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.

Guest Post: It’s Never Too Late…by Stephen John Stulic

George Elliot said, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”  A great quote if there ever was one.  It’s inspiring for us Boomers who still have some gas left in the tank and are looking for “one more bite of the apple.”

decide your pathAs I see it, we are never finished developing into who we want to be, we are constantly growing, changing and becoming more and more of who we are. Time does that.

I was reading recently about how Michelangelo went about creating a sculpture.  He said that he looked at the rock, decided what was in it, then chipped everything else away.  In other words, he was looking to see what the rock was supposed to be.  Isn’t that what we do, constantly seek to find who we are supposed to be. Our job then, is to get rid of everything else.

There is a tendency to grow up becoming who others want us to be. Then one day we wake up and look around, and realize that the path we have been on has not been of our choosing; we have lived primarily to satisfy the expectation of those around us – parents, teachers, children, friends, bankers, etc.

So, do you continue following someone else’s path or do you cut your own and leave a trail? If so, it’s time to chip away at all that doesn’t belong.

It’s never too late to be what you might have been.

Evidence That It’s Never Too Late:

  • Nelson Mandela was 76 when he became President
  • Jack Lalanne at age 70 handcuffed, shackled, towed 70 rowboats
  • Ronald Reagan was 69 when he became President of the United States
  • Dianna Nyad, at 64, became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective cage.
  • J R R Tolkien was 62 when the Lord of The Ring books came out
  • Colonel Harland Sanders was 61 when he started the KFC Franchise
  • Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III was 57 years old when he successfully ditched US Airways Flight 1549, in the Hudson River in, 2009. All of the 155 passengers aboard the aircraft survived
  • Dr. Seuss was 54 when he wrote The Cat In The Hat
  • Ray Kroc Was 53 when he bought the McDonalds franchise and took it to unprecedented levels
  • Abraham Lincoln was 52 when he became president
  • Leonardo Da Vinci was 51 years old when he painted the Mona Lisa
  • Charles Darwin was 50 years old when his book On the Origin of Species came out

Decide if you are on the path you want to be on, or if it’s time to makes some changes.

Stephen John Stulic is a partner with Designs To Grow Coaching and Training, helping clients find their voice and a life of purpose by encouraging them to make inspired choices, and challenging them with the prospect of what they can become.  He can be reached at stephen@designstogrow.com.