The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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April 2, 2014

My View: Poor isn't culture in America, it's reality

The Free Press editorial of March 26 on the American work ethic was commendable as far as it went. The American people are still hard-working but have less vacation time, sick leave, and other benefits than those in other industrialized countries. (See online: Encyclopedia of Nations, ILO News 9-6-99, Forbes May 23, 2006)

There are reasons why people are poor and/or unemployed which have nothing to do with culture.

Republican Congressman Paul Ryan was dead wrong in asserting that inner city people are lazy and looking for handouts rather than jobs. By focusing on the inner city poor, Ryan was catering to a racial stereotype, and he was rightfully called out on that.

Furthermore, he provided no evidence for his assertion. Numerically more whites than blacks, more southerners than northerners, and more rural/small town dwellers than city residents are poor. (Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin, Madison).

The charge that the poor are irresponsible goes back as far as the Puritans. It was simplistic and misguided then and ever since. It assumes that most poverty is the result of individual character flaws and not economic opportunity, and certainly not a structural flaw in our economic system. Today that argument is extended to assert that there is a social pathology against work, and that it is exacerbated by social welfare programs.

Face it. There are jobs which people cannot afford because the cost of clothing, food, child care and transportation is more than the jobs pay. And you cannot blame the poor for the lack of decent paying jobs.

If we want to cut down on welfare costs, we should start with the welfare for the rich. There are three kinds of government subsidies for tycoons with private jets, mortgage interest deductions for beach homes and yachts, an outrageous tax loophole for hedge funds, lower interest rates for the biggest banks, and more than $80 billion in tax subsidies for companies from cities, counties and states.

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