Thursday, May 12, 2005

We've Been To The Mountaintop, And It Is Us

Walter E Williams @ has a solution to poverty so simple he can't believe he didn't think of it before. "Avoiding long-term poverty is not rocket science," he chuckles. Which I guess explains why only stupid people are poor. He goes on to explain:

"First, graduate from high school. Second, get married before you have children, and stay married. Third, work at any kind of job, even one that starts out paying the minimum wage. And, finally, avoid engaging in criminal behavior. If you graduate from high school today with a B or C average, in most places in our country there's a low-cost or financially assisted post-high-school education program available to increase your skills. "
And if you take that minimum wage job, you'll be halfway to the gated community of your dreams:

"Most jobs start with wages higher than the minimum wage, which is currently $5.15. A man and his wife, even earning the minimum wage, would earn $21,000 annually. According to the Bureau of Census, in 2003, the poverty threshold for one person was $9,393, for a two-person household it was $12,015, and for a family of four it was $18,810. Taking a minimum-wage job is no great shakes, but it produces an income higher than the Bureau of Census' poverty threshold. Plus, having a job in the first place increases one's prospects for a better job."
Setting aside his bogus positioning of the poverty threshold numbers, which haven't been properly adjusted as real wages in years, let's look at the life of this dutifully married couple, whom we can assume have stayed out of jail, finished school, and have taken the first jobs they could find. Here are my calculations on that fat $21,424 paycheck our mythical hardworking folks will be luxuriating in, before taxes, if they have no children, do not own a home, use none of it for entertainment or leisure purposes, and assuming they don't fall sick and lose some of their pay. These expenses are based on average costs in the Philadelphia area, and are on the conservative side:
    1) 1 yr rent @ $700 mo: $8400
    2) 1 yr electric, gas and water at (respectively) $70, $80, & $20 mo (total $170 mo): $2040
    3) 1 yr telephone (1 landline) @ $40 mo: $480
    4) 1 yr transportation (for 2) ($60 wk) @ $240 mo: $2880
    5) 1 yr food/groceries ($75 wk) @ $300 mo: $3600
    6) 1 yr clothing purchases @ $100 mo: $1200
    TOTAL: $18,600yr
Leftover: $2824 yr. or $235 mo. out of which to pay taxes, emergencies, car payments (if any), health insurance and/or medical care (unlikely to be included in a minimum wage job), and to put into savings.

I don't know what world Williams lives in, but it's not Planet Earth. He then breaks into the standard dance number done by the trophy Negroes of the right-wing--racial discrimination is dead, and can't be hidden behind as an excuse by those whining civil rights organizations:

"The civil rights struggle is over, and it has been won. At one time, black Americans did not have the same constitutional protections as whites. Now, we do, because the civil rights struggle is over and won is not the same as saying that there are not major problems for a large segment of the black community. What it does say is that they're not civil rights problems, and to act as if they are leads to a serious misallocation of resources."

Bad schools? Dangerous neighborhoods? If you're in them it's your own fault, is Williams' logic. He equates high per-student spending, as in D.C.'s school district, with being able to allocate resources to education, and figures if they have the cash, they have no excuse for bad schools. He stresses that laying the blame for Washington's abysmal schools on racial discrimination is "madness".

Now, the money spent per student in Philadelphia is very high, too, but much of it goes to policing, patching crumbling infrastructure, and combat pay for teachers. (My own child went to a magnet school that didn't even have a sink for the chemistry class, but it wasn't automatically my fault.) Money goes to pay psychologists to counsel grieving students and teachers when yet another child is gunned down just outside a playground. And, after being found guilty of that old myth, discrimination, the Philadelphia District was forced into a years'-long desegregation process by the state Human Relations Commission that has yet to be completed.

I have investigated allegations of such discrimination for years, and I can tell you from first-hand knowledge that racism and the different treatment arising from it is alive and well in large and small companies, in schools and colleges, and in stores and clubs. But the right uses people like Williams to give credence to their bias, and people like Williams are happy to let them, because it helps them weave a world around themselves they approve of, as opposed to the world they actually live in. It would be sad, if it wasn't such a betrayal.

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