General Notes: THE WORKING POOR

Table of Contents


Preface

  • ... working poor,' should be an oxymoron. Nobody who works hard should be poor in America.
  • "tired of wishes, empty of dreams."

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At the Edge of Poverty

  • ... being poor means being unprotected.
  • The individual is a victim of great forces beyond his control, including profit-hungry corporations that exploit his labor.
  • Life expectancy in the United States is lower, and infant mortality higher, than in Japan, Hong Kong, Israel, Canada, and all the major nations of Western Europe.
  • Each person's life is the mixed product of bad choices and bad fortune, of roads not taken and roads cut off by the accident of birth or circumstance.
  • The poor have less control than the affluent over their private decisions, less insulation from the cold machinery of government, less agility to navigate around the pitfalls of a frentic world driven by technology and competition.
  • To get out of poverty, they have to acquire dexterity with their emotions.
  • Indeed, being poor in a rich country may be more difficult to endure than being poor in a poor country, for the skills of surviving in poverty have largely been lost in America.
  • ... the ingredients of poverty are part financial and part psychological, part personal and part societal, part past and part present. Every problem magnifies the impact of the others, and all are so tightly interlocked that one reversal can produce a chain reaction with results far distant from the original cause.

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Money and its Opposite

  • In a free market economy, people are like corporations issuing bonds: the less secure they are financially, the more interest they have to pay when they borrow.
  • "It doesn't matter how much money you make, its how you spend it."
  • "I guess it's easier to make life easier by doing something that costs money."

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Work doesn't Work

  • It is not easy for men to rise whose qualities are twarted by poverty.
  • ... a bureaucracy that seems more prosecutor than provider.
  • "handmade" fabrics, textiles produced in China or India by exploited child labor.
  • ... economic behavior is heavily psychological as anyone who has played the stock market knows.
  • The American ideal embraces an equality of opportunity for every person but not an equality of result. In fact, free enterprise thrives on difference - the difference between the owner and the worker, the educated and the less educated, the skilled and the less skilled, the adventurous and the timid, and ultimately the rich and the poor. That differentiation, particularly the freedom to hire labor at relatively low cost, has fueled the entrepreneurial risk-taking so essential to a robust, decentralized economy.
  • "If you move the minimum wage up, where they are spending their money is back within the minimum wage realm... The inflation it would cause would be a low-end inflation."
  • In a booming economy, practically anyone who wants to work can get a job, but usually at a low wage without much prospect of promotion.
  • It is mobility that has created the global reputaion of the United States as a land of opportunity, and it is that impression that has generated the popular view of a society more open and less stratified than others.... Most modern American mobility is generated by economic growth, not by any ansence of boundaries between races or classes.... More mobility occurs between generations than with generations. It is a sad truth now that a young person with limited skills and education arriving on these shores - or entering the workforce from a background of poverty - will start on the bottom rung only to discover that the higher rungs are beyond his grasp.
  • A psychological confinement imposed a mood of defeat. Marginalized, cloistered, and stagnant, Nara simply wanted to go back to South Korea; her husband wqanted to stay.

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Harvest of Shame

  • His alert blue eyes had a piercing acuity that enabled him to see - and to know what he was seeing.
  • "Nobody works for you 'cause they love you."
  • ... the United states grants visas liberally to foreigners who write videogame software, it should do the same for foreigners who harvest food.
  • American government and business gain financially from your inability to legalize your presence in the country.
  • The migrants, so essential to America, journey along its edge, touching its wealth as tangents barely touch a circle, never penetrating, never looking out from the inside. And so they do not see themselves the way they are seen, and they do not apply to themselves the measurements that America applies to their suffering.

