What Are We To Do About The Poor?

Most of us are tremendously blessed to live lives of relative affluence. And by the standards of the world at large, most of us are rich beyond imagination. At the same time, if we look around us there are those who seem to have missed out on the prosperity that is around them and a few who lack even the most basic things.

We Americans are a generous lot and much is spent (whether through individual giving or through government services) in an effort to aid those in need. But is it working? And if not, what is to be done? I had one experience that suggests to me that this may be a problem that involves more than just money or the lack of generosity among those who have most of it.

Awhile back I told a story about becoming a guardian for a young man with mental disabilities. This kid, probably about 20 years old, had come into a significant amount of money because of a legal settlement after allegations that the government benefit on which the kid relied had underpaid recipients.

These people were, by almost anyone’s definition, “poor”. The young man (whom I will call Billy) lived on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is like Social Security for people who never had enough of a job to pay into that system. The uncle lived on a Social Security Disability benefit and the girlfriend, well, I think she just kind of lived off the other two. This was my first deep dive into the world of people who live “on disability” but I was determined to help.

Guardianships require a hearing before a probate judge. I had put forward the uncle as the agreed-upon guardian, as I had been retained to do. At that time, we had a probate judge who gave the outward appearance of being a mite slow of wit, but who had (besides a deep knowledge of the probate code) an uncanny ability to read people and a solid command of common sense. After everyone had testified, the judge said, mostly to the uncle, “Sir, I appreciate what you are trying to do for your nephew. But your sole income is your disability, and while there is certainly no shame in that, we are dealing with a lot of money and I don’t know you. This is why I am reluctant to make you a guardian. But I do know your attorney, and if he would be willing to be the guardian I would approve this petition with that change.”

The judge had, quite deftly, discerned that 1) the uncle would likely be a problem and that 2) the kid needed a guardian and there were no other good choices. I stood up and agreed to take on the job and suddenly, there I was as the guardian of this young man. My first job was to get the kid’s money (as was the subject of my previous story). With that accomplished, I expected reasonably smooth sailing, with little more than writing a check or two every month to supplement Billy’s income. Boy was I wrong.

My phone started to ring almost constantly with emergency needs for cash. One such call was Easter weekend, when Uncle Dick pleaded for money because they had no food and no income check would be there until next week. Our own pantry was well stocked, so I went home and filled a couple of grocery sacks with a canned ham, some boxes of mac & cheese, some canned vegetables and a few other things so that the family could have the fixings for a big meal that would last them through the weekend. They had made a big deal about it being Easter, but I was pretty sure that nobody would be going to church. I wasn’t bothered by that and drove to their apartment to deliver what I thought of as a generous donation from my own pocket. That was when I learned that maybe there was more to the story.

These people were living in squalor, with mattresses on the floor and junk scattered everywhere. They had no interest in the food I brought and kept on haranging me for money, coming up with more and more reasons why they needed it. I finally figured out that the real reason they needed the money was to buy liquor or drugs (and probably both).

I soon learned that part of Billy’s disability was that he had been huffing paint from a young age. He had come from a disaster of a family situation, with a father who had been in prison for child molesting. Uncle Dick seemed to have never held a legitimate job, so far as I could find, but had a good nose for finding money. That nose had led him to Billy, thus the newfound family concern.

The next several months were simply awful. I had tried to get the kid a job, but his drug addictions and behavior problems led to a quick firing. His social worker considered him irredeemable. “Billy’s a huffer. He’s always going to be a huffer.” The pestering for cash was almost constant and took on some really inventive turns – like the time he called my home phone number and “anonymously” told Marianne that I had been seen in the downtown area “with his arm around some honey”. That plan didn’t get them any money (Marianne knew me better than that) but it did get our home phone number out of the next printing of the telephone book.

