My Dealings With the Underclass

August 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

I have been fortunate to work with a lot of older people who have opened my eyes and given me advice about this thing called life. Many of the older people I work with are in unfortunate situations and tell me everything about their life. The most recent jobs I will comment on are demolition, moving and warehousing, cellphone sales and an electronics retail store.

I know the government has taught us that poor people are poor through no fault of their own, and it is unfair, even immoral, to leave them hanging, bearing the responsibility and burdens that come along with being poor. That in a moral society, we must come together to lift our neighbors out of poverty. Well, I am here to tell you that we must not do anything–though it would be nice to come together to help the poor. “Must” deals with force. As an individual, you are not to be forced to help or provide anything for anyone. Also, translation for “coming together” from a political official, 9/10 times means the transfer of money.

All of the jobs, except moving and warehousing, paid OK money, only if one worked over 40 hours a week. But who wants to spend day and night slaving for an OK wage, only to wake up and do it again? All of the jobs required zero skills and experience so the hiree did not have to possess any skills or experience. In all the jobs, my co-workers were above the age of 27, with no college degree, impediments to transportation (including warrants, no license or simply no vehicle) and lived with their mother or girlfriend (and “girlfriend” merely means a woman whom they lived and had sexual relations with) in subsidized apartment housing and/or areas with low property value. No matter what job I moved to, these characteristics always popped up.

Another very interesting characteristic was their drug habits. Alcohol and tobacco was a must part of their daily budget. Not saying anything is wrong with this habit but if your check is, say, $215.67, and immediately after cashing it (at a check cashing place; none of these guys had a bank account by the way) spend $8.59 on a 6 pack of beer, $6 something for a pack of cigarettes, which lasts 3-4 days, and marijuana ranging from $20 (for two dimes) to $50 (for 1/8 of an ounce), which maybe a week, something is definitely wrong with your budget. Your habit is another conversation for a separate post.

Lacking a college degree is no big surprise when you are reminded about 30% of Americans hold a bachelor degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The percentage is lower for minorities (20% for Blacks, 13% for Hispanics). I personally do not believe holding a degree is an automatic ticket for success but having one does place you in a better position. One guy received a scholarship to play football but was kicked out of the program due to altercations with the coach.

In regards to transportation, many should be thankful for public transportation, despite what some cities fear of it. Mass transit is cheaper than driving across the city but limits one chances of getting employed in a suburb area, leaving one stuck in the same area they may (or may not) be trying to escape.

It is not until you get out into the “real world” do you notice how normalcy of out of wedlock pregnancy. Despite my knowledge that near-70% of Blacks are born out of wedlock, meeting men with multiple illegitimate children continues to shock me. Living with someone who isn’t your partner, and possibly their kids, can’t be the best position, I’d imagine. They’d always express complications like their actual baby’s mother interfering or the girlfriend taking all the money.

In two cases, the men, both over the age of 30, lived with their mother. According to the Census, 14.2% of young adults (25-34) live with their parents, and, in a Pew Research Poll conducted  in March, 78% of the adults in the same age group said they “don’t currently have enough money to lead the kind of life they want, compared with 55% of their same-aged peers who aren’t living with their parents.”

For my former co-workers in particular, this was especially true. Both of the men had no car (and still lack one after knowing them for a little less than two years), and depended on others.

Lastly, government housing was the home for all but one of the individuals. As common with government apartments, the areas in which they lived were crime infested and possessed low property value, not exactly aesthetic, and inhabited similar individuals (I personally know as someone who has lived and worked in these areas). In Dallas, south of 35, or southern Dallas county, holds 45% of the population but a mere 15% of the tax base, thus making room for the stereotypical features of a low-income area and persons.

All of these problems–no college degree or transportation, etc.–brings about another side-question of the marriageability of men (and women) who bear children. Think of the difficulty of marrying a non-educated, poor man with bad drug habits. Maybe marrying the child’s father/mother is not the best solution to the problem.

Recurring characteristics

I can not be exact with the details for privacy reasons and lack of memory but the profiles goes as follows with each man identified with the first letter of their first name.