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The Daunting Workplace

  • Fear had been a taboo subject in their former lives, where "bad" was good, and the best defense was a threatening posture of aggression. To be safe, they had to look mean, act dangerous, and never admit to being scared.
  • ... burdened by their personal histories of repeated failure: failure to finish school, failure to resist drugs, failure to maintain loving relationships, failure to hold jobs. Nothing in their track records predicted success, and no brave promises could paper over their doubts about themselves... "It's a fear of rejection, and it's holding me back."
  • "They just build up anger inside of them, build up this sense of low self-esteem, which will not give them a desire to want to go further, because they think that they can't."
  • "I don't think that you can keep hiding behind your past. You've got to break open and let yourself experience some things."
  • She could not find her way through the thicket of tangled anxieties and excuses.
  • "Kids today do not have the ability to work on mechanical things," he said. "We're in a throwaway society where the lawn mower breaks, you don't tear apart this little two-cycle engine. You throw it out and you get another one. So a kid sees his father - if he has one - throwing away everything and buying new, and his expectation is, what do you mean we make things? What do you mean we take things apart and fix them?" "... There are a lot of kids who (would) be good at it, but they have no clue that they have mechanical interest."
  • "It's not what you pay people. It's what they cost you. You pay people what they're worth, they don't cost you anything. You pay people too little, it can cost you everything."
  • It's one of those cruelties of free market economics: the better the times, the more difficult the employers' search for high-caliber workers, especially at low wages.
  • "... tough love and a nurturing attitude," that combination of discipline and compassion that makes for good managing as well as good parenting.
  • "they don't trust anybody." She saw two pervasive problems among the mothers coming from welfare. One was an absence of any belief in others, a profound distrust. The second was a conviction that backing down meant weakness.
  • The diploma does not indicate what you know but how hard you try.
  • "Entry-level people who are working out of desperation or need, they don't have career goals."... "They don't have their heads in their jobs."

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Sins of the Fathers

  • A surprising number of women at the edge of poverty turn out to be survivors of sexual abuse. Like huge financial debt, their trauma weighs them down long after it occurs. Unlike debt, it cannot be erased by declaring bankruptcy. Their future is crippled by their past, which forces its way into their explanations of who they are.
  • When a woman discloses such intimate humiliation to a stranger, she reveals its magnitude. She cannot help tracing many of her handicaps to the legacy of disgrace and self-loathing imposed by her childhood assailants, and the disabilities can be life-altering: her unwise choices of male partners, her deep distrust, her emotional distance, her failure to form attachments. The abuse seems too central to conceal.
  • She was too bruised, too bold, too callused, too frightened, too worldly-wise.
  • Children saddled with grown-up burdens cannot succeed, and that is often their first failure, the root of inadequacy.
  • ... her poverty forced her to live in Brentwood, a mean section of Washington infested with drugs. She called it "a trap," for it confined her and swallowed her dreams. A neighborhood can have a deep impact, determining neighbors, friends, diversions, temptations, and this one took its toll.
  • "Minds can't think when there's too much stress in there." "... in a society where money is power, financial insufficiency may feel like personal inadequacy."
  • The child is often resented for stealing the teenage mother's own childhood.

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Kinship

  • If we have nothing, we have each other.
  • Kinship can blunt the edge of economic adversity.
  • ... poverty was not just a matter of money but also of dispirited loneliness.
  • "Living in the present means you spend only what you 'need,' and you always distinguish 'want' from 'need,' " she observed.
  • "... we can't survive without loving and being loved. So most of us use substitute things, things within our reach - alcohol, TV, drugs, Wal-Mart shopping."
  • Aside from hollow hunger, there is probably no more frightening void than the looming absence of shelter. A chilling emptiness resides where warm assuredness should be.
  • ... Or she walked in the woods and picked bundles of wildflowers to give to her friends. "They give me what I can't afford," she said, "and I give them what they wouldn't give to themselves."
  • She did not admire the values of her relatives, nor they hers. Money was an obsession to Ann because it was scarce, and to them because it was plentiful.
  • "... so I know what it is to be without money and without a lot of things. It's not as bad as having a moderate amount of money but no time for the people in your life."

