Broken Promises

‘Get A Job’ A Familiar Phrase Of The Politically Lazy

Shuttered K-Mart store in Eaton, Ohio.

Everyone should read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl twice in their life: once in their 20s and once in their 50s. I say this, not just because I happened to do it this way, but because the book changes over the course of one’s life.

When I read the book decades ago, I was enthralled by the first-person account of the cruelty inside Germany’s concentration camps. I was taken back by the reality that Frankl lived through it, lost his family, yet managed to write about the experience with searing details.

Today, although I still notice the details, my mind zeroes in on the minor moments to learn how calloused a person, any person, can become given the ‘right’ set of circumstances. But, others, as Frankl points out, survive the worst possible scenario and still find a way to be humane.

Victim Blaming

Shortly after finishing the book, I watched a documentary on Reading, Pa. It has the distinction of being the city with the highest poverty rate in the U.S. Although there is no comparison to a concentration camp and unemployment or poverty, what struck me was the similarity in the way the ‘enemy’ (in this case the poor) were treated. Once they were labeled — poor, lazy, unmotivated, etc. — it was easier to treat them as inferior. It was easier to blame them for their situation — and not the corporate citizens who bailed — and with their exodus dismantling the local economy.

Former high school in Preble County.

We’ve done the same thing here. We label the poor. We blame them for their situation — as we ignore the lack of economic opportunity. I first realized I lived in a poor community two or three years ago as I stood on the sidewalk watching my daughter march with the high school band in a Memorial Day parade. Despite our green porch lights, flags (U.S. and Confederate) and patriotic rhetoric, the sidewalks were sparsely filled. As I stood I watched a man, probably in his early-to-mid 60s, shuffle along the sidewalk across the street in front of one of our bars. The somewhat feeble-looking man was peering along the ground, stooping and picking up cigarette butts. It seemed oddly out of place at a parade celebrating the country’s greatness.

Systemic Poverty

After that, I started observing and listening more. Although I do not know that particular man’s story, I do know poverty is a multi-leveled narrative. It is not as simple as ‘they are lazy’. And, telling a homeless or poor man that they need  “to work 12 hours a day if they want a ‘handout'” may feel moral to a political tool, but the statement is indicative of ignorance. The barriers for those ‘at the bottom’ cannot be solved with a one-liner or a regurgitated (and debunked) belief system.

In places like Preble, which has become a region like too many in America, there is a need for a cooperative effort by the social safety networks, employers, law enforcement and political leaders to address the issue. In my hometown, a wide range of issues is causing our poverty — including: low educational levels, lack of affordable housing, loss of livable-wage jobs and a failed approach to our drug problem. The last is especially taxing. We can blame the end user “til the cows come home” while we arrest low-end users instead of suppliers, but if employers can’t find drug-free workers, they will go somewhere else — taking jobs and tax revenue with them — leaving us with the empty buildings.

Some say it’s the church’s responsibility to help the poor. After all Jesus commanded it. But the poor cannot help the poor — at least not enough to exit the poverty. In Preble County, our well-meaning churches have been stretched too thin.

Not My Problem

But, the real problem with poverty is a lack of political power which keeps institutionalized poverty intact. We have been taught from our youth that ‘if one works hard, it will work out.’ The wise eventually learn that is not true, at least it’s not true for everyone, and in Preble it’s not true for an expanding population.

The roots of our apathy run deep. In a 1915 history of Preble County, one resident feared he would be coerced, through taxation, to support someone else’s child.

The 19th century man, described  as an ‘upright, honest and respectable man and a good and generous neighbor,’ said,

“…Eaton was likely to grow to be a big city and that it would contain many people who would be great sinners and law breakers; that very probably there would be many bastard children, and that, as the townships had to bear the expenses of punishing the lawless, and to furnish support for the bastard children, it was unjust to tax them down in the country to pay for such things.”

The plea to not be his brother’s keeper ‘caught the fancy of the county commissioner’ and a township was named in his honor — a township not taxed for Eaton’s abandoned children.

This unwillingness to help is also connected to our deep-seated belief that the poor cause their own misery and that our systems are sacred. We know the poor are responsible for their plight. We have to believe that or repair the institutions.

While reading American Character by Colin Woodard, which is a ‘history of the epic struggle between individual liberty and the common good,’ I came across an 18th century quote that could easily be spewed in my county today. Woodard quotes social commentator Arthur Young, who said.

Everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor or they will never be industrious.

This ‘make them work’ mantra is an act of deflection. Of course able-bodied individuals need to work, but pushing residents into low-paying jobs will not lift them, or the community, up. The situation is more complicated than a ’12-hour a day job.’ In Preble County, we’ve done an excellent job creating poverty. We’ve paired our belief that the poor are lazy with a century-old belief that government intervention is always problematic.

It’s a very ineffectual belief — we have the empty buildings to prove it.

Categories: 8th congressional district, Broken Promises, Life In A Red State, maga, My America, Ohio, Preble County, Understanding Trump Counties

Job Openings Low, Foreclosures High

“…Warren Davidson stands out as the premier economic conservative.”Club for Growth

While my Congressman, Warren Davidson, is using the Congressional Recess to preach the Gospel according to the Club for Growth, (repeal the ACA) the ‘good news’ is not so good on the home front.