The pestering reached an apex when it became a request for the rest of the money to put down on a house that the uncle would own. I was absolutely not going to put Billy in a place where he was tied for life to Uncle Dick, and suggested that there was enough money for Billy to buy a trailer in a trailer park outright. He could own it himself and could decide who would live there with him. They found a trailer and I bought it. That was the end of my guardianship duties because the money was now gone.

I later learned that the trailer park had kicked them out for disruptive and criminal behavior, and this was a trailer park that undoubtedly tolerated more than a little of that sort of thing as it was. Billy & Family were not able to take the trailer with them and evidently did not try to sell it. So within about 18 months of a five figure windfall, they were back where they started – with nothing but a couple of monthly government checks.

I had grown up with a romanticized notion that poor people are mostly just like me, but without money. That kind of poverty is relatively easy to fix, because with a chance at a job the poverty is mostly solved. But my experience taught me that lots of the poor are not just like me. Lots of the poor have lived their entire lives surrounded by drugs. At best these people are addicts, and at worst, they are like Billy – addicts who started young and who have been irreparably damaged from that drug use.

Also, most of these people had no family support network. In Billy’s case, the family was more of a problem than a solution – they were not there to support him but were there to be supported instead. Checks from the government are not going to help these people. What will help these people – I don’t have the answer to that.

I read a very interesting piece awhile back (and, unfortunately, I have forgotten where). The thrust of the piece went beyond the normal wringing of hands about broken homes, but argued that the American “nuclear family” of the last 80+ years has been a total failure. For thousands of years, the author stated, the only stable basis for a civilization had been the large extended family. Such a family (often described as a clan or tribe) was the social safety net at a time when there was no other. Those people worked together, lived in close proximity and knew those in their midst – which meant that they could tell whether someone needed help because of some bad luck or because of bad choices or bad habits. We all know that the second group requires a tougher kind of love than the first group.

For the last 80 years or so, the American “nuclear family” has become (in the ideal) a discrete little unit of two parents and their children. The parents moved away from their own parents in search of opportunity and the children will eventually do the same. Mom and Dad age alone while isolated from the intergenerational relations that might have helped share the load when there was load to be shared. Hillary Clinton famously said that “it takes a village to raise a child”. I don’t often agree with Hillary Clinton, but I think she was onto something (though perhaps not in the way she meant it).

Now, when a kid falls into addiction or anti-social behavior or some other crisis, that child separates from the rest. Homeless shelters, camps and, increasingly, public sidewalks are full of people who collect government checks in an amount barely enough to feed a drug habit. Public funds, impersonally administered and almost never with conditions for improving the recipient’s life choices, have become the way the most destructive behaviors are enabled.

I know that not everyone in poverty is like Billy and his damaged family. But a lot of them are, and monthly checks and food stamps do very little for people like them beyond continuing a cycle of dysfunction and tragedy that will never get better. I do not know the solution to these problems. I do know, however, that no solution is possible if we do not understand the problem.

Artwork: 1936 photo by Dorothy Lange of a mother and her children in Oklahoma, 1936. In the public domain as a photo produced by the U.S. Government.

35 thoughts on “What Are We To Do About The Poor?

  1. Too much to talk about here, there’s a multi page white paper that could be written about all of this. I will say this much, as an avowed liberal, and long time democrat, I can say I realized decades ago, and warn most of my “knee jerk” liberal friends, that the idea that the poor and distressed think just
    like you, and just need the same assistance to get on track, is pure folly, as you so state. Distributing tax funds, as government programs for the poor, to these people relatively unmonitored is a recipe for disaster, and has been proven as such over my lifetime.

    The on-going illiterate underclass of the city I live in, whose parents don’t work, if they’re around, and grandparents, if they’re available, haven’t been gainfully employed for any of their lives (most all of these people had been brought up from the Deep South post WWII as unskilled labor for the factories, that was no longer needed after the 70’s). After a 50 year history of funding their behavior through government poverty programs, they’ve created a criminal underclass that now has my current city in a stranglehold, with people currently trying to sell property and move out, and unwilling to go downtown at night to utilize some of the best features of the city because of the car theft and crime. I’m looking to move myself, after a sell off or distribute the contents of my storage space. If I can’t utilize the places I want to go because the crime, I can certainly live in a much smaller college town with much less going on, but much safer.