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Body and Mind

  • "If there were more subsidized housing there'd be less hunger. If there were more generous food stamps, if high nutrition baby formula cost less, if inner-city stores stocked fresh fruits and vegetables, if all day-care centers provided decent meals and snacks, if families could afford varied foods for children with allergies, if new immigrants were not confused by junk-food advertising, if mothers could breast-feed instead of work, if children of working parents were not passed among multiple caregivers, if parents simply knew to sit youngsters down calmly to feed them, if there were less depression among those at the bottom of the economy, there would be less hunger."
  • Class, culture, and language place barriers between patients and doctors. Looking up from the lack of wealth and education, many working poor people see an impersonal establishment of white coats and glistening instruments, of incomprehensible vocabulary and condescension.
  • ... federal government's Tuskegee experiment, in which treatment was withheld for 399 poor black men with syphilis from 1932 to 1972.
  • He and other physicians believe that many hospitalizations, especially for asthma, diabetes, and certain kidney infections, could be avoided if language, culture, hunger, and access to care were addressed - if patients could afford medicine, took it according to instructions, and returned for follow-up appointments.
  • ... ill-fed children cannot concentrate... "Learning is discretionary, after you're well-fed, warm, secure."
  • "What generally kills malnourished kids in the Third World... is infections. Things like measles are absolutely lethal in malnourished kids."
  • ... how it worked... The mind and all its wonders were beyond our thorough comprehension and would probably be so forever... The human brain remains a vast frontier, largely uncharted.
  • "You've had behavioral scientists talk about what a powerful determinant experience is, environment is, on outcomes," he said, "Now what you have is molecular biologists saying: No gene operates independently of the influence of the environment.... that if it's the genes, it's not immutable. It's a predisposition. It has to then interact with the environment."
  • ... the biological development of the human brain is now understood partly as a function of early learning experiences. The number of synapses (junctions across which nerve impulses pass) increases from about 50 trillion at birth to a peak of one quadrillion at age three, then is halved by age fifteen. Such "pruning" is part of a natural process that some scientists call "use it or lose it." Crudely put, it may mean that tasks or functions not performed are deemed unnecessary, and the brain adapts accordingly. In the first couple of years, for example, the brain can recognize any sound in any language; after exposure to a particular language for a few years, the brain loses the ability to perceive sounds that are not heard and used. "Thus, the child's experience, like a sculptor carving a complex statue from a large block of stone, shapes the child's brain."
  • ... child behavior and parenting styles influence each other. Children with a sense of "secure attachment" induce better parenting, according to research summarized by the study From Neurons to Neighborhoods: "The children, in effect, are more receptive to the parent's sensitive parenting and, in all likelihood, further binds their secure attachment." Maternal depression can be part of the same cycle: The mother doesn't nurture, the child doesn't respond, and that worsens the mothers depression.
  • "Children from highly stressed environments are at increased risk for a variety of developmental and behavioral problems, including poorer performance on developmental tests at eight months, lower IQ scores and impaired language development at four years." Class is a factor: At school age, children from highly stressed families of low socio-economic status display "poorer emotional adjustment and increased school problems" than those from upper-income families who are also highly stressed.
  • The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, argues that intelligence is overwhelmingly inherited. In their view, people with lower IQs naturally do less well in life, gravitate to lower socio-economic levels, and tend to have lower-IQ children who repeat the pattern.
  • Whatever measure of intelligence is inherited - and a great deal is, no doubt - the genetic predisposition are believed to interact with an individual's experience to enhance or diminish not only his biological health but also his intellectual success.
  • ... biological disease becomes a model and a metaphor for intellectual and behavioral difficulty: Just as a complex of vulnerabilities contributes to the contraction of physical illness, so can poverty lead to cognitive and emotional deficits. Just as biological weaknesses inhibit recovery, so can socio-economic handicaps impede childhood development.
  • The risk and protective factors exist in both the child and the environment. "Within a child a risk factor could be some kind of chronic illness, an underlying brain problem, some kind of biological or constitutional difficulty. Or it could be an ornery temperament.
    ... protective factors in the kid are: good health; a nice, easygoing temperament; good looking; or that kid who reminds you exactly of somebody who's near and dear to you.
    "On the environment side risk factors are poverty, economic distress, violence in the environment, lead in the air. So it can be psychological things like family stress. It can be more physical things like environmental toxins.
    Protective factors in the environment are: an economically secure, stable family; at least one adult who's madly in love with you, who's totally devoted to you; a neighborhood that provides lots of supports for families with young kids."
  • ... poor children are more susceptible than the affluent to various ailments, among them mild mental retardation... mild retardation is increasingly prevalent as household income declines.
  • "... sexual abuse affects the brain... Whatever's going on in your behavior, your thinking, your feelings, it's in your brain."
  • Poor housing is an incubator of physical ailment. Old paint applied before lead was outlawed in 1978 flakes into dust that enters the lungs and poisons the child. Exposed wiring causes injuries. Balky furnaces lead residents to light stove burners or use freestanding kerosene heaters, which cause fires. Overcrowding leads to fights and stress - and "stress is recognized as a trigger" of asthma... Poor ventilation and dangerous streets combine to trap children inside apartments with unhealthy air... "there are lots of allergic triggers in the home."
  • "The boy is caught in the unbroken cycle: Poverty leads to health and housing problems. Poor health and housing lead to cognitive deficiencies and school problems. Educational failure leads to poverty.
  • With rising wealth driving up housing costs, the working poor have been left practically helpless, unable to get into the market and unserved by underfunded federal and state housing programs.
  • The system is also plagued by welfare cheats. They are not people who receive welfare illicitly. The more damaging welfare cheats are the case-workers and other officials who contrive to discourage or reject perfectly eligible families.
  • "Being poor is a full-time job, it really is."
  • Blessed are the poor who have lawyers on their side.

