Observations on life

Don’t Believe the New Myths About America’s White Working Class | Joe Klein TIME

Everyone feels they are a victim of something or some group; (poor) white, black or latino, it doesn’t seem to matter. As a result, some Americans feel guilty and we end up with more programs to deal with the misfortune and ills of society. What we seem to miss though is the human factor as the basic cause of the problems too many people face. 

The following article and referenced book shed some light on this issue. I urge you to read the full article. In the meantime note the sections I highlighted. “A bottom up crisis of individual responsibility.” Where have you heard that before? The idea that you cannot cure all the problems of the underclass simply by adding new government assistance programs is not new, nor is the idea such individuals are generally short on personal responsibility. Overlooking this is the biggest mistake left leaning politicians and supporters make. Old Ben Franklin said it 250 years ago. 

I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer. – B Franklin, On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor (29 November 1766)

Don’t Believe the New Myths About America’s White Working Class

Joe Klein @JoeKleinTIME

Sept. 12, 2016 SHARE

Hillbilly Elegy has been the book of the summer among the political cognoscenti of both parties. It is Vance’s memoir of his escape from the Appalachian culture of pride and poverty–a culture that seems to be disintegrating, much the way the black working class fell apart starting in the 1960s, but without the history of racial oppression. The white out-of-wedlock birthrate, which is about 30%, is now higher than the black rate was (about 25%) when Daniel Patrick Moynihan correctly identified family disintegration as a significant problem in 1965. The current black rate has been stuck at about 70%.

There is significant irony here: the culture described in Hillbilly Elegy is so similar to that of the black underclass that it demolishes the perennial racist argument that these sorts of behaviors–sexual profligacy, drug dependency, violence, indigence and a free-range sense of helplessness that leads to irresponsibility–are unique to African Americans. Something else, something far more complicated is going on, a cultural dilemma that has erupted with the “liberation” of American society over the past 50 years.

It is a phenomenon that transcends the prevailing liberal (and Trumpian) theory that the white-black underclass was caused by the departure of manufacturing jobs. That may have been true 40 years ago, when the jobs began to leave. But it is less true now, as habits of indolence–the inability to show up to work on time, the refusal to follow orders on the job, the preference to hang out at a home often subsidized by the federal government–have taken hold. Vance worked for a summer in a floor-tile warehouse near his hometown in Ohio. It was relatively easy work, paying $13 per hour, a good salary in Appalachia. But “the managers found it impossible to fill my warehouse position with a long-term employee.” In hillbilly country, as in urban America, a great many people simply lack the discipline to work.

It is eerie and depressing to read Vance’s account of his mother–a drug addict in and out of rehab, with a series of husbands and boyfriends rotating in and out of the house. He describes a close relative as “a classic welfare queen.” He writes about 9-month-old babies being fed Pepsi in their bottles, and the abuse of food stamps he saw as a cashier at the local grocery store. All of these things were clichés deployed by Ronald Reagan, and dismissed by liberals, when he railed against poverty and welfare in 1980. But the conservative belief that the underclass was caused by federal antipoverty programs is clearly insufficient too. Vance makes it clear that the problem is profoundly cultural, a consequence of wanton commercialism, the loosening of moral standards and a lack of rigorous training for young men. Vance was saved by the Marine Corps and the support of a single loving adult, his grandmother.

Hillbilly Elegy makes the current political dialogue seem fatuous. Both parties are incapable of discussing the real sources of our national dyspepsia, or how to deal with them. Forces like the global economy, racism and federal programs that cultivated dependency have all been part of the problem. But what we have now is something different: a bottom-up crisis of individual responsibility, largely beyond the reach of public policy. Indeed, some of the “solutions” proposed by each of the parties are likely to make things worse.

Source: Don’t Believe the New Myths About America’s White Working Class | TIME

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2 replies »

  1. I do agree because We worked with some of these folks. They wanted everything handed to them, paycheck w/o working hard, housing allowance, food stamps etc. They took lessons for the other races. I had to type up the letters to the twp stating that they were ptt w/o benefits. They didn’t want to become permanent employee’s; they’d loose a lot. I know one family that both of them work 2-3 jobs each to make ends meet and they don’t expect any handouts. I hope there are a lot more of these hard working families. I can understand being laid off, but you still have bills to pay and you don’t sit home on your butt waiting for a high paying job to come your way. Do something else in the meantime and add to your Dossier. It proves you are a hard worker.

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  2. A coincidence: About a month ago I had put “Hillbilly Elegy” on my local library’s reserve list. They notified me yesterday that it is ready for pick up. (There were about 80 people initially on the waiting list. )

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