    The underclass was not raised by geniuses, and just fell on hard times. They are the multi generation spawn of illiterates and imbeciles and no one knows what to do about it that doesn’t sound like some form of draconian deep state solution. Lest you think this a guarded racist conversation, be informed that all of this is has nothing to do with color. My four years in Indianapolis introduced me to illiterate and moronic white Appalachian blue collar working class that was horrifying to me, and as bad as anything I’ve ever seen.

    J.P., better minds than ours have been working on this for decades, and short of seizing the young children of illiterates and putting them in boarding schools, no one has come up with a viable solution yet.

    Liked by 3 people

    • The wreck of a family I described were all white people too, so I was not distracted by racial issues in this experience. There is an old maxim in economics – if you want less of something, tax it. If you want more of something, subsidize it. We have been subsidizing poverty for decades. There is an intoxicating feeling of generosity in giving money to people, but we have been following these “great society” templates for most of my lifetime, and it seems like things are getting worse and not better. If anything, those programs have helped the class of folks we traditionally thought of as “poor”, but have mired the rest into an unbreakable cycle that destroys them and those in close proximity to them.


  2. I had an uncle who was a bum. And it wasn’t because he fell on tough times or had a bad home life; indeed, he’d had the same home life as my dad. No, he was a bum by choice: he didn’t want to live by anyone else’s rules, wanted to be accountable to no one. This made it extremely difficult for me to be in any way sympathetic to anyone with his hand out. And though I’m more willing to help occasionally now as I’ve become older, I still pass on 98% of the “opportunities” to do so.

    A friend and I often discuss this sort of thing, and what can be done. I bemoan the eroding of personal responsibility in our country, and the eradication of shame as a motivator to improve. The two are not unrelated.

    Though my friend and I don’t often agree on causes or solutions, we have sort of settled on the idea that people aren’t necessarily supposed to live in cities in the way we do now. Smaller communities could be the villages that JP mentioned. I’ve heard that “takes a village” attributed to African tribes (never more specific than that, and that’s a broad attribution). Those smaller communities actually used to be the villages. Your parents found out about your misdeeds from the ‘nosy busybodies’… and I’m not suggesting this is a fool-proof solution to the problem; only that it’s a battlefront in the war.

    I hesitate to suggest this as well, since we’ve all got stories of less-than-stellar so-called men of god (lower case on purpose); but the church used to be a major part of our communities. It’s actually within the church’s charge to discern help for widows and the needy, with the caveat that a family should take care of its own (I Tim 5). That said, I also think the likelihood of corruption in the church increases inversely to its proximity to the community it purportedly serves.

    A few of my thoughts on the topic; I’m aware I’m also lacking an actual solution and my suggestions to improve the situation are ‘ideal’ scenarios…

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    • It’s good – solutions are hard to come by for these problems. I think the broad majority of Americans believe two things (even if those majorities are smaller than they once were): 1) If you don’t work, you don’t eat. 2) If you can’t work we should share enough so that you can eat. The problem is in putting it into practice. Like telling the difference between someone who won’t work and someone who can’t work. Also, it is easy to sit here at a keyboard in my comfy living room saying “if you don’t work, you don’t eat” – but looking someone in the eyes and saying it to an actual person is really hard.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. In a fitting coincidence to your post, the Biden administration just passed some sort of enhancement to the federal budget to address homelessness, targeting six locales to remove more people from the streets. While I’m typically conservative with my politics, I’m interested in whatever details are in play this time around. We need a prototype solution on which state and city-level efforts can build. I commend the administration for the increased focus, with hopes it will lead to an answer involving rehabilitation.