Here is a sampling of the real problems his district is facing:

Ideology over Country. In Eaton we have a heroin problem. Medicaid is one tool used to fund treatment, but our Club for Growth-sponsored Congressman decried, at an Oxford Town Hall meeting this week, the ‘moochers’ on Medicaid. As he’s vilifying Medicaid recipients for political gain, in Eaton we lost another community member to a heroin overdose the other night.

It feels like it’s time to use the tools we have — including Medicaid — to solve the problem.

Get a Job. Admittedly employment can solve a lot of community problems including reducing the number of moochers — if there are enough livable-wage jobs to go around. As I previously posted, jobs have been declining in my county for about a decade. This week, the local newspaper listed five help wanted ads. One of those positions has been advertised for at least a month (so maybe we have a labor force issue). The other four jobs:

  • two part-time, low-wage entry level positions
  • one for STNAs/CNAs
  • a maintenance worker position with the county ($14.99-$20.51/hr)

Get a Job Part II. In the Internet age, though, the Web is the source many rely on — and Indeed’s email assured me there were ’30+’ jobs in Preble County. Turns out they were wrong. The list included three employment opportunities inside the county (the rest were in neighboring counties). The three jobs were :

  • a technical writer position
  • a housekeeping aide and,
  • a (different) maintenance position. This position was the only one listing a wage ($10-12/hr).

Get a Job Part III. To further understand the local job market, I called one of the temp agencies advertising in my community. The agency had one job opening inside the county (April 20th). It was a second-shift, $10/hour, entry-level job that I ‘could start today,’ according to the company representative. The other position (yes, they only offered two) was in Richmond, IN (20-30 minutes away depending on job location). It paid $11.25 an hour. Since we have a drug problem in the county, I asked about drug testing and was advised I would be given an oral swab test. But, in a community crippled by heroin that test was less problematic than the second test they administer: a 2-year background check for ‘possession’ charges.

In Preble County Common Pleas Court, more than 60 ‘possession of heroin’ cases exist in the 18-month period from July 1, 2015 to Dec. 31, 2016. So, that would suggest roughly 80-100 cases exist in the past two years. That does not include possession of other drugs like meth, marijuana or illegally-acquired prescriptions. These cases could potentially increase that number significantly because, as one court official recently stated, ’80 percent’ of Common Pleas’ caseload is drug related. And heroin is not the only problem, according to two sources — one with the court system and one in law enforcement — ‘meth is making a comeback’ in Preble County.

Foreclosures Still A Problem. The statistic that outperform employment opportunities was the number of foreclosures and/or sheriff property sales. There were 17 listed in the legal section of this week’s paper. According to Policy Matters Ohio, Preble County ranked in the top 10 for home foreclosures every year between 2007 and 2013. In 2013, the county peaked at 3rd in Ohio before dropping out of the top 10 in 2014 when it ranked 16th. If you read Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.—How the Working Poor Became Big Business, you’ll learn how ineffective — and nonexisting — public policy in Ohio and beyond created the foreclosure problem. Several chapters in the book deal with Montgomery County which abuts Preble County’s eastern border.

Bottom line: Davidson’s worn out message of restriction and dismantling resonates with the Club that hired him (Ohio’s a gerrymandered state), but the policies won’t help Preble County. As many politicians are fond of saying (about heroin), ‘we can’t arrest our way out of it,’ well we can’t ‘dismantle’ our way out of economic depravity. Reviving the ‘Rust Belt’ is going to cost money. Federal money is available, the question is will the funds be diverted into new MOABs or into community resources.

Afterthought

Not all is bad in the world, though, because Bill O’Reilly, the charlatan once called a goon by Midwesterner David Letterman, has been axed. O’Reilly’s exit from the national conversation will give our country a much-needed reprieve from the angry, yelling grandpa.

Categories: 8th congressional district, Broken Promises, My America, Preble County

Lessons I Learned From The 2016 Presidential Election 

25784477746_83eb04c81a_zSomewhere between 10 p.m. and midnight on Election Day, it was apparent Hillary Clinton had lost this presidential election.

It was stunning.

This is the first presidential election where I actually followed Big Data, which gave Hillary 2 to 1 odds for winning, so like many I feel blindsided, but here is what I learned:

  1. Emotions rule. Political positions are based on a feeling — a gut instinct.
  2. I’m not good at predicting. I thought Hillary would carry 30 percent of the vote in my county. She carried 21 percent. Trump carried 75 percent. For comparison,  Mitt Romney carried 67 percent in 2012.
  3. Nate Silver misread the swing states.
  4. Only a handful of voters matter. National elections come down to a relatively few voters in a few places.
  5. Most voters decide early on who they will support. They spend the rest of the election season finding ways to justify their decision.
  6. Social media is a problem. It brought the bar room drunk to the center of the stage.
  7. Politics is all about the win. Politicians shift, align and re-align as needed to stay in power.
  8. There is a large portion of the population that does not trust anyone or anything. I am amazed at the number of people who simply do not believe legitimate news organization and conversely how many are willing to believe stories with anonymous sources.
  9. Courting oppositional thinking works.
  10. American politics is built on places, not people.
  11. We expect too much from the process.
  12. There are only a handful of issues that should be in the public square.
  13. Politics is a spectator sport. State results are returned in a game-like fashion to keep the audience entertained.
  14. Low voter turnout works for the GOP.
  15. The world is watching.
  16. Marketing works.
  17. It is the era of fear, anti-establishment and anti-intellectualism.
  18. The more people I meet, the more I like my dog.
  19. I don’t want to live in a Red Zone anymore.
Categories: Age of Discontent, Broken Promises, Politics