Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Not My Typical Post

I generally try to avoid politics and discussions about politics because I know that not everyone thinks the same way I do and I don't like to offend my friends.  Actually, the main reason I avoid talking about politics is because I don't feel like I have enough knowledge to defend my opinions in the inevitable discussion which follows.

So.  That being said, I saw this on a friend's Facebook wall a while ago and the discussion I read in the comments was one that I was reluctant to chime in on because I wasn't sure I was understanding both sides.  I decided that my own little corner of the blogosphere was a better place to share the video and clarify my understanding of what is being said, as well as sharing my own story.

So first, watch this:

And now for my questions.

Why does it matter what 5,000 people (a pretty tiny percentage of US citizens) think the distribution of wealth is?  It is what it is, right?  People thinking it's different doesn't mean anything significant, does it?

What exactly does "redistribution of wealth" mean?  I picture Robin Hood, taking from the rich and giving to the poor.  That doesn't seem right to me.  I understand that some people think that the wealthiest Americans should make less money and the poorest Americans should make more money.  But how?  I don't understand how this would happen or who should get to decide how it would happen, if it ever did.  Isn't that something we choose based on the decisions we make?

Here is what I know.

I was born into a family where both of my parents were Deaf and ended their formal education after high school.  They both worked hard for most of the years I was at home in order to provide for our family of 6.  Mom was a seamstress and did data entry.  Dad worked as a pipefitter, custodian, plumber, and anything else that helped him to support our family.  I had two older siblings and one younger brother.  Times were often tough but we were mostly happy and always found a way to provide for each other.  My siblings and I were never encouraged to attend college because my parents never felt it was necessary.

When I left home I was the first in my family to do so.  I drove from California to Utah in a 1976 Dodge Aspen that my parents helped me pay $500 for.  The day I arrived I went to the local university and community college and found myself two jobs as a sign language interpreter.  I worked 60 hours a week and provided for myself.  It was empowering.

Allen comes from a family of sixteen kids who were raised by two supportive parents that cared for their family on a school teacher's salary.  His mom never worked outside of the home.  They always had what they needed because his parents knew how to budget their money and taught their kids how to save.  They never felt poor.  The kids all learned to work together.  His parents encouraged all of their kids to get good grades and move on to college after graduating from high school, so they did.

When we got married, Allen and I both worked while we were going to college.  I continued to interpret while Allen worked wherever the pay was decent.  At first he worked on campus.  In the summers he painted houses.  After a while he got a job at a food manufacturing company, and then for a company who produced high-end speaker systems.  He did janitorial work.  At one point between jobs he worked at Jiffy Lube because it was the only place that was hiring.  We had a couple of kids and took care of our little family.  It wasn't always easy, but we made things work.  I shopped for clothes at thrift stores.  I planned my menus according to what items were on sale at the grocery store.  I stopped attending school so I could be home with the kids more.  I worked days while Allen worked nights.  I took jobs at restaurants and golf courses when interpreting work wasn't available.  Things always seemed to work out with thoughtful planning on our part.

We dreamed of buying a house but couldn't afford it.  One day we went for a long drive and found a little town that most people haven't heard of, about 90 minutes away, where houses were very affordable.  We put a small down payment on an $18,000 house and Allen commuted an hour and a half each way to work for a year.  Allen fixed up the yard and remodeled the house on weekends.  After a few years we were able to sell the house for enough of a profit to make a down-payment on a house back in the place where we wanted to raise our family.

When our third child, Thumbelina, was only 8 months old she had to have major cranial surgery due to cranial synostosis.  Allen was out of work when this happened and had to continue his job hunt in the middle of it all so he wouldn't miss any opportunities that might come.  Thankfully I had insurance through the school district I was working for, but we still had a large portion left to pay after her long hospital stay.  We worked hard and paid what we could each month until we finally took care of that debt.  We took out student loans when we needed to and paid them back on our own.  We had yard sales and even sold a few things to a pawn shop.  At one point I taught accordion lessons on Saturdays to bring in a little extra cash.

School was sort of an off-and-on thing for Allen, which was part of the reason his jobs weren't the most high paying.  We recognized that this needed to change and we decided to work together to make school a priority for him.  Allen carefully chose his field of study and after many years of determination and juggling schedules he got his degree.  It was not always easy but we knew that in the end Allen could better provide for the large family we hoped to fill our home with.

Allen graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1999 and found a job with the company he is still working for today.  (Pretty much the best, most family-oriented company on the planet.  I wish everyone I like could work there.)

Did we have to work hard to get where we are?  Yes, we did.  And we continue to do so.  So here's the part I guess I don't get.  Wherever we are on the scale of Poor to Rich, isn't that where we deserve to be?  And if the guy who makes more money than he even knows what to do with chose his profession or lucked out or worked like crazy to get there, doesn't he deserve it, too?