    I have a brother-in-law living off the SSD program (which would not be possible if he weren’t living with his mother). He worked hard for several years at several jobs so I feel he has earned this benefit (even if I also believe his disability was brought on by poor life choices). But what bothers me is his loss of motivation in the process. The check comes every week whether he sits in his room all day or gets out of the house. He’s capable of at least being a Wal*Mart greeter or even just contributing to society in a way that doesn’t pay, yet there he sits in his room, playing on his phone and watching TV all day.

    The critical aspect of any solution for the poor and homeless is a path to rehabilitation (to the extent possible). Otherwise, the benefit will not only be abused, but more importantly, completely wasted.

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    • I agree – the devil is in the details. I am coming to the conclusion that effective charity is not something that “scales” (as they say in the MBA classes). Charity passed out by a church or a rural township involves situations where the folks running things know all about who the recipients are. Checks from the Federal government cannot do this.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I wrote an article a few weeks ago about the other side of this, the people who earnestly want better, but don’t know how to get there and live on the razor’s edge anyway where small setbacks snowball into major crises. But people like the ones in your story absolutely do exist.

    Several years ago I read a book called “A New Guide to Understanding Poverty” by Ruby Payne that really opened my eyes to the mindset differences among people in generational poverty and why they exist. It is criticized for being classist, but I don’t care, I think it’s a valuable lens to look at poverty through.

    There will always be people who just want to opt out of society, and/or seek the lowest stuff. I have an uncle like that – grew up in a basically good family, but at 70-something, he has never cared to try to not be an alcoholic and drug addict. I have cut him out of my life because of it. We have one son who seemed bound and determined to do the same thing, but life beat him up badly enough that he finally cried uncle and is trying hard to live a productive life now.

    Andy makes some good points about people from the south and Appalachia moving to the Midwest for jobs and then when those jobs dried up they fell into generational poverty and drugs. My dad’s family came here from West Virginia for that reason in the 1950s. It’s not a slam dunk that Appalachians all fell into squalor as my dad’s family didn’t — they figured out how to transition to the jobs that were available, and all live decent lives in Indiana.

    States will be wise to work to create decent jobs that low-education, low-skill people can do, encourage creation of affordable day care, and encourage more (and more extensive) public transportation. It won’t lift people like the family you worked with out of their mess, as they don’t want to not live that way. But I know plenty of people in generational poverty who, with these things in place, would _run_ to them and lift themselves up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jim brings up an important component of some solutions, like state sponsored work programs; but we all must be aware that there are radical right wing conservatives that would look at this stuff as blatant socialism! An even bigger question is what happens with the unconsidered adoption of Artificial Intelligence, and hyper robotics? What happens when these technologies result in a nation of 200 million working people with 100 million available jobs? I recently was let go at 64 years old (with a group of people at my company all over 55) when I fully expected to work until 70. Trust me when I tell you, in many of the areas I worked in, Walmart is not interested in hiring someone in their 60’s with corporate senior management experience, to shag carts from the parking lot. You are basically unhireable. Even if they might hire someone at my age to do it, they wouldn’t hire someone with my background to do it, and over been told as much when trolling for employment! You can only work if someone is willing to give you a job.

      Almost every solution is going to smack of socialism for the “crank” right wing. I wouldn’t be far off in thinking that the conservative right wing wouldn’t mind you fist-fighting each other on the corner (like the movie Fight Club), to win the right to be one of the people still employed. One of the first areas of curing illiteracy, is curing the republican right wing of the illiteracy of thinking that everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

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      • I think you are putting up a straw man conservative to mow down. I am a conservative and do not for a moment want to see people doing without. I do, however, question how it can be “charity” and “generosity” when the giving is forced, and I also question whether the “great society” assumptions we have all been working from since I was in grade school are actually making things better. The federalization of what was traditionally called “poor relief” may have been a good idea in 1934, but it has also caused a whole host of problems that nobody ever considered could ever be possible.