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Dreams

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

- William Butler Yeats

  • "They don't feel comfortable in the school. They feel a sense that the school is somewhat above them, not treating them with respect, or has not shown that love or that we're in this together."
  • Teachers ought to get to know their students' families... Having a picture of a student's home life can help teachers interpret a student's shortcomings, make allowances, and give help.
  • "... the United States funds its schools largely through local property taxes, disparities between one community and the next are huge, and the poorest districts, which need the greatest services, cannot afford them. Underpaid and low in status, the teaching profession draws an assortment of under-qualified people and mixes them into the ranks of the competent and dedicated.
  • It has long been understood that expectations influence achievement.
  • Discouraged children and inadequate teachers make a corrosive combination.
  • "Kids on the borderline get support. Kids on the bottom, even if they move up a little bit, it's not going to make any difference in the school's test scores."
  • It was easy to spot the lost children in classrooms. They were the ones who were talking or dozing or reading something unrelated to the lesson. They were failing, crushed, insolent kids who stopped understanding the material and stopped trying.
  • Sitting there and not understanding must have been miserable.
  • "They don't try to make learning fun."
  • "They give you a smart remark or a disrespectful answer," said an eigth-grade boy. His classmates added that they were made to feel stupid by teachers' tone of voice and body language.
  • "It's scary sometimes when you don't understand something," said a seventh-grade boy. "It's scary to ask the teacher."
  • As trying as it can be for prosperous parents to confront school problems, it is practically impossible for a mother with little education and no time or money or know-how to work the system.
  • When you're poor you have to priortize. You can't do everything. You can't pick your kid up from school and go shopping and get the check cashed [and] also go to therapy."
  • One is getting into fights and gets suspended, just a step away from juvenile detention and real-life failure.
  • ... enevenly equipped nature of impoverished public schools - deprived in one corner, suffused in another with sudden surges of supplies.
  • "I think that's the hugest issue in urban or in under-resourced education: that people continue to hold these very low standards for students, don't ensure that they master the things that they need to master in order to be successful in this life."  
  • Schools are full of self-fulling prophecies. Schools are where dreams and disappointments come together, where children are believed in or defeated, where lights are ignited or extinguished.
  • Poverty or near poverty is not a problem, it is an array of interlocking problems. If schools were staffed and funded as a gateway to an array of services, as is Dr. Barry Zuckerman's pediatrics department with its lawyers and social workers, then some of those far-flung hardships might be addressed, and the schools themselves might function better.
  • President George W. Bush submitted a budget that would make it harder for children nationwide to qualify for free meals at school.
  • ... the best way to learn about a country is to visit its prisons, hospitals, and schools. Inside those institutions, a society's vision and morality are on vivid display against the backdrop of its ideals.
  • "Denial of 'the means of competition' is perhaps the single most consistent outcome of the education offered to poor children in the schools of our large cities."
  • America does not tread softly on her children's dreams.

