Monday, March 24, 2014

Reactions to my call for community engagement

Last week The Dallas Morning News published an essay that I wrote on "asset poverty" and "asset wealth."  You can read it here.

As a change of pace, I thought I'd share readers' responses to my column.  Here they are:

I read with concern your article about asset poverty as it is the second article I’ve read In the newspaper recently about asset poverty, and I’m guessing that is the new term to push these days.  I’m glad you defined it for me, as I wasn’t sure what the term means.  But according to your definition, asset poverty has been around since the beginning of humans and I don’t think it will end regardless of what the asset-rich folks do.
To understand where I’m coming from, my grandparents (both sides) were poor and never had any cash reserves, much less 3 months’ worth. This was at a time when there were no welfare, Medicare and Medicaid, social security benefits.   Neither of my parents were high school graduates, and they each worked two jobs to send four of us to Baylor.  They never had any cash reserves.  If the hot water heater broke, we did without hot water for several months until the money could be found to pay for the repair.  But they felt they had a much better life than their parents, and they wanted us to have a better life than they had.  To me, that’s the key to surviving and having a decent life in  this country…working to better yourself and your children, no matter if you have to live paycheck to paycheck.  We all worked to get an education, and it paid off.  There were no scholarships for women, no government student loans, no nothing.  My parents borrowed money and paid it back—borrowed money and paid it back.  They did without a lot of things to do this—and they had no one or no government to help them do it.
For years after my husband and I got married (and we were both university graduates), we never had cash reserves…I guess we were living in asset poverty.  We made such low salaries as a high school teacher and a high school track coach that we had to live month to month for years—especially after our two sons were born.  If either of us had lost our job, we would have had a hard time—BUT we worked hard, continued to get more education (which we paid for—and borrowed the money to pay for it if we didn’t have it).    Our assets were our house and our cars, but we didn’t own them for decades.
The housekeeper who worked for me when I returned to teaching, worked for me 47 years and I paid her social security and paid her an above-average salary.  She is retired and her social security isn’t enough for her to live comfortably, so I pay her a monthly sum to help, and she gets free medical care and food stamps.  People like her deserve to be helped because she worked all those years and was an honest, hard worker.  My mother always told us that we (and the government) should help those who cannot help themselves and those who temporarily need help, but she was not in favor of taking money from workers and giving it to those who won’t work.  I believe a lot of people who live in poverty today won’t work, or they have come here illegally and can’t speak English, or they have low-paying jobs because they are undereducated as a result of choosing to drop out of school.  They get government aid in several forms, but that’s not enough to have 3 month’s cash on hand.
Now that I’m 79 and my husband is 80, we have assets.  I taught 39 years and he has been coaching 57 years and is still coaching.  We have lived within our means all of lives.  We are where we are because we had parents who taught us the value of education and hard work.  A lot of people in poverty didn’t or don’t have parents like that, and they drop out of school, have numerous children (many times without the benefit of marriage), and they want to have the same standards of living as people who have gotten an education and a job.  And many people like you seem to think that those living in asset poverty will be okay if they just have 3 months’ cash on hand.  How long do you think that cash would remain in savings?  Are we who have worked for our assets to continually give to these people so they can have cash on hand?  It seems to me that it’s not a matter of giving people money but of trying to help them make wise decisions even if they didn’t have parents who did.  Otherwise, we are just enabling these people to continue generation after generation in poverty when there are opportunities in this country for them to get an education and to provide for themselves and their families.
We support our church and  numerous charities every year because as Christians we feel concern for the less fortunate.  If you are encouraging people to give about 2 years’ salaries to the less fortunate, we’ve done that if you give us credit for all the years we have contributed.  And we have many relatives and friends who have done the same thing—BUT, as you say, we still have people who are living in asset poverty.
How do you know what the asset-rich families are contributing and that they need to do more?  How do you know the percentage of the asset-rich families who aren’t acting responsibly, and—for heaven’s sake-- what are “scalable” solutions you mention?  You mentioned more philanthropy and the coordinating function of public policy reform-- is this supposed to explain what you recommend?  I know what more philanthropy is (and I think more of us could give more) but I’m vague on the coordinating function of public policy reform.  By public policy, do you mean laws, regulations—or what?  You barely mention that asset-poor families need to do their part?  What is their part, as you envision it?  Do they stay in school and get a job?  Do they have only the number of children they can afford?  Do they live responsibly, within their means and spend their money wisely?  If they do, then I’m in favor of helping them out of asset-poverty.  But how do we get them to do these things?  I don’t think it’s by giving them money that other people worked to earn.
You probably think I am hard-hearted, but I think I am a realist.  I think some of the people in poverty are bettering themselves, but I think the irresponsible, lazy, takers will always take from the responsible workers if they can, and will even expect it’s their right to take it.  I think many people today are creating even more problems by suggesting that people who work should support those who won’t work and to make those of us who live responsibly and contribute to society feel guilty because we now have (after many years of struggling) assets that some people don’t.  When you come up with a way to get people who live in poverty to pull themselves up, with help then please write another column with how to do it.


