Thinking Aloud: Equal Opportunity

As I mentioned recently, I follow politics. Usually to the detriment of my blood pressure.

And here’s the epiphany I had yesterday as I was driving home (I have a lot of drive-time epiphanies): I don’t really understand how Republicans expect — if they expect — to close the humongous gap between poor people and rich people. The middle class is shrinking, and I just don’t understand how Republicans propose to end that. If they even care.

Truth be told, I’m not 100% sure how the Democrats propose to close this gap decisively in the long-term either (or if *they* care). I am in the camp (is there a camp?) that firmly believes that government aid is an unsustainable solution in the long term.

Anyhoo, here’s where my mind went:

To Michael.

Let’s do a comparison of Michael and, say, two other babies born in America on December 1, 2010.

The other two babies are, for the purposes of this exercise, an African American boy and an Hispanic girl.

Michael is the son of two white, college educated, married people. We are in the still viable middle class, although, as much of the still-viable middle class, rather in debt. Some of the debt is good (i.e. a mortgage we can afford); some not so good (but shrinking — i.e. credit card debt). We are currently employed; we have employer-subsidized health care; we are sending our children to private school. Seems to me, Michael has some pretty good prospects ahead of him, due to no more than his situation at birth.

(I realize that this could all change, literally in a heartbeat, and the way we raise our son — so that he stays healthy, doesn’t choose to do drugs, doesn’t have a child out of wedlock, etc. — will all factor in as Michael gets older. That is, how our choices and Michael’s choices will factor into whether or not he continues to thrive, and even possibly becomes wealthy, is still a crap shoot. But the baseline is fairly solid, I’m thinking.)

Now, the other two babies in this hypothetical situation, by simple dint of their births, may not be on the middle class baseline. Maybe our African American boy is born to a single mother already living on social aid. Maybe she is working three jobs to provide for her child or children — at least so they can be fed and clothed. She’s not there to help with homework; she’s depending on the public school system to educate her child, etc., etc. Totally different situation from Michael’s.

And our girl. Maybe she’s the child of immigrants, illegal or otherwise. Maybe her parents are married, but live below the poverty line because of their immigrant status.

So, it seems to me these other babies start off at a disadvantage.

What — if anything — equalizes those disadvantages? As much as I would love to believe the myth of “hard work” alone and “pulling oneself up by his/her bootstraps”, I have my doubts. Michael’s education, if we are able to continue to send him to private school in a safe neighborhood (knock on wood) is going to be better. (Feel free to argue this point, respectively of course — I’m not trying to assert anything, I’m really trying to explore the question.) By seeing the examples that we, his parents, provide for him, he is likely to be a hard worker, loving and respectful toward others, and, probably, religious.

There are other advantages, too, like those of genetics, those of environment. If Michael gets sick, we don’t have to worry about taking him to the doctor. I mean, we just consented to have ear tube surgery — right there, he’s got an advantage over a poor, Hispanic girl who also may be plagued with ear infections, but unable to get the treatment that will stop them and, in the long run, contribute to successful language development and learning.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea, right? How do these children end up in the middle class, or end up wealthy, as business owners for example? From where Michael starts, it seems like a not-difficult climb to me. But for these other two babies… I don’t know, I have my doubts about the obstacles they may have to face through no fault of their own.

I no more want a governmental nanny than I want anarchy. From where I am standing, Republican policies look cruel, and Democratic policies look naive (or idealistic). But neither set looks particularly helpful to those other two babies, and potentially none of them is good in the long run for all three.

10 thoughts on “Thinking Aloud: Equal Opportunity

  1. As a registered Republican, I agree that there is a gap between the scenarios that you described and no possible solution from either side.I believe that the government should not be involved in as much as it is, but I also believe that we have to help people who really need help. In my situation my wife is a stay at home mom, I work full time and have employer insurance that best that I can purchase. I have a daughter with cerebral palsy (10) who has already had 2 surgeries and I have battle liver disease. Both of these are very expensive on the medical side even with health insurance, of course though if I was on social aid my medication would have been a lot cheaper, but I doubt my daughter would have been able to get the treatment she received.

    I believe that hard work is very important, but let’s face it also dumb luck comes into play here, not only from birth but from opportunities that arise. I would like to see both parties actually working together which neither does and start finding solutions.

    That is my two cents.

    • I’m sorry that your family has so many health issues to deal with. That’s very challenging.

      That’s how I feel, that our politicians are out there spending most of their time to keep their jobs instead actively solving the problems of their constituents for the long run. It’s very frustrating to watch.

