How I Realized Poverty is Self-Perpetuating

couponsThis past Sunday, I found the following in the coupon section of the paper: “Buy a $50 Visa Gift Card and receive $10 off your order of $50 or more!”  Well, hey, I can put together a list of things I need, or can use in future, that adds up to $50, and I can use that gift card to buy gas or other necessities; in the process I’ll save $10 on things I’d buy anyway!  Good deal!

Then it hit me.  I am fortunate enough to have sufficient disposable income to take advantage of the offer.  If, however, I was eking by from paycheck to paycheck, thus was unable to pay $100 all at once to garner the great savings (10% of the total), I couldn’t take advantage of it, and I’d have to pass on saving an extra and sorely needed $10.

In other words, too often you must have money to save it, or make more of it…too often, those who most need the savings or increased income literally can’t afford to take advantage of the typical means for getting it.

We in the middle class can relate to this on a different level: we can’t take advantage of the same investment vehicles available to the wealthy because they require a million dollar buy-in, for example.  We must pay an ever increasing chunk of our paycheck to insurance premiums with ever increasing out-of-pocket costs, increasing our cost of living with no concomitant increase in salary – another example.

But even more systems are set up in this same “no-win” way for the “working poor” – folks who work hard at the kind of low-wage jobs that keep us going (maids, clerks, lawn care, home health aides, social service workers, maintenance workers) yet still live in poverty.

Here just a few of the myriad things that work to keep the poor, poor:

  • can’t get a car loan, so, presto, no car to get to work, daycare, grocery store, etc.
  • no health insurance so must pay out of pocket for everything – costs that are far higher than those charged to insurance companies; add to that living in substandard housing which exacerbates asthma, allergies, some still with lead paint, causing more illness
  • neighborhoods with “D” or “F” rated public schools…so much for a decent education
  • lots of coupons are found in the daily paper…unless you can’t afford the subscription, then that option is out as well
  • vehicles for saving for the future (IRA’s, investments, even savings accounts) require a minimum deposit and balance to qualify

We hear, often, of folks beating poverty and making it big.  Unfortunately, that is a very small minority, and the ticket up and out is usually through professional sports or the film/music industry.

As an executive with large social service agencies, I know what those who care for your profoundly disabled son’s/parent’s care are paid, and it’s not a living wage.  We all know what the hotel maids and all service workers on whom we depend are paid, and we know it’s insufficient.  Even teachers and bank tellers are paid ridiculously low wages given the skill and education required.

So, please keep this in mind the next time you see headlines about workers at MacDonald’s and Walmart fighting for a decent wage.  They have lots of company in folks with jobs that are far more crucial.

Then keep in mind that the only way out of poverty – or the lower-middle class for that matter – is through wages paid.

Boomers Make Poor Legislators…

The 70th anniversary of D-Day got me thinking about our parents’ “Greatest” generation, what they lived through, and how bad Congress has become.

The connection?

bob doleWhen they were in Congress, bi-partisan work got done, taking care of our needs seemed to more often trump taking care of their own careers, they were not quite so easily bought.  Nothing like making it through a great depression and a world war to build character…

In contrast, today’s Congress is made up of mostly Boomers… best at living up to our “me” generation moniker.  Now Congress gets john-boehnernothing of import done from a preference for over-the-top partisanship, takes care of their own careers rather than the country’s needs, and are quite easily bought.  For those of us who like our Social Security and Medicare, be grateful those programs were created during our parents’ tenure.

The conclusion: Boomers make poor national leaders.  In Florida, our children as leaders aren’t faring much better.

I’ve always believed that anyone wanting to run for Congress is most likely not a good candidate because the ego it takes to want such a thing will most likely outpace his/her ability to truly lead.  And the folks I’d like to see in Congress don’t want the job.