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Work Works

There's a lot of talent that's been layered over with
years of maybe drug abuse or alcohol abuse or physical
abuse, no telling what. But the layers have begun to peel
off, and ... oh, looks like a little diamond under there.

- Leary Brock, a former addict

  • ... the trainers had to find the light within each person and turn it on.
  • "There's a lot of fear. That's a major barrier. It's like, 'I've never been successful before, why should I be successful now? No one's expected me to be successful. No one's wanted me to be successful. No one cares if I was successful or not.' So there's a lot of fear about trying new things and breaking out of a shell."
  • Gradually, though, as a sense of community emerged within the team, as the problems and burdens of each were revealed as common to all, the eyes came up off the floor, the words came more clearly, the voices grew steady, the confidence built until adults who had failed again and again were beginning to succeed at a crucial element of life on the job: communicating with people.
  • "The more key words you can use from the industry you're going into, the more you seem to know about it and seem to be part of it."
  • The interview loomed as a nightmare... a job interview... what words they associated with the experience. They said: fear, trickery, worried, confused, intense, inadequate, questions, and overwhelming.
  • Know about the job... Ask questions about the company's career possibilities, the job responsibilities. Answer questions by sticking to what's relevant about the job.
  • ... drill questions:
    "Tell me about yourself."
    "They really don't want your life history. 'Well, I would like you to know that I am a very good worker and I can do this job in a very responsible way.'
    "Where do you see yourself in two years?"
    "I plan on getting myself more prepared to climb the ladder in this field and possibly move up the ladder within this company."
  • "I'm a working welfare woman... I'm getting about as much as this woman sitting on her behind doing nothing. I'm a working welfare woman."
  • She began to taste the refreshing breeze of freedom, and she let herself dream a little.
  • Contact with new, more successful people has been a boon of going to work, say many who have moved off welfare and out of stifling circles of indigence. Encounters with achieving colleagues can revive, broaden, and educate.
  • Here was a key to moving people from welfare to work: Make the process beneficial to business.
  • ... job training was meshed with the demands of the labor market.
  • ... job-training programs rarely train workers in their rights. The entire burden rests on the trainee to be good enough to get a job, not on the employer to be good enough to provide decent pay and working conditions.
  • "What this program is about is helping you help yourself," he said. "We have absolutely nothing to give you.... This program is about waking up what's already inside of you, and getting you to see for yourself that there ain't nothin' nobody can do for you that you can't do for yourself."
  • ... the key to saving in not saving a whole lot at one time, just saving a little bit over a long period of time.
  • "Everything you need you already got. We just here to help you recognize that."
  • "I tried the devil, drinking, alcohol, drugs, womanizing... As you're growing up, you try things for kicks and stuff, but you're supposed to get mature enough to move on and, you know.
  • ... two choices of salvation: God and work.
  • Leary then made a choice, and like many choices that teenagers make, this one seemed less momentous than it turned out to be. Instead of finishing school, she moved to New York City. "I had every opportunity to do it another way, and I chose to run," she observed years later. "I was running away from my mother's scorn."... "The drugs helped her "escape the ghosts."
  • "... once you've been in that lifestyle, that lifestyle is a habit."
  • I had it to the point where I kept the demon at bay for a whole week, but on the weekend I had to be at their house, you know, 'cause I was beginning to get this desire, my brain was wanting it."
  • "It's a mental hold, a psychological hold, a habitual hold; you don't physically need it. It hits a portion of the brain that has never experienced this sensation before. And when it's awakened, you can't put it to sleep."
  • "It stripped me totally of who I was. It held my spirit in bondage, begging to come out, and it couldn't. It arrested every part of my life and then began to terminate it. I no longer existed. It did."
  • "I was a mover and a groover, and it was, again, the glamorous life - the life that I had seen when I was younger I was seeing now. That was a trap. The devil is so, so clever, OK? He disguised it with all this glamour and all this other stuff going on. There's so much coming at you, you don't see the snakes slither in .... When the money ran out, when the friends ran out, I had to do it on my own... I believe because I wasn't larceny-hearted, is why I'm still alive."
  • "You have to hit bottom before you come up."
  • ... she tried to grab her anxiety, wrestle it to the ground, and make it work for her. "I am afraid, and I'd be a fool not to be," she said. "It's a dog-eat-dog world out there now. I learned that in a seminar. She let us know, they all let us know, your interviewer is not your friend, OK? So don't get friendly with 'em. Don't put your guard down...."
  • "I talked so strongly about team playing and about being excited with the opportunity that the company could offer, because I'd researched and saw how they were involved in the community and how they had did this and that."
  • "What is the pay?... I never brought that up... that let her know that my first interest is becoming a member of Xerox. And whatever Xerox had to offer me I would be gratefully inclined to go with because I knew about the company."
  • "My kids have not given me any respect or love because of the way I trashed their lives," she lamented. She was trying now with her grandchildren, bundling them off to the Smithsonian, reading them books, filling the vacuum she had created for her children. This, too, was part of the pattern of failure and redemption - a failed mother whose children also fail as parents, and thereby give her a second chance as a grandmother.
  • The dream in America is a demanding standard, the myth is a noble goal. When a man or woman or a family fills its full measure of possibility, the nation's virtue is affirmed.