  2. I was just having a similar conversation with a friend.

    You’re right, luck, circumstances and culture/environment play a role. That hispanic girl probably lives in Reading (where i grew up) and she’ll be lucky if she’s introduced to English before she is sent to kindergarten, and she’ll spend a few years in special ESL classes separate from the rest of her grade, and she will probably never catch up language-wise. that’s bad luck for her, and it was also a bad choice made by her parents. they also likely don’t value education, won’t help her with her homework or practice reading with her, and don’t have a problem with teenage sex, and she’ll drop out at 16 because she’s pregnant by a boy who won’t stick around to help raise the baby or support her. And the cycle of poverty continues.

    To me, it’s not clear to me what we can do from a legislative standpoint to change those circumstances/culture. It’s been 40+ years since Medicare/Medicaid, and the “Great Society” efforts aimed at decreasing poverty. In that same time frame, the divide between the rich and poor has increased substantially. In the intervening 40 years, we’ve had increased programs and spending from BOTH democrats and republicans, but they certainly haven’t helped narrow it or even keep the status quo. So what else then? What else can we do? Our country isn’t just broke, we have trillions of dollars to pay back before we can say we’re just broke.

    it’s a difficult, depressing conundrum, one that I don’t believe the government is ever going to be capable of fixing it, regardless of who is in power. How do you change a culture? Can you?

    • Geez, throw the Hispanic girl under the bus, much?? 😉 Just kidding.

      We’re so far, as a society, from objectively assessing this situation anymore. It’s become an us v. them battle that just goes around and around. And you never know, Michael may have to work *harder* for a college education and/or better jobs. It’s even looking bleak for him in some scenarios. The assumption has been for so long that we would do better than our parents, and that our kids would do better than us. That seems to have stalled out in a big way lately.

      • I think you hit the nail on the head with your last two sentences: the outlook is bleak for those of us up-and-coming, even those of us who received a proper education, had a loving and supportive family, and took advantage of opportunities. I write this as a 23-year old woman who ended up uninsured after graduating from college AND securing a job; even now I fall into the under-insured category (not to say that I am not thankful). I make enough to scrape by and put some into savings but only because I grew up in a house where saving money was something highly valued. It means I say “no” a lot, accept favors, and barter goods (I have a home business) often.

        There doesn’t seem to be a good answer but supporting grassroots organizations, supportive housing units for the homeless, abused, etc, and all around providing better education about these issues (aka saying no to lobbyists and actually doing what is right) might be a place to start.

  3. As someone who was laid off a few years ago and now works only sporadically, I thank God that I am a saver and a cheap person to boot. I tell my husband over and over again that we are lucky. We could be like some of our friends who have like 500 bucks in the bank and 15k on a credit card. Not sure if our personalities and lifestyle are more nature or nurture, but they have been keeping us afloat. But to your point, if we had not started out as middle class (and white), we could be in that situation and much, much worse (though we could still end up in a bad way).

    I want to be all about capitalism and people making as much money as they can (e.g., if people want to support athletes by going to games/buying clothing and support movie stars by going to movies and buying the DVDs, then why shouldn’t those people be rich). But it is becoming more difficult for me to accept the excessively rich lots in life of some. I just heard on the radio today that Ryan Seacrest makes 45 million a year among his three or so gigs (one of which has to do with those Kardashians). I am sure he works very hard, but when I think about someone else who is working even harder at a minimum wage job trying to support her kids, it really bothers me.

    I just don’t know what the answer is or how you change it. But I am pretty sure that a good family (often not a given) and a good education (which the government has some control over and can make more accessible to some) have a big role.

    • I’m sorry to hear that you are struggling to find work again. It’s a terrible climate out there. **hugs**

      And I agree with that point “I want to be all about capitalism”. I really want to believe that I can — that ANYONE, including my African American boy and Hispanic girl, can — earn reams of money through hard work and honest effort, but I don’t know. The economy is in such a slump, and the inequality gap is stunning, especially if you look at how it’s grown since the 1970s. I truly wonder if it matters who we put in office. Where do we go from here.

  4. I don’t have the answers any more than anyone else does. But it seems to me that much of government taxes and regulations do a lot to keep people who are poor from being able to successfully save money and start their own small businesses.

    I think about our own family. We are firmly in the middle class. My husband is employed with benefits, I go to school off and on, I had my own business for awhile but I couldn’t make any money because of taxes. We both have college debt and a car loan. We live fairly comfortably but taxes, the cost of higher education, and difficulties in owning my own business make it almost impossible for us to become wealthy.

    I would imagine that people poorer than us face many of these same challenges.

    • this could be a very good point. something like the 15% investment tax helps rich people keep their money (which I’m totally cool with), but taking 25% or 30% from people scraping by is inequitable, no doubt. There needs to be balance in the tax code, and that’s just crazy talk! 🙂

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