     I appreciated your column.  My modest property tax was about $2800.00 last year.  Could I pay one percent more?  $28.00?  Of course I could.  Even ten percent more, $280.00 would't hurt us.  We would never miss it.  I don't understand why people complain that they can't afford small  tax increases.  My wife and I are not great income/financial managers, mainly because of our children, however even WE can afford to pay a few cents more on the dollar in taxes.
     I have thought for a long time that we needed a half penny,  penny more in Medicare, Social Security taxes,  whatever is needed to balance the cost of those excellent and necessary programs.  Perhaps it is the well-to-do who need life style counseling?

Asset rich families already do their part in helping those less fortunate by paying taxes.  And then paying more taxes.  And then actually being philanthropic. 
I wonder if you have ever actually owned a business in a predominately minority part of town and seen live the effects of your money being siphoned off by lousy government, crooked officials and thieving neighbors. 
In your liberal mind the successful method of dealing with poverty in America is to blame the successful people that work for a living and to dream up new ways to tax those people out of their money while you hand it to those that have never accomplished anything except learning how to vote and signing up for entitlements.
Personal responsibility goes a long way but you claim that only the successful should shoulder the blame.
I have owned businesses in Oak Cliff, I served in the Marines, I even spent a brief  time as a police officer.  The one constant I found is that people like you don't have a clue in the world except to confiscate my money. 
America is collapsing under the weight of the federal debt and really bad government.  You are part and parcel of that collapse.

Your suppositions about the wealthy having to provide more in order to balance the scales of opportunity and poverty to wealth is purely analytical and fails to consider the people that have those assets and the promise they were asked to keep 60 years ago.
The leaders of this country asked us to save and invest for our retirement and to take responsibility for securing our families future. That was our first responsiubility.
We were told we could retire and live our lives in luxury.
Many of us, using some luck and with disciplined saving and investment and occasional risk taking, actually made it. That is quite evident by the fact that over 60% of all personal wealth is in the hands of those 60 years of age and older.
We paid the majority of taxes in to support our government, at least if you accept that the government actually followed the guidance of their accounting offices and actually kept our taxes at rates that were needed to support the programs that enrich us even further in our retirement, (which they did not).
Sure we are well above those poverty figures, but are still (most of us) in a mode where we want a big comfort zone so that we can fulfill our greatest fear of asset preservation looking at never being a burden upon our children.
We do all of this while trying to be of service in our communities, and trying to help at the food banks, and ETC.
You are asking those that face potential 7-8000 a month in old age living costs to potentially give that earned income over to whom.
The same government that put their SS fund and spent it while putting IOUs in the fund, the same government that did not adequately fund their Medicare health system, the same government that rushed off hell bent for leather to avenge the deaths of 3000 of its citizens against not a government but against a loosely knit widespread theocratic band of extremists, created a health plan to cover 30m uninsured in this country that through 6 months covers only 1m that were previously uninsured.
We planned for our future and earned every dollar we have and with what we see from the way our government has responded feel pretty lucky to actually have succeeded to the point where our reliance on those programs and that government in general will not destroy us they eventually scale back on the promises they failed   to keep up with.