        I think it is time for some fresh thinking that does not come from the stale left vs. right paradigm. I would actually love to hear a debate on this subject from a non-traditional conservative like Trump and a non-traditional liberal like RFK Jr. The ideas could be just as worthless as what we have now, but they would at least be more interesting.

        I join you in detesting the way “big business” in America has worshipped the god of efficiency and profit in a way that has hollowed out many industries and many communities. I had an econ prof (who was quite conservative) who used to say that few are less supportive of an actual free market than those in business. There are lots of things wrong with the world, but not that many of them that can be effectively solved by (another) government program.

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      • J.P., I’m not so sure I’m putting up a “straw man” conservative to mow down, when I’m barely surviving on my “earned” social security and a tiny 401k I was able to eek out on my minimal salary, and there are conservative republicans on record as wanting to cut social security, or worse yet, want it to go into the stock market (you can consider it lost, which is what happened to my professionally managed 401k twice in my career). You must be pulling my leg with Trump and Kennedy. Trump is totally responsible for promoting the fed interest rate that devastated my saving by paying 0.02 % interest, which thank god is now up to a health 4%. Cheap borrowed money for his business cronies to start questionable businesses that they can walk away from is not on my list of things I want as a citizen (btw, I’ve been tracking Trump in the business community since the 90’s, and walking away from his loan obligations for risky business practices has been his modus, which is why he can’t borrow money from anyone in the US, England, or Germany anymore, and why he’s in bed with Russian oligarchs).

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      • I get what you are saying – You and I may be looking at thin Social Security benefits, but I wonder about those 15 or 20 years behind us – will they see anything at all? Social Security worked great for those who were children when the program started – but like every program run by government, it has been horribly mismanaged with far too many ways into it (like what counts for a “disability” these days that entitles one to benefits under the SSD program) coupled with a demographic time bomb due to low birth rates and fewer and fewer paying in while more and more get benefits.

        And I don’t argue that Donald Trump is the answer to everyone’s problems (or perhaps anyone’s problems). I will say that during his brief career in politics, he has not been a conventional thinker, and neither is Kennedy. I think we have to admit that decades of conventional thinking have brought us where we are, and I don’t like the looks of where we are all that well. In fact, I don’t think where we are is sustainable for much longer.

        FWIW, I agree with you that the crazy-low interest rates were a bad thing on balance, but that situation goes back to long before Trump. I think we are looking at a tax/regulatory/financial system that is a foul stew of legacy, self-interest, and good intentions that failed to translate to good results. No single thing is going to fix this.


    • I am becoming convinced that in traditional thinking about poverty, both groups of people we have discussed get treated in the same way. I am also becoming convinced that this way of thinking has led to disaster. The “down on their luck” poor don’t get enough help to succeed, while the “where’s my money, I need a hit” poor get too much help and are not forced into a situation where they have to make different choices.


  5. We all start out as babies. Everyone from Warren Buffett to the homeless person at the train station was a baby once. All babies can be assumed to be approximately equal–they cry, they squirm, they need care, etc. Then we become toddlers, and then we enter grade school. I don’t know when or how it happens, but somewhere along the way a decision is made, something happens, and the really successful people start blossoming on their way to success and position. And the others are left behind. This often has little to do with academic achievement. What makes this happen? I don’t know.

    The book “The Kallikak Family” describes how c. 1770 a man married a fine Quaker woman and had many children, and nearly all of them and their descendants became successful and prosperous. However, the man also had a one-time dalliance with an idiot barmaid whom he got pregnant. That child and nearly all his descendants became poor farmers, criminals, and lunatics who were considered “feeble-minded” and drains on society. Modern scholars have criticized some details of the book, but I think the basic premise is valid. Generational blessings and curses are a real thing. Alcohol is especially harmful as it can cause fetal alcohol syndrome and destroys DNA.

    Everyone, whether their upbringing was good or bad, must make choices and and either accept or decline opportunities as they come along as we all play the “Game of Life”. All of us are susceptible to personal disaster at any time, even if we make wise choices and are living uprightly. It helps if the angels are looking out for you.