Ah for the Founders’ concept of “citizen legislators” – folks who had a life (other than politics), went to Washington for short periods (Jefferson envisioned terms of no more than 9 years, with Representatives rotating out every 3, similar to the current practices of Boards of Directors) to represent their constituents’ needs, then returned home to continue their real lives.  Here’s an example provided by Thomas Jefferson in 1797:

“All [reforms] can be… [achieved] peaceably by the people confining their choice of Representatives and Senators to persons attached to republican government and the principles of 1776; not office-hunters [stressor mine], but farmers [the main vocation of the day…notice he didn’t say lawyers and doctors, who make up most representatives today] whose interests are entirely agricultural [eg of their main profession]. Such men are the true representatives of the great American interest and are alone to be relied on for expressing the proper American sentiments.”

He also envisioned representatives be uncompensated, to ensure their motives were to serve, not to become enriched themselves:

“I have the consolation of having added nothing to my private fortune during my public service and of retiring with hands as clean as they are empty.”
Jefferson to Diodati, 1807.

Let’s find a bunch of the latter (true citizen legislators) and convince them to run, so we can eliminate the former (what we have now).

Some of them may even be Boomers.

 

Why “Child Protective Services” are Not

Prior to focusing my professional attention to advising my generation, I ran programs in NYC for homeless/runaway youth many of whom were in the child protection system at some point (drug addicted/AIDs infected/imprisoned parents) or had their own children in the system. I’ve been a Guardian ad Litem here in FL. I’ve been a foster parent (of a teen) in New Jersey. I know first hand what’s needed to vastly improve the safety of children removed from their home due to abuse/neglect.

children killed by abusersBe warned, it is a solution historically ignored as it unpegs our blind devotion to keeping children with (clearly dysfunctional) biological parents, no matter how incapacitated those people are as individuals let alone parents; our culture’s foundation for failure.

As obvious as this faulty reasoning is in the aggregate (recent series by the Tampa Bay Times & Miami Herald here in Florida as example), when it comes time to set, by law, extreme limits for such people to have the children returned to them, we simply don’t do it. Biology trumps proven incapacity to parent.

Although some parts of the country are ahead of the curve by ensuring quality/innovative solutions to their child protection problems (some major cities like L.A., others less so like Omaha, Nebraska) through the adoption of models that emphasize the child’s well-being over the “rights of the parents,” unfortunately most States, including Florida, currently hold parents’ rights, no matter how unearned, to be paramount.

So to start, we must accept two painful realities: 1) that the ability to procreate does not automatically make someone fit to parent, and numerous attempts to “rehabilitate” a parent while the children continue to suffer is not an approach worth keeping; 2) the systems are grossly underfunded and the funding they have poorly utilized.

Then, we must call for proven alternatives to the current system that fails children miserably.  That means passing laws that use added protective services dollars to make adoption far more desirable and affordable (as do programs like New Life Village in Tampa), and fund highly successful, well researched models of community care that provide safety, professional care, emotional and peer support, and an environment in which children can thrive, such as Girls & Boys Town in Nebraska (you may remember the 1938 movie, Boys Town, starring Mickey Rooney and Spencer Tracy) and SOS Children’s Villages.

We Boomers must no longer be party to embracing mid-20th century solutions to 21st century problems.  And as a member of the most influential cohort in America, you can insist on far better for these hurting children in your State.

Only then will we be able to pick up a newspaper and not read of horrific deeds by disturbed individuals who have been given the State’s sanction to continue abusing their offspring.

MLB – While You’re Reviewing Things….

major league baseballAfter this year’s World Series, Major League Baseball decided to reconsider a long-standing (as in on the books since aught whenever of the last century) but potentially outdated-as-written rule known as “obstruction” that helped the Cardinals win game 4.  It’s good to know that the game is willing to self-analyze a bit – like they did in 2008 when they finally agreed to include video reviews of disputed plays (OK, just home runs, and admittedly decades after football started using this approach to reconsider a disputed call, but it’s a start).  Recently, MLB has also agreed to consider an expansion of their video review policy to include more options throughout the game.

So, while they’re in a rare updating mode, I have a recommendation for another mightily outdated practice that needs changing.

