Yesterday I took to task the leftist social analysts who refuse to recognize that it’s individual bad decisions, not the U.S. economy, that usually keep poor people poor.
My special target was David Shipler’s book The Working Poor, which in part tells the story of Caroline Payne, who has collected tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of government benefits over the years but still managed to make every unwise choice you can imagine, from quitting jobs, to picking bad men, to selling her house at a loss, to neglecting her appearance–yet somehow, according to Shipler, her plight is our fault, not hers. (See Caroline’s Whine, Part 2, Nov. 10.)
When I first began blogging about Caroline in January, after an article about her by Shipler appeared in the New York Times magazine, I got a lot of flack from the professional compassion crowd complaining about my hard-heartedness. But now comes Inkwell reader N.S., who, unlike the tear-shedding libs, has actually been poor herself:
“All I can say is RIGHT ON!…There are a lot of liberals who have never worked with the ‘poor.’ They spend a few days with them and presume to know how to solve the problem of poverty! Oh, these noble poor, if only life with just give them a chance! If only we can do more to help them!
“Well, having BEEN poor myself (I grew up in the worst ghettos) and having worked WITH the poor for extended periods of time (volunteering at battered women’s shelters in college), I can tell you, MANY of these ‘noble poor’s’ plights are all a result of their own poor decisions.
“I’ve found that the ‘poor’ are in two categories: those chronically poor and those who are just in a rut, but eventually get out of it. I grew up poor. My parents came over here with NOTHING but their two bare hands. In the beginning my parents sometimes had to go without food so that my brother and I could eat. But you know what? They got jobs (washing dishes, working in a closet like windowless room), worked their butts off, and now, they are middle-class–and their daughter? I’m upper middle-class (raking in a well-over-six-figure salary). I went to the worst public schools, went to a public state college on scholarship, and now I have a great job. All it takes is attitude and drive to better one’s situation
“Those who are chronically poor like Caroline are that way because of the decisions they make. In this great land of America, opportunity is almost laid at your feet; all you have to do is work for it! When I was living the ghetto, I looked all around me, the people who were there permanently (you can always tell who they are); they mostly are there because they deserved to be. They didn’t take those opportunities to pull themselves up, because it’s just too hard. Well, you know what? Life is hard. You play the hand dealt to you. And with attitude, hard work, EVERYONE has the ability to overcome adversity. But not everyone has the will and determination to do it.
“So stop whining and get out and MAKE something of yourself Caroline! I did it! And I’m a minority!”
Right on, yourself, N.S.! And as I’ve said before to Caroline, it’s never to late to turn it around, either. You’ve got a few things going for you: good health, job experience, two kids who turned out well, a safety net of income and medical care for your mentally retarded daughter. So now it’s up to you to take it from there. That’s the wonderful thing about life in America, where it’s never over till it’s over.
“Like Daniella, I am an educated woman who chose to become a stay-at-home mom. My job was well-paying, but I didn’t love it, and I yearned to be raising my daughter at home. I now have three children and work part-time out of the home.
“Ages ago, I left my resume on Monster.com, and seemingly out of the blue, I got contacted about a position that would allow me to work from home. I have shown dedication and progress in my position, and have been rewarded accordingly. I fully expect that, when I am ready to return to work full-time, he will have a high-level position for me in a field I love. Professionally, I am better off now than I was before I quit my job! During my time off, I realized my goals were shifting. No longer did I want ‘just a job,’ but now I dream of starting my own business one day. Staying at home has allowed me to think about these things, and I find that climbing the ladder is not nearly as important as carving a niche for yourself and finding within you what it is that you truly love.
“My advice during this off-time is to get involved. Find an organization that you believe in and get involved, develop leadership skills, meet new people and discover more about yourself. These life skills, though they don’t pay money, are invaluable. Developing as a woman is crucial to how you will be as a professional. If you want to be a chemist, bring more to the table than your degree; bring leadership, style, innovation. These are the things you will discover as a stay-at-home mom.”
And here’s K.A.:
“I did everything backwards. I got into an Ivy League school but quickly realized I wanted children, so there seemed little point in going down that road, only to take an extended sabbatical. The daughter of a Navy captain, I was in love with a man I knew would go into the Marine Corps. Having experienced military life as a child, I knew my children would need the stability of a full-time mother at home.
“I quit, got married, raised my children. I read three to five books a week, spent time with my boys, did volunteer work, got involved in the communities we lived in, took my children to sports and Scouting events. I was rarely bored: who had time? I returned to school in my thirties, earned my B.S. with a 4.0, returned to the work force at 38, and now make two-thirds of my husband’s very generous salary in only six years of working full time. I hope to go to grad school soon–just because.
“I wouln’t change a thing.”
These are two wonderful stories. And K.A. also sends along this report from the World Congress of Families:
“The claim that mothers who work full-time outside the home do so out of economic necessity finds little support from evidence showing that the percentage of mothers in the labor force is greatest among the wives of top-earning males. It also flies in the face of a study by feminist scholars that finds that privileged, white women have higher rates of employment today relative to minorities, a reversal of the situation from fifty years ago when minority women had significantly higher rates of employment.
“Using the 2001 Current Population Survey, the researchers compared the extent of employment (measured by the number of weeks worked in the previous year) of whites, blacks, and Latinas. Although employment rates among black and white women were the same in 1980, the rates for white women narrowly surpassed those for black women in 2000. The employment gap was greater among the Latinas, particularly those of Mexican and Puerto Rican origin, who worked less than both blacks and whites.
“Their parallel analysis of 1994 data found that employment rates were lower for all groups of women then, but that the gap between whites and minorities was greater than in 2000. The researchers suggest that welfare reform and the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit since that time has bumped up minority employment closer to that of whites. Yet among all women in both years, education encouraged while childbearing reduced employment rates.
“While they do not consider that the higher employment rates of white women may not represent a pattern that minority women should follow, the scholars nonetheless maintain that an ‘unquestionably greater need for employment’ no longer drives women into the workforce as it once did.”
Let’s hear it for stay-at-home moms.