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    • It’s nurture, and not nature, my friend. There’s no truer statement than many of the wealthy were born on third base and think they hit a home run. The creation myth that Americans can somehow born in terrible circumstances and pull themselves up up to success is a fraction of one percent, if that at all. It’s just something that keeps getting repeated and lauded in the American psyche as legend, and by volume, it’s most radically untrue! Almost no one grows up with illiterate parents, and drug addled extended family, and becomes a successful genius. The statistics just do not exist, its more bs American legend. BTW, Warren Buffets dad was a four term Congressman. Sure, All babies are born the same, unless they’re a crack baby, or from an alcoholic mother, and their path to growth diverges catastrophically, based on who they were born to!


    • An attorney I used to work with was fond of saying that if someone rounded up all of the money and property in the country and spread it equally among every adult, within about 10 years almost all of it would be right back under the ownership of the people who had it in the first place.

      I read somewhere that one of the great trends that has not been appreciated has been how society has been stratified by intelligence. Some people are born smarter than others, and we seem to have figured out a way to segregate the groups by encouraging the intelligent to go to college and the not-intelligent to go into jobs involving manual labor. When I was a kid I knew really bright people who, based on their circumstances, landed in blue collar jobs. For a time (maybe the 70s-90s?) it seemed like it was hard to find really intelligent young people in trades and labor. I think that has been changing in recent years, as too many have sucked up massive debt to get useless degrees and low-paid “professional” jobs while some bright people have figured out that a career in welding or or as a machinist can set you up pretty well for a middle class lifestyle.


  6. On a small scale, I think one needs to help the poor & disadvantaged that one encounters, much like JP’s example (well done by the way, even if it didn’t make much long term difference). We have to keep doing what we can and contribute to individuals and organizations that do good work. The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

    On a macro level, look no further than virtually every other developed nation. Who has the highest percentage of poor, and whose poor are relatively the poorest? The USA. A year of maternity benefits for working mothers, quality elementary and high school education for all, protection for low income workers, a working minimum wage, benefits and programs, these are things that will help lift folks out of ignorance and poverty.

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    • I have been reading about “high trust” and “low trust” societies and how they differ. Canada (as I understand it, anyway) is a relatively high-trust society, as are the countries of northern Europe. Doses of socialism can work in those societies because people are raised to be fair and you don’t have many taking advantage of their neighbors. The US, as a melting pot of many parts of the world with wildly varying social systems) is far more of a low-trust society and far more beset by people who will game the system for their own benefit (no small number of them being native to the US). I think this is more true here than it might have been 60 or 75 years ago. My own opinion (which is a work in process) is that too many of our decisions on how our government is structured and how we help the poor is based on conditions that may have existed in the 1920s to the 1950s (when many lawmakers of the last couple of generations were growing up) but which do not exist now. I think it is time for fewer solutions built Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” ideas and more based on some fresh thinking


      • In Canada, the bottom 40% of households pay less than 0% of income taxes (because of the government benefits they receive). The top 20% pay upwards of 70% of all income tax. 10% of Canadians don’t even bother to file their tax returns (because their income is low enough they know they don’t owe any tax.) In 2015 it was estimated that non-filers were owed $1.7 billion in government benefits – which the government would give them if they would just file the papers.

        While Canadian taxpayers may want to believe that many of these benefit programs will ‘lift people out of poverty’ (so the poor won’t require assistance any more), the cost of the programs just keeps rising as more and more assistance programs are announced and more and more people qualify for them. Our ‘social safety net’ might be more realistically described simply as a program of Wealth Transfer. Some politicians are even calling for the establishment of a national guaranteed basic income program.

