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Tom’s Opinion: Poverty In America Is A Choice

(Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)

Here is the Cliff Notes version of my thoughts on being poor in America. “Unless you are physically or mentally unable to work — being poor in the United States of America is a choice.” I know this because I speak from personal experience. I have lived on the street with no home, no money, no opportunities and no prospects. And I managed to work my way out of that situation without any handout or help from Uncle Sam. I was never on welfare, disability or any other entitlement program.

Life on the Street

Most people assume that people who are panhandling or living in parks or under overpasses are just folks who are down on their luck. For some that would be an accurate statement. For others it’s a life choice they wouldn’t trade for anything.

Think about it. You wake up every morning with zero responsibilities. No taxes, no boss on your behind all day, no mortgage, in fact no bills at all, go where you want when you want. There is always a church with a free food, clothing and sometimes a bed if you get there early enough. For some that’s a very attractive lifestyle compared to the responsibilities and pressures of a 9-5 corporate alternative.

The Great Society

In the 1960’s President Lyndon Johnson came up with the idea of “The Great Society.” A group of government programs (handouts) designed to lift those in the lowest income sector out of poverty and into the rewards of the middle class.

Currently about 13 percent of the government budget goes to fund these programs. In all there are approximately 126 poverty programs overseen by 7-8 different agencies. In the past decade there have never been less than 100. Each has a director probably making six figures and doling out money and services all designed to fatten the middle class.

How’s It Working?

Fifty years after the implementation of the Great Society the poverty needle has barely moved from where it was in the 1960’s. What the Great Society created instead was a “Dependent Society.” A society where the rich are vilified and the poor are provided with all they need to tread water and stay in place.

There are no incentives to move off the welfare or poverty rolls in today’s entitlement society. Many of us who are older remember a time when poor families would have been ashamed to take charity. If food was offered work was offered in return. People took pride in their own abilities and pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps. Everyone in the family pulled their own weight regardless of their ages.

Personal Responsibility of The Poor

What do we taxpayers expect in return from the poor for the 126 programs that we provide to help them? A large segment of the entitlement society feels they have no obligation to give anything back for this help. They feel that the world owes them because there are hard working people who are not sharing enough of their personal wealth.

Taking dollars from those who earned it and giving it to those who didn’t is simply another form of greed. In plain English it’s theft. “I’m poor and in my opinion you’ve got more than I think you should have. So I want my share that I think you don’t need.”

Some Final Thoughts

We look at wealthy people today and think that they got rich because they were lucky, or inherited it, grew up in the right place, or had all kinds of advantages the poor don’t have. Read the biographies of wealthy capitalists and you will find almost all of those assumptions are false.

Only about 30 percent of the wealthy inherited their wealth. Most came from humble beginnings and don’t have multiple homes or yachts or expensive automobiles because you don’t become wealthy paying for all the upkeep and expenses of non-income producing assets. The rich didn’t get rich by being stupid.

Wealth comes from making intelligent choices, saving, taking action to better your education or skills, having faith in yourself, putting forth the effort others won’t, preparation, sacrifice and discipline in your lifestyle.

It’s the first week of 2014. Are you going to keep doing the same things you’ve always done and expecting different results? Or is this the year you decide to change your life for the better? Is this the year you decide to show up and do the work? If so I think you will be very happy with where you are in 2015.

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