“True Compassion (Breaking the Cycle)”
Not long ago my wife Ellen and I decided to take the “scenic” route back from Charleston, West Virginia to our home in Russia, north of Dayton, Ohio. As we crossed into Ohio, we took Route 52 along the Ohio River to Cincinnati.
This was a nostalgic trip because Southern Ohio is the home region for most of my family on both sides. My childhood memories of this region are both fond and numerous. As I grow older, I tend to look back at those times and that region with an adoration that masks most of the hardships that we all encountered.
My recollection is of hard working Christian families who suffered the depression, wars, and various other tragedies but endured because of their shared values, love for each other, and respect for their fellow man.
The trip was tarnished, however, by the stark realization that the current poverty is matched only by the high unemployment rates and despair encountered by so many of the region’s population.
More distressing though is the additional realization that many of the shared values that allowed our ancestors to overcome the significant obstacles they faced are no longer universal characteristics. A shining example of this phenomena is the “Redneck Bitch”.
While stopping for gas in a small run down village, I spotted a very overweight young woman leaning up against what appeared to be her pick up truck. Emblazoned across the windshield in 8” letters was her (probably handpicked) moniker – “The Redneck Bitch”. She was smoking a cigarette while holding her current beer in one hand and a 12 pack in the other. Her overall appearance was slovenly and her blouse (or whatever it would be called) was not up to the task of covering her ample belly. The RNB was holding court with her entourage of similarly attired friends.
In a rush of overactive profiling, I mentioned to Ellen that the RNB probably would not be very effective in a job interview and the State of Ohio had probably purchased the beer and cigarettes either directly or indirectly – and further – that illegal trade of pharmaceuticals had probably resulted in the truck acquisition. I justified my pretentious suppositions in the smug security of knowing that, while profiling can be discriminatory it is generally correct. Insurance companies, for instance, are not making random judgments by basing their rates on the fact that young men have more car accidents and old people die sooner. Just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
Ellen burst my snobbish diatribe by pointing out that the limitation of the young woman’s blouse was less a result of her obesity and more a result of her pregnancy. Ellen’s observation countered my arrogant statistical judgment with a very real human face. I stopped thinking of the young woman as the RNB and started thinking of her as someone’s daughter and – sometime in the near future – as a baby’s mother. My mind switched to wondering what had caused her to be in this situation and what would have to be done to give her and her baby a chance in this life - and about all of the others in this same regional environment of poverty and joblessness.
There are many different and conflicting approaches to fighting poverty and its related consequences. A major variable theme in all approaches is the concept of compassion. Those who espouse personal responsibility are often criticized for lacking such compassion. Those at the opposite end of the philosophical spectrum are labeled as “bleeding hearts”.
Our policies concerning poverty have historically been a result of these conflicting forces with the increasing tendency to create dependency in the name of compassion. Although I would like to believe that dependency creation is an unintended consequence of liberal compassion run amuck (which is certainly true very often) it is also clear that such creation is a purposeful political method of gaining power and control.
When our policies toward the Comanches in the mid-to-late 1800’s turned them (among other things) into “Wards of the Government”, we could confine, control, and profit from their dependency. The ability to control became the ability to exterminate – just without the gas chambers. We have seen this all too often with other groups as well.
It is well documented that our welfare system has been a major contributing factor in decimating the Black family structure. Less publicized but no less true is the negative impact on Appalachian whites.
Government policies of this ilk have, for the devious political class, the added advantage of creating hate between and among various groups, thus diverting attention from the root causes of poverty. Affirmative action, for instance, is viewed as a harmless condensation to the “little people” by the privileged class who are unaffected except by their continuation of power. The poor white, who has never enjoyed a country club membership or a penthouse view, looks upon the policy as an economic advantage that discriminates against him. Thus our Ruling Elite create a “Karl Marx like” class struggle pitting the poor – not against the rich – but rather one disadvantaged group against another.
The wild card in this dubious exercise is the large number of very well intentioned true liberals who sincerely believe that something like the current welfare system is necessary for the common good. These individuals cringe at the thought of taking away benefits from the disadvantaged and causing further misery. These are very fine people, many of whom are working in or managing our Social Service System. Given a more effective method of operation, they would take it. Their motive is not the acquisition of power but rather the elimination of suffering.
Given this as a backdrop, the following might be said about the example of the young expectant Mother previously self described as the RNB (to be referred to as Mother in the rest of this narrative).
- Though the situation described may be unfairly attributed to certain regions, races, or ethnic groups – it is, in reality, universal. Poverty and related maladies don’t discriminate unless policies of the elite create it.
- The basis of economic stability is a job or the ability to create one for self through the creation of a business.
- A negative self image and/or depression is, to a great extent caused by, the lack of economic stability or the long term effect of historical family instability. Mother’s (formerly RNB) father was probably unemployed as well and the baby, if the cycle is not broken, will carry on that tradition. Whether it is the cart or the horse, the job is the vehicle for ascendancy that can change all else.
- Accountability for Workforce Development Programs would include at least the following characteristics.
- The Workforce/Economic Development effort must be a local initiative. This does not mean the elimination of regional cooperation and involvement of state and federal programs. It does mean, however, that the concentrated effort must begin with those who have the most to gain or lose. There is plenty of talent locally. We can’t wait around for someone else to act and – even more critical – we can’t use the State’s policies/procedures or lack of attention as an excuse for our inaction. We must take the lead locally.
- Our efforts must produce low overhead and the elimination of overlapping duplicitous programs. This allows for more of already limited budgets to go for client services as opposed to administrative and government salaries.
- There must be a clear identification of the current and future job market. This would include not only trend analysis but also the close examination of need and desired objectives. For instance, it was projected a few years ago that we were going from a manufacturing to a service based economy. This was wrong for two reasons.
- The trend analysts were using the “2, 4, 6 – next number must be 8” approach without taking into account potential intervening factors or corrective actions that would be taken.
- It won’t happen because we can’t afford to allow it to happen. (see # i). It’s not a good idea in terms of survival to send our manufacturing out to countries who don’t like us. (see China)
When the pursuit of survival outweighs the pursuit of profit, this will change on a dime.
- Assistance, especially training, must be short term. Even now with the worst economy in years, a person with 7th grade math and reading skills and able to pass a drug test – can get a job. Everyone under the age of 60 has had an opportunity for free public education, including vocational training. If we are “starting from scratch” with a person without those basic skills, it is both risky and expensive. A short term effort is justifiable but a long term commitment is an unreasonable expectation of limited government funds. Conversely a true dislocated worker who merely needs transferable skills can obtain those in a short term program. We can’t let the schools draw out training programs for their own benefit.
- We must operate economically. This means focusing on incumbent worker training as opposed to career training. IWT is cheaper, has quicker return on investment, and creates entry level jobs. Training for the entry level job is less expensive.
- We need to eliminate the incentives to stay unemployed. There is little we can do locally about federal legislation that provides for 99 weeks of unemployment but we do control the training term and eligibility as well as other factors. We can train our caseworkers to enforce our regulations. We can also lobby for state and federal law and regulatory changes.
The changes in direction possible by the application of these concepts might seem to lack “compassion”. In reality they display a willingness to make difficult decisions rather than a “go along to get along” approach and, in fact, demonstrate true compassion. Enabling the young Mother’s negative behavior and avoidance of responsibility is not in the best interests of the community and is certainly destructive to her and the new life she carries. If we want her to take responsibility, we must be willing to do the same.
August 4, 2010