Monday, September 04, 2006

Who to Blame?

I saw a show on PBS last night that left me with a dilemma. It was about people who work hard, more than full-time, make a minimum wage, and don’t have the financial ability to take of their families.

I’ve been aware of the statistics for some time. It seems like Paul Krugman writes an op-ed piece in the Times every week on the subject. So much so that I get tired of reading about it. The point is not complicated: people at the low end of the earning scale are worse off year to year and decade to decade than those who make more money, especially those at the high end of the income scale.

Who should I blame? The low wage earners, because they don’t have the education or skills to command more money in the job market? Or because they have more kids than they can take care of? The employers, who pay the least they can get away with, provide no benefits and prefer younger people and high turnover to reliable experienced workers? The government, because the more people earn the more benefits are taken from them? The educational system? The economy? The liberals? The conservatives? Who?

The show gave me faces to look at as well as statistics. That makes a difference. I had a chance to be angry at one woman who bitched and whined about her situation and who finally saw a light at the end of the tunnel when she snagged a guy who wanted to marry her.

I empathized with the security guard who lived in a tiny room in an SRO hotel in the Tenderloin District of my fair city. He didn’t drink any more, sent money to his ex-wife to help support two kids, and was a soft touch for the homeless people he passed on the way to work.

I despaired at the insanity of the woman with four or five kids who took on responsibility for two more (grandchildren) even though she was making only $12 an hour in a nursing home.

I admired the woman who went back to school to get an Associate’s Degree, which helped her get a better job, and then decided to cut back her working hours so she could go on and get a Bachelor’s Degree.

I know that life isn’t fair. I know that we are all responsible for our own choices. I know that I shouldn’t have to pick up the pieces for others. But I also know that there is something wrong when in the richest country in the history of mankind children are denied health care because their parents don’t make enough money. Or when job training is not easily available to those who want it. Or when families become homeless or are put in seedy motels because they can’t pay the rent.

Like I said, I’m left in a dilemma. Who to blame? I’m left with just one positive thought. Since band-aids and short-term fixes won’t really make a difference, we should begin with a powerful context on which to stand and then work on the problems from that foundation. The context should be an expression of the kind of society we want. Let the solutions emerge from that.


Blogger Jim said...

I share the delimna, although for me it is more a kind of frustration at my seeming powerlessness. I rant and rave and pontificate over the dinner table, but at the end of the day we all wring our hands and say 'ain't it horrible'. Fact is that you hit the nail on the know that we're all responsible, but mostly 'they' don't. We've got to do something about the lack of responsibility which leads to victimhood which becomes institutionalized entitlements and we all pay with a piece of our humanity.

9:24 PM  

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