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Skill and Will

  • As the people in these pages show. working poverty is a constellation of difficulties that magnify one another: not just low wages but also low education, not just dead-end jobs but also limited abilities, not just insufficient savings but also unwise spending, not just poor housing but also poor parenting, not just the lack of health insurance but also the lack of healthy households.
    The villains are not just exploitative employers but also incapable employees, not just overworked teachers but also defeated and unruly pupils, not just bureaucrats who cheat the poor but also the poor who cheat themselves. The troubles run strongly along both macro and micro levels, as systematic problems in the structure of political and economic power, and as individual problems in personal and family life.
    All of the problems have to be attacked at once. Whatever remedy is found for one may help but not cure unless remedies are found for most of the others... As long as society picks and chooses which problem to resolve in crisis - usually the one that has propelled the family to a particular agency for help - another crisis is likely to follow, and another. If we set out to find only the magic solution - a job, for example - we will miss the complexities, and the job will not be enough.
  • ... restructure the hierarchy of wealth to alleviate the hardships down below?
  • We lack the skill to solve some problems and the will to solve others, but one piece of knowledge we now possess: We understand that holistic remedies are vital.
  • If hospitals, schools, housing authorities, police departments, welfare offices, and other critical institutions were bold and well enough financed, they could reach far beyond their mandates, create connections of services, and become portals through which the distressed could pass into a web of assistance. It is a question of skill and will.
  • They have power in politics that they practically ignore: the power of the ballot.
  • Whenever liberal Democrats criticize tax cuts for the rich or program cuts for the poor, conservative Republicans raise the fearsome specter of "class warfare" as if they and their supporters in business were not reinforcing class difficulties by structuring tax breaks and pay scales... the poor do not fight back. The lower the income, the lower the rate of voter turnout... Twelve percent of all black men between eighteen and thirty-four are in jail.
  • ... although nobody needs government more than the poor and the nearly poor, they have little influence on its policies.
  • ... low-income Americans rely on the more affluent to represent their interests... When it comes to benevolence, we are a moody society.
  • ... most Americans do not vote in line with their class interests,  and there is no guarantee that the poor would do so even in a large turnout.
  • Thomas Paine in his 1776 pamphlet Common Sense: "Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one."
  • Preaching against big government and applauding private enterprise, conservatives try to prevent state encroachment on the free flow of the market, often to the detriment of the environment, the worker, the consumer.
  • Without our keenest vigilance, government grows autocratic in a frightening age of terrorism, or loses humanness in an age of damaging disparities among out people.