Person A was new to Texas, had 4 children and 3 baby mothers, lived with his “girlfriend” in a government apartment complex. He had no car, and the one time I did see him drive, both tags were out. One day, interestingly days before receiving his tax refunds (two close friends, one an accountant, informed me he most likely received a income tax refund anticipation loan and I think this is correct because he had just left H&R Block upon calling me. Interestingly HSBC, a federal regulatory agency, has barred H&R Block from providing RALs. Perhaps if he had a bank account, a RAL would not have been necessary), he asked me to sign off for the papers of a car. I was confused and didn’t understand why he couldn’t sign for his own papers. I inquired a bit more and he informed me had a few warrants and owed child support (I don’t know how the latter reason deals with not having a license but he listed it as a reason nonetheless). After being bribed some cash, I denied his offer and shot down the request. I wanted nothing to do with this shenanigan.

On more than one occasion, for one reason or another, I run into Black males who lack an ID or driver license. I am not surprised the Democratic Party has accused the recent voter ID laws proposed or enacted by Republicans legislatures to voter suppression and racism. Rev. Al Sharpton even mentioned Jim Crow during one speech. One study cited about a quarter of Blacks do not have the necessary ID in the 10 states that the laws require.

Person J was unemployed for a long time before working at the electronic retail store. He was divorced after an unknown number of years and lives with his mother in another crime-infested neighborhood. His checks were smaller than mine and, if I recall correctly, had child-support deductions. Person J never had money, it seemed, and would be asking for lunch money only 4-5 days after pay days. I went out once with Person J and discovered what he did with his little money on the weekends: go out on the town and buy liquor.

As expected, he’d complain that his money was already spent before cashing it and would jot down his expenses for the week, including a cell phone bill (weirdly, though, his phone was and is always off at least a week in every month). Fortunately for Person J, we worked nearby many check cashing places so after every pay day, he’d walk (because he lacked a vehicle) to cash his check and return with a pack of cigarette and a basket of fried food.

With little discretionary income, one would think he would be more frugal.

Person M has been an employee of that electronic retail store for over 2 years now. He, too, lived with his mother and had no transportation. Somedays the two would discuss which strip club to attend after work. I also went out with him one night but he differed much from Person J from what I could see. Person M was a saver and always conversed about “almost” being able to purchase his own car. I do not know his education background but I am sure he does not possess a degree.

Having worked at several jobs, to name all of the people that fit this profile would take thousands of more words. Three profiles should suffice. In every case, I did my duty to suggest different lifestyles, habits and provide transportation.

Conclusion

It wasn’t until recently I realized that I have repeatedly worked with the segment of society labeled as the “underclass.” A member of the underclass is in the lowest rung of social hierarchy; is not attached to mainstream society in any meaningful fashion; is unemployed and/or unemployable.

Money management, lack of education, premarital pregnancy and criminal history–all recurring characteristics that led, and sustain, their current state of being poor. Of course having to share your pie with others (check cashing fees, child support), being unable to advance because of lack of skills and education, then poorly managing the remainder of your funds will result in something bad.

(Only 12 states require financial education in a high school course. Public schools should do more to instill financial literacy and do away with classes such as child care management, a complete waste of 50 minutes and taxpayers dollars during my senior year)

Often when politicians and the media refer to the poor and underprivileged, it is as if “poor” as a untreatable disease inherited upon birth. Certainly if your parent(s) were poor, you have a greater chance than someone else, especially having a single parent, of remaining poor when older. Poor kids either age to become poor or successful adults. Some people make different choices than others, or were offered different opportunities. Why is this person poor should be the more discussed topic when discussing poverty and welfare. Job loss, unexpected pregnancy or divorce, poor money management skills, lack of skills and work history–how do people become and remain poor?

Still, poverty is not a secretive thing. How do people become successful is the real question. The focus should be on income mobility as opposed to income equality. How does one rise from the bottom to the top? How do we create a society where one can rise from the bottom to the top?

What is most often proposed is socialism–the transfer of wealth from the segment who made better decisions or simply grew up with more wealth to the type of people listed in the profiles, policies aimed at income equality and more government interference in the economy. I totally disagree with this “solution.”

Simply giving a fisherman a fish is temporary help, and, in turn, hurts the fisherman more than helps. The fisherman is left alone the next day, still lacking adequate fishing skills, and dependent on whomever gave him the fish. Unlucky for the fisherman, he has no one to vote for to safeguard his “free” fish.

I know not every poor person is guilty of having the said characteristics; what I do know is not every poor person is magically poor. It is time we face this problem of poverty head on, treat adults like respectable adults (and not helpless beings) and pick those up who want to be picked up. Forced redistribution will not decrease poverty–only the individual and society can.

I invite you to join the conversation and subscribe to Minds Alike or e-mail me at BabAdetiba@gmail.com

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