        Wealth Transfer – when I think of that as the goal of the social safety net, then the flaws I see in the system are understandable. I was looking at the system through a different lens…

        That may be the case in the American system too. I’ve read stats that say 70 million Americans are on the SSA welfare program (21% of the population) and it costs about $1.3 trillion a year. Apparently the top 10% of tax filers paid 71% of the taxes in 2018. The bottom 50% paid 3%.

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      • I am not familiar with the stats you cite, but if it is true that 21% of the US population is on the SSI program, than there are some basic problems with how American society operates – and they are not problems that are going to be solved with more government money.


  7. Our family was multi-generational (we believe nursing homes should be the exception) for many years. My kids and some of my grandkids grew up with their grandmother in the home and it impacted them greatly. And we have an extended yet close-knit “family” in our church community as well. I think (as I am recalling without looking it up) that the title for Hillary’s book was lifted from some tribal leader in Africa. It is true, it does take a village to raise a child. There are adults in our church who befriended my children and later on my grandchildren and helped them in ways I never could have. It is known that the more (positive, moral) adult influences children have the better off they are.

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    • I think that if more families and communities were like yours, a whole lot of people would be far better off than they are now. It is one of the great regrets of my life that we were not in a position to take care of my mother at home in her final years. Unfortunately, ours was a family that has all the marks of the modern American family, thus affected by divorce, distance, and multi-income households. Not one of my mother’s children lived closer than 50 miles away from her. Had she come to live with one of us, there would not have been another part of that family closer than 100 miles. On a large scale, this has been an under-recognized disaster.

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      • J.P.. my mothers first husband married her and brought her to Hawaii, where she got a good look at multi generational Chinese families all living under the same roof. After she divorced and came back to the Midwest, and married my Dad and had us, on more that one occasion, she tried to get us to all buy a large house together. I’m not sure she was wrong. The only problem with that thinking, is that you’re dependent on the community you live in for employment, and all of my sibs had professional level jobs that were not even available within a hundred miles of our city!

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  8. I cannot begin to make a meaningful comment in a short space. Our 19 year old step grandchild has been living with us the last ten years. He has always been connected to special needs school programs and various support systems where he is a relatively high performer but he will never be able to read past second grade level or handle money. We have been horrified both at the situations some of his peers are mired in and the ridiculous bureaucracy that routinely makes things worse. God bless you for getting involved.

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    • It’s easy to talk about this stuff in the abstract, but there are a bazillion individual circumstances. The disadvantaged people like your grandchild are the lucky ones – with a family support network to look out for them. The rest, who have to rely on well-intentioned (if poorly paid and over-burdened) social workers and none-too-generous government benefits have it bad. I have been fortunate that my dip into that pond was a temporary one. My daughter works for a nonprofit trust that manages funds for adults with disabilities who have received them from sources over and above government benefits, so she is in that world every day.


  9. I didn’t comment yesterday because I was interested in seeing how you responded to the comments that were coming in. Your responses were excellent – polite and thoughtful agreement and/or counter points to the thoughts expressed!

    Personally, I think the broken part of your country and mine (Canada) is that our government, social and cultural systems say they want equality and diversity, but use fear and defamation to control the thoughts and actions of their respective supporters. Terms like ‘illiterate underclass’, ‘imbeciles’, ‘crank right-wing’ – certainly don’t encourage working together towards ‘alt-middle’ solutions. The unrelenting focus, biases and fear about viruses, climate change, fossil fuels, capitalism, wokeness, skin colour, sexuality etc isn’t moving our countries in a positive ‘inclusive’ healthy direction either.

    So, is the problem really just about lack of wealth; or is it also about people who think poor people are an ‘underclass’ that needs to be removed? I won’t speculate on other problems – others are doing a much better job of that and have interesting ways of looking at things. Mike Rowe, Thomas Sowell and Michael Shellenberger come to mind – in Canada, Jordan Peterson, Rex Murphy and Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre.

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    • I am a huge fan of Thomas Sowell, and have been since my days of studying economics in undergrad. I always said there are two kinds of economists – those whose political leanings determine their economics and those whose economics affects their political leanings. Sowell has been the second kind – the guy who rigorously follows the rules of the discipline and sees where it takes him, and not the other way around.