  • The most evident point of attack is the wage structure... Revised tax structures could induce such policy.
  • One idea for making the tool more refined is to set different minimums for different parts of the country based on regional costs of living. Another approach is the "living wage" law.
  • ... the Earned Income Tax Credit, rewards work. While the payment looks like a subsidy of the employee, it acts as much to subsidize the employer, who can pay low wages without causing the worker quite as much pain. Indeed, the program indirectly benefits many large corporations, from Wal-Mart to McDonald's, and helps make them more profitable.
  • The proportion of America's workers in labor unions has gradually declined, from 140-.9 to 13.2 percent nationwide between 1995 and 2002.
  • The country's prosperity relies on badly paid workers - that's a fact that is not going to disappear. So the best way to improve a worker's wage is through promotion and upward mobility.
  • two effective methods: 1. sophisticated job training. 2. revival of vocational education in high school and a network of apprenticeships for  those who don't go to college.
  • "Doing well in the workplace involves a far more heterogeneous set of skills than doing well in high schools and universities."... Unlike most industrialized countries the United states has allowed vocational training to lag, leading to a "weakness in the middle-skill area" that has been cited by foreign manufacturers as reason to avoid investing here.
  • ... vocational programs operate successfully under the aegis of certain industries, labor unions, and state governments... on a nationwide scale, we have not chosen to repair this breach in training our young people for well-paying work.
  • We don't get our auto insurance through our workplaces, and we shouldn't get our medical insurance that way either.
  • The private alternative, however, has brought the nation's medical system to the brink of catastrophe. Insurance companies exact wildly escalating payments from the public, indulge in exorbitant payoffs to their executives, execute dangerous denials of treatment, and reinforce a class-based hierarchy of care that damages the health of Americans with lesser means.
  • ... we need the will to develop the skill to have it both ways: to guarantee the benefits without smothering individual choice or medical initiative. That would be quite an achievement for a nation so steeped in aversion to big government yet so idealistic in the pursuit of social justice.
  • Our understanding of the problems is ahead of the skills we have acquired to solve them, and the skills are ahead of our will to act. Across the country we have developed a multitude of early-intervention programs, many founded on sound concepts. But those that are underfunded and run by undertrained staff set an unhappy pattern: The project receives inadequate resources, which leads to its want of success, which causes it to be abandoned as a failed approach.
  • Meanwhile, government policies operate at cross-purposes by ratcheting up the work requirement imposed on welfare mothers without raising funds for child care. We don't even do what we know how to do.

  • To appraise a society, examine its ability to be self-correcting.
  • If a single cause were identified, a remedy might be readily designed. It would fit neatly into a liberal or a conservative prescription. If either the system's exploitation or the victims' irresponsibility were to blame, one or the other side of the debate would be satisfied. If the reasons were merely corporate greed or government indifference or impoverished schools, then liberal solutions would suffice. If the causes were only the personal failures of parents and children, teachers and workers, then conservative views would hold. But "repression is a seamless garment," as Salman Rushdie wrote. This is repression of a kind, and it lacks the clear boundaries that would define the beginning and the end of accountability... When accountability is spread so broadly and diffused, it seems to cease to exist. The opposite is true. It may look as if nobody is accountable. In fact, everybody is.
  • Relief will come, if at all, in an amalgam that recognizes both the society's obligation through government and business, and the individual's obligation through labor and family - and the commitment of both society and individual through education.
    Workers at the edge of poverty are essential to America's prosperity, but their well-being is not treated as an integral part of the whole. instead, the forgotten wage a daily struggle to keep themselves from falling over the cliff. It is time to be ashamed.

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