just read your article on the asset rich doing their part.  I completely agree that we are all in this together, but I struggle every time I hear someone say that the answer lies in taking more from those who have earned more.  Our tax system is a progressive one that does that already.  We now have an government insurance program that will do the same.  Some say it is Socialism, I call it Robinhoodism.  Absolute redistribution of wealth.  I tell my children that much of what we have is due to hard work, education and taking advantage of opportunities.  However, we also have had our share of “luck”.  Some say you make your own luck, but I also believe we get some opportunities that are just plain “luck” - be it good or bad.  Thus,  I do feel I have a responsibility to help those less fortunate than me.  However, where does it stop?   There is a difference between “helping” and “subsidizing”.   The “asset rich”  do DO their part.  Would if be enough if they gave 75% of their income to the state?  That is how Texas “helps” those districts that are less fortunate.  The “property rich” districts send an “unfair” ratio of money to the “poor” districts so they can have awesome football stadiums.  This approach doesn’t seem to have done much for improving the quality of Texas education K-12.  I don’t really view 46 out of 50 as a very good report card.   We need to focus on setting up programs & processes that help people help themselves.  This “entitlement” mentality is growing and not changing behavior.    We, as a whole, need to take responsibility for our decisions and actions.  Not everyone is the same.  We should be promised to have the same opportunities - not the same of everything. Thanks

Thanks for the article in this morning DMN. .  

My agenda, as it were, is to get you to change your appeal from an ethical argument, to one based on fundamental roles of government proposed by Thomas Hobbes in the Leviathan, (Chapter 30: Of the Office of the Sovereign Representative).
1) Take care of those that cannot take care of themselves
2) Provide work for all those that can work
3) Provide Law and Order. 
While Hobbes designed these roles that some call Contractualism, to avoid the evils of civil war, John Locke went further and argued that the denial of liberty would be sufficient cause to bring down the government.  Since, without liberty society can't advance.   
Our government therefore has the obligation to assure "liberty and justice for all" which incidentally we often pledge our allegiance.  Liberty, by definition has two components: freedom of arbitrary authority, and having the means to exercise free will.   
I understand that CitySquare serves many that do not have jobs or cannot take care of themselves and therefore do not have the means to exercise free will.  I believe it is the privilege and obligations of both those that have liberty as well as those that have been denied, to remove from government those that restrict government in performing these fundamental duties and divert public resources to the false goal of growing private economic gains. 
I would very much like to discuss this further with you over lunch or coffee.  As I am retired from an engineering career, with pensions from Raytheon and Lockheed I hope we can work together to realize this common agenda.

  I wanted to thank you for your article of March 18 and thank you for your work on the Poverty Task Force.  I retired just over 10 years ago and realized that I had the time to "give back" and possibly be able to make at least a small positive difference in my community.  One of the things I did was to become a volunteer in Big Brothers/Big Sisters.  After just a couple of years I noticed a pattern that existed with the kids I mentored; they were poor, lived with their mom and a couple of siblings, their dad was in prison, and their mom was a teenager when they were born.  Plus, I discovered that their grandmother was a teen when their mom was born.  This set me off doing some serious research on the problem of teen pregnancies and I learned, among other things, that the U.S. has the highest teen birth rate of all the 28 developed nations in the world and Texas leads the nation in teen births. 

  Most teen moms never finish high school, only 3 percent get a college degree by the time they are 30.  Their offspring are 9 times more likely to live in poverty, are twice as likely to go to prison and are most likely to become teen parents themselves.  Being a teen mom leads to depression and a high percentage tend to use drugs and abuse their children.  Teen births are clearly a root cause of poverty in Texas and Dallas specifically.

  There is a way to reduce our teen birth rate. Other states with similar demographics to Texas have done it.  We can do it too!  We as a society, particularly here
in Texas, concentrate more on the consequences of poverty rather than dealing with the causes, we need to change that.

  If there is anything I can do to help, let me know.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow...that's an interesting variety of interpretations and responses. Perspective and filters effect perceptions like the spoon that bends in the water glass. Thanks for sharing these, Larry.