      It is my own theory that we have been watching in real time a once-in-a-lifetime political shift. When I was a kid, we were at the tail end of a period when one party represented the bottom half of the economic ladder and the other represented the top half. Now, I think one party represents the top and the bottom while the other represents the broad middle.


    • I’d just like to say, that you missed the point of my first response. Calling someone an “imbecile” is not name calling…it’s a struggle to identify properly the actual intelligence inability for people that are involved in these problems. As stated, investing people with a level of intelligence that they do NOT possess, and thinking that people that come from these backgrounds think like you, have your level of intelligence, and would react to government sponsored financial help the same way you would, is where this whole process has gone awry over the last 50-70 years. We’re not holding hands in a circle and singing kumbaya, we’re trying to figure out how to solve a decades old problem of giving government money and services away to people who don’t have the capacity to ever take that and make any forward progression out of it.


  10. When I worked in Downtown Detroit we had a lot of people begging for money. They wanted money, not food and if someone was kind enough to run into a sandwich shop or fast food place and bring out a bag filled with food, they may take it, but without a word of thanks. They were allowed to panhandle, but not touch people. Then there was “The Quarter Lady” … she wore unlaced sneakers all year around and in Winter, there was newspaper stuffed into them and plastic bags over top of them to keep her feet warm. Her coat was dirty and tattered and she was generally unkempt with long gray hair in a bun. She wore a dress, so you could see her bare legs. She positioned herself in an alley and yelled out “Gotta quarter?” all day long. Sometimes she would lurch forward and grab your arm … that was a “no-no” and if a police officer saw that, he’d give her a warning. So, I can’t say I saw many people hand her a quarter, but I didn’t see everything either. However …

    It turned out “The Quarter Lady” was merely an act because when she died, a bus friend, who was a legal secretary at a probate firm downtown, told me that woman had amassed a fortune and they were probating the will to allot it to her family members. I was shocked.

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    • I have sometimes wondered about the actual financial situation of some like the quarter lady. In my area, there are people who will park themselves on a median in a busy intersection. It will be the same person, who seems to keep regular hours. I have wanted to do a stake-out and see how they get there, how they get home and where that home is. I have also wondered if this is just free enterprise, or if these are “employees” of a larger and more organized thing.

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      • J.P., I never give money out to indigents on the street, and I give money to the food bank to feed the poor every month and have been doing so for decades. BTW, the giveaway with boulevard beggars is the quality level of their shoes, I never give them money, but would most certainly never give them money if their shoes are better than mine, which is amazingly most of the time!

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      • I have two incidents to respond to your comment.

        First, my post tomorrow is about a fallen soldier memorial at Memorial Park. That well-kept park is one block from me and has monuments, benches and a pavilion where memorial ceremonies take place requiring electronics equipment. The pavilion is about 50 feet from the main street and visible to drivers/police, yet there are homeless people that sleep on those park benches all seasons except Winter and I see them there in the daytime. But get this … they plug their smartphones in the pavilion’s electrical outlets to charge them. How do they afford smartphones/service? One guy has a leather bomber jacket … I am dubious about where they go after dark as I only see them in the daytime. I go to the pavilion and also to the garden to take butterfly pics but am always careful and mindful of my surroundings. Also …

        The second incident happened about eight years ago. My neighbor Marge’s daughter and her boyfriend lived with her. Neither worked and both collected SSD, claiming bi-polar disorders. The boyfriend left the house, on a bicycle, every morning, hid the bike, had a cardboard sign he held up “homeless vet” by an expressway. He stood alongside other scammers with similar signs. He alone scammed $300.00/week ($300.00 … yes, not a typo) doing this and bragged about it. Disgusting. The veterans who need the help often don’t get it and 22 U.S. veterans a day die from suicide, not only related to PTSD.

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