Using only men as umpires.

Women would very much like to be on the roster, considered right alongside their male counterparts as with any business today.  And they have tried, to no avail, as covered in an August, 2011 piece by ESPNW.  Yet, according to Baseball Nation, there’s never been a female major league umpire, and only six women have umpired in the affiliated minor leagues (meaning those leagues affiliated with Major League Baseball).  Citing the aforementioned ESPNW story, they note that “the last female umpire in the affiliated minor leagues was Ria Cortesio, and she was fired by the Double-A Southern League in 2007.  The first woman accepted into umpire school and given a shot in the minor leagues had to sue to gain that right.”

There’s no rule on the books stating only men can umpire (of course…), but Baseball Nation states that, in practice “Some older, more experienced umpires do not think women are capable, despite what the law says. Others hold women candidates to a higher standard. And others are simply resistant to any kind of change.”

Why?  Do they think we’ll have trouble finding shoes to match the chest plate?  We’re too emotional to stay objective?  Or, perhaps, as was the case 70 years ago in corporate America, they feel threatened that allowing women into their ranks is a zero-sum proposition; women win, men lose. No matter what the hidden motive, the discrimination has become far too glaringly obvious to last much longer – that is, if we don’t let it continue.

Hey, we Boomers can certainly relate to age-related aversion to change, doing so only when pushed to a cliff, and even then changing as minimally as possible – Major League Baseball being just a tad older than us is no different.  But we can also relate to equality, ending discrimination, and women’s capacity to successfully handle what had traditionally been a “man’s job” from CEO to the front lines in the military, because we started the movements that made all three a social norm today.

Let’s give MLB a big push to end a very outdated practice.

A Quite Surprising Boomer-Dating Experience….

first dateThe woman decided to get back to dating after a long time of no time for herself over the many years of caring for her elderly parents.  Both parents are gone now, so a personal life can resume.

The woman opted for online dating sites that cater to those in mid-life, primarily for the safety that comes with finding prospective dates through a service, and the ability to choose those she’d wish to meet in her own way & time.  She included a recent picture and did as the site asked, describing her interests and what she’d like in a man, written with her usual dry humor (“doesn’t consider a trip to the supermarket a fun night out…”).

The woman received a number of responses, all anxious suitors who found her “attractive”… “fascinating, great personality”… “a real catch!”  A few of those seemed quite promising to her as well, and with them she set a first date.

When she arrived at the agreed upon place for each initial get-together, her prospective suitors looked happy to see her (no doubt relieved that she looked like her picture portrayed her), and acted impressed, maybe with her, maybe with themselves for landing a date with her.

Then they saw her hands.

The woman has Rheumatoid Arthritis – like any other medical condition, not something someone would add to their profile (“Hi, I’m so-and-so, I love long walks on the beach, sunsets, and I have diabetes!”).  First glance at her, you’d never know it – no wheelchair, limp or “Hunchback of Notre Dame” deformity – but the condition took the greatest toll on her hands; there is where deformities will be found.  With every reach for her drink, she couldn’t miss each gentleman’s regular, furtive glances at the hands, and the change in their demeanor as the hands took precedence over all else; her “attractiveness” “fascinating personality” and being “a real catch” quickly eroding away.

Each date ended with far less enthusiasm on their part than it began; she didn’t hear from them again.

The woman wondered, “these men are bald, or out of shape, or have their own medical conditions (about which they chat unreservedly), or are not particularly physically attractive (she doesn’t mind sacrificing the outer if the inner is there), yet are repelled permanently by a set of bad hands.  Are all the single guys my age going to be that shallow, or clueless, or both?”

The attitude of these men didn’t upset the woman…after all she met them only once so had no attachment to them or their opinions, she’s at peace with her own limitations, and she was glad to know up front of their limited capacity for empathy.  But, really, are Boomer men commonly that petty and small-minded?

The woman hopes not; hopes that she will, someday, find a good man who will love her despite her bad hands.

The woman is me.