here's a final story about someone I didn't know:

Lazy Sponger Number 6:  Disabled Wheeler Dealer
"My brother, who passed away 2 years ago, was disabled and received about 10K in Social Security a year. He did all of the above (selling stuff he didn't need, doing odd jobs, fixing stuff up, etc.). Wheeling and dealing was a way of life. Possession­s came and went with necessity. He did odd jobs as his health allowed. He cultivated friendship­s and would always help a neighbor because he knew at some point he may well need that neighbor's help. He searched thrift shops for hidden treasures, frequented yard sales, and ran many of his own yard sales.
Many of my friends and family either are poor or live right on that edge, not quite poor but not doing much more than barely getting by. This is a way of life for a large subsection of people and most others are completely unaware.”

And yet the rich will insist that they don't want to pay a dime more in taxes to support these lazy, useless deadbeats and welfare slobs.



  1. These are important stories. I began to understand that the demands of poverty are usually tremendously greater than those of the more well-to-do when I was in Mexico on business some years back. Almost everything was difficult.

  2. You are quite right, anonymous. I do believe that, for most of the poor, new or old poor, life is harder and they "work" more hours with more stress than do people who are still living a middle class (or better) life. I never thought that so many people with college degrees, people who had some money once upon a time, would wind up counted among the wheeling, dealing, scraping and scrabbling class.

    I firmly believe that few poor are lazy.

  3. Judie of Oneida County, Central NYSeptember 14, 2011 at 10:50 PM

    Thanks Molly for your blog. UnNatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? "Not Just a Paycheck" reveals the plight of the newly unemployed and the newly Poor graphically while it contrasts their health and stresses to the Rich. Of course the unemployed "should not be getting unemployment benefits or extensions of said benefits" because "they won't look for work if you give them benefits." (from the lips of Mr. Cantor, I presume.) Why that may cause them to lay on their couches and collect welfare, don't ya know? I was going to buy the DVD of "Not Just A Paycheck" from California Newsreel but it is no longer available to individuals. I will try to catch it again on my local PBS. I hope our country can turn this around, I really do. Thank you again.

  4. Thanks, Judie. I hadn't seen that. Here's a link about that particular segment:

    Not just a paycheck

    "In the winter of 2006, the Electrolux Corporation closed the largest refrigerator factory in the U.S. and moved it to Juarez, Mexico, for cheaper labor. The move turned the lives of nearly 3,000 workers in Greenville, Michigan, upside down.

    Before the plant closed, Electrolux workers led a middle class life—owning homes, buying new cars and taking vacations. Now most are scraping by on severance pay, unemployment benefits and a health plan that will end in a year. As personal finances spiral downward, health follows."

    This series was apparently produced before the big recession struck.

  5. Molly,
    You keep on bringing up the word "lazy" as if that is the only complaint people have about the poor people you mention in these stories. There are certainly not enough details in your stories about these people to determine whether they are "lazy" or not anyway. Laziness, after all, comes in all forms. A person who shows up for work 50 hours a week, but sits on their duff most of that time doing nothing is still lazy. A person who enrolls in weekend classes but does poorly because they don't study is lazy. A person who is unemployed and looks for work, but doesn't prepare for interviews is still lazy. So let's put the word "lazy" aside, and pick up a word that I think most people are really objecting too when they think of poor people on public assistance: "irresponsible"

    All of these people in these stories with the exception of the disabled guy are clearly "irresponsible".

    Note* Actually, I thought it weird that you put the disabled guy in the mix, when he is in a category to himself. Not many people I know think that people in wheel chairs are lazy because they don't get up and walk around.*

    But getting back to Spongers #1 to #5, I would definitely call them irresponsible. They made a series of irresponsible decisions-- everything from skipping school to not planning for retirement-- and now they are suffering the consequences of those bad decisions. I questions being imposed on society due to these bad decisions they made is "Should we give resources to relieve the consequences of their decisions?" and if so "How many, and what type of resources should we give?"

    In answering these questions, we must then decide who the resources will come from (because health care, electricity, housing, and food require other people to work to create), what conditions these resources come with, and what limitations our society has to provide these resources.
    It seems like there are a lot of people in the United States that think that we should try to provide for everyone, in every way, if they need it. That, housing, food, healthcare, and other basic necessities are a personal right, despite any poor decisions that lead to that need.

    But beyond the question of whether this is fair or not for people who do make good decsions, there is a bigger question of whether this is good for everyone as a whole. If people do not suffer the full consequences of their decisions, aren't we making it easier, and therefore more likely that they (and others) make the same bad decisions in the future?


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