Friday, May 8, 2015

Welfare bashers...

This morning I was reading about a new gas station that is being built in my hometown.  It's one of many ugly ass gas stations that have been built in Gloucester, Virginia since the 1990s or so.  Frankly, I consider them a blight on what used to be a very pretty place to live.  My hometown is now starting to look a lot like Newport News, which I've generally always thought of as the bowels of southeastern Virginia.

Anyway, I was reading the comments on the thread about the new Raceway station and someone brought up that the jobs created by the new gas station would be dead end minimum wage jobs.  And some guy, obviously much like many of the good people of Gloucester, who tend to be politically conservative, wrote that a minimum wage job is better than no job.  He thinks it's better to work one or two part-time minimum wage jobs and earning a pittance than "taking other peoples' money".

Although a little voice in my head told me I probably shouldn't, I left a comment.  I wrote something along the lines that if you've ever had a job and paid taxes, welfare money is YOUR money too.  And to me, it makes more sense to hold out for work that pays enough to live on rather than juggling two or three minimum wage jobs that don't pay enough.

I totally get why many people think taking welfare is wrong.  They see it as a point of personal pride not to accept help from the government.  I understand that completely and support those who want to work for a living rather than accept aid from taxpayers.  It's just that time is also valuable and trying to juggle several jobs that pay only minimum wage and have unpredictable schedules makes it difficult to improve your situation.  If all your time is spent making nothing at dead end jobs, when will you have the time to look or train for something better?

I've been there myself.  When I first got out of college, I couldn't find full time work.  I was living in Gloucester at the time and I knew that the better paying jobs were "across the river" in Williamsburg or Newport News.  Of course, when you have to commute to those places from Gloucester, you end up paying more for gas and tolls on the Coleman Bridge (although the tolls weren't around until 1996, when the bridge was widened to four lanes-- the bridge had originally been a toll bridge but the tolls were lifted for many years, then reintroduced to pay for the widening).  My parents' home was near the Courthouse, which was a good eleven miles from the Coleman Bridge.  Then, once I got across it, I had to drive another fifteen or twenty miles to get to work.

I ended up getting three jobs.  One was at a menswear outlet store that was in Lightfoot, Virginia (a ways out of Williamsburg, which was already 20 miles from where I lived).  It paid $5.50 an hour, which at the time was about $1.25 higher than minimum wage.  It was a part time job, so no benefits were offered.  I did get a good employee discount, though.

One was at a chocolatier.  It paid $4.25 an hour plus the odd tip.  Again, employee discount and no full time hours or benefits.  I probably shouldn't have taken that job, but it was work, right?  

The third was temping, which I did when I wasn't working the other two jobs.  The pay rate and hours for that varied, but I don't think I was ever paid more than $6 an hour and I had to drive all over the place to get to the jobs and sometimes, like when I worked at William & Mary, I had to pay for parking.  Actually, now that I think about it, I'm surprised I could find my way around to get to those jobs.  Those were the days before Internet.  Fortunately, gas was much cheaper in those days, too.

Sure, I had a lot of "work" that ate up all my time and I was making my own money, but I was spending a lot of time and money to get to the jobs.  And because I had so many jobs, it was hard to have the time to find, get to, and interview at places that might pay better.

Now, I am not suggesting that people should want to get on welfare or even that being on welfare is preferable to working.  However, this attitude that it's better to work two or three shit paying jobs than accept government assistance seems kind of wrong-headed.  Of course, if you earn too much money at those shit paying jobs, even if it's not enough to pay your bills, you won't qualify for welfare anyway.  I think welfare should be genuinely helpful to people.  There should be rules limiting the length of time an able-bodied person can be on welfare, but we shouldn't be punishing people who have paid into the welfare system for using it as the safety net it was intended to be.

I am against penalizing people on welfare who "make too much money".  Sometimes, "too much money" made working is less than what one would get while taking welfare.  Why not reward people for trying to get out of the welfare trap by gradually weaning them from assistance?  Positive reinforcement is a good thing.

Incidentally, after my stint working three part time jobs, I got into the Peace Corps, where I made the "princely" sum of $5 a day.  When I got back, I still had trouble finding an appropriate job.  So I started temping again so I'd have flexibility.  It still wasn't enough money, so I got a job waiting tables.  I made more money, but the job was very hard on me in many ways.  It drove me to grad school, where again, I worked as a waitress and a graduate assistant ($10 an hour).

Maybe I should have learned mechanical skills like plumbing or how to be an electrician.  Or maybe I should have stuck with piano lessons so I could make money as a musician.  Clearly, all the education I invested in hasn't led me to gainful employment, though I am sure I could make minimum wage at a gas station.  Why would I do that, though, when there are kids who need the experience and other people who really and truly need the work?

It seems to me that America is in need of jobs that pay enough.  We bitch about people on welfare, but no one seems interested in creating work that pays people enough to live on and offers them a semblance of security.  We have a pull yourself up by your bootstraps mentality, but so many people have no idea how to pull themselves up.  Either that, or they have no resources to help them get and stay at work.

For instance, many rural places in the United States have no transportation for people who don't have cars.  Gloucester County was a cheap place to live, but only if you had access to a car.  There were no busses or trains and walking to the Peninsula, where better work could be found, was out of the question.  You couldn't safely walk across the Coleman Bridge.  Things might have changed since I last lived there.  I hope they have, although a new gas station in the county makes me think maybe they haven't.

We create situations that are not conducive for allowing people to work.  As an Army wife, I've seen a lot of talented people not working.  I am among them, though I have earned money writing.  It's not enough to live on, though.  I am fortunate that Bill makes enough to support us both.  Many people are not as lucky as we are.

Anyway, I decided to turn off notifications for that post because I have a feeling my comment may ignite a shitstorm and I don't want to get involved with another one of those this week.  Moreover, having grown up in that town, I assume that trying to argue my point will only frustrate me and I just want to bask in how awesome last night was.


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