I really would love to hear what you think about this, whether you agree with me or not, because I am trying to understand both sides.  I really am.

The floor is yours.


Pam Farley said...

Yes, yes, and yes. You and I have the advantage of hard working parents who know how to budget, save, and plan.

There are many who don't have that advantage, and therein lies the education/motivation gap. Not sure how to solve that without opening a whole different can of worms!

Sarah said...

Politics are HARD to write/talk about!

Personally, I feel like if you want to make as much as a CEO does, then you should work your tush off and BECOME a CEO.

So, I agree with you and your post....not that I don't have pity or sympathy for those bottom 20%, I just think we can educate them, you know, like that whole "feed him a fish" vs "teaching him to fish" kind of thing.

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Shana Lovetosmile said...

Some think money solves all problems. I quickly realized how false that was when I was diagnosed with cancer back in 2009. The last thing I thought about was money. Of course I was fortunate to have it and insurance. What got me through it was love and support from loved ones. I too had a billion awful jobs to get me through college for those three degrees and now fortunate to have an awesome job. However, I had family that believed in me and motivated. Many aren't lucky to have that family background that inspires them to rise above. For some it feels hopeless living in a bad dangerous neighborhood so they don't have the tools that you and I had access to. It is often said that if all money was evenly distributed that in a short time it will end up back in the hands of the "rich". Hence look at the history of lotto winners. Having said all of this, I have been in both situations. Having God and love is more powerful than any money:)

Shellie said...

I came from the same kind of home you did, where parents worked hard and scrimped and saved, raising a large family, and my husband came from a much more difficult situation but with parents who worked hard to make it better. i see a lot in my work of all different walks of life and the truth is, you are right in general. most of us can be industrious and thrifty and study and work and live happy lives and be comfortable BUT we can do all those things and not always be as blessed as we are materially, over time it gets harder and harder to pull off what we or our parents did. I know for a fact my husband and I have worked circles around what many of my siblings have, same level of education, but our combined income is half what the one bread winner is in their homes and they live much more comfortably. We just haven't had the same set of circumstances or the same carreers. I have nothing against people earning more than me or being more wealthy, they made their career choices, etc, but I seriously do feel that things are skewed in this country. What exactly is so special about a ceo that he gets paid 380 times what the majority of those who helped make his company successful earn? I do understand his position is the final decision maker, responsible party and thus should be paid more, but....THAT much more.?.? Seems pretty excessive. I know schools for example aren't making money like big corporations, but isn't the work our teachers do much more valuable for our society than say some rock star who makes sickening amounts of money and doesn't necessarily offer anything of much value? I know life is never going to be "fair" but what exactly does this say about our values as a society? We are paying that 1%... Why so much? And how much power does that give them to continue to tip the scales in their favor and against the rest? As for the people on the bottom of the chart, they are not all unmotivated or even uneducated, they just haven't had the ability to break out of poverty due to any number of circumstances. Some have intellectual/mental challenges and will never be able to do it on their own. Some are just a messand are living the consquences, but certainly not all of them. How often do we just see them as people who are lazy and ignorant so we don't feel we have to do anything about their situation, or have to fear we will end up like them one day? These are just some of the things I wonder about. .... Sorry for the bad typing, iOs7 has a mind of it's own and i'm getting sick of fixing everything.....

Jen said...

This is a great post, Gerb! You are absolutely on the right track. There is something about our parents' generation (and those before) and what they taught us about hard work and determination that many people today are certainly missing. As a matter of fact, today is my first day out of work because of the government shutdown here in DC. As a contractor, I am not working, nor will I get paid retroactively as the federal employees probably will after this is all over -- but I support the shutdown. Talk about a political statement! But it all goes back to what you brought up in your original post - we have to be responsible for ourselves! We can not expect the government to provide everything for us - and with 17 trillion dollars in debt, how can the government now take on our healthcare as well?

This country was not built on entitlements and while the gap between the very poor and the very wealthy is wide, it really is by hard work, determination and even charity/kindness that moves people up - not handouts and taking from those who have to even the playing field.

Corine Moore said...

Good thoughts shared here, Gerb.... I, too, disagree with redistribution of wealth. But I think it is harsh and wrong to say that people who are rich or poor must "deserve" to be rich or poor. Some are rich by way of gift. Some are poor by way of disabilities, medical bills, or lack of confidence or knowledge on the principles of prosperity. There are other reasons as well that often take years to overcome... When one thinks a person "deserves" whatever it is they get on their own, doesn't that make it hard to give charity and easy to be prideful? I hope my comment is not offensive. I mean no offense and simply think this needs to be stated. That being said, I still believe that the government should stay out of the way and let people continue to learn and work to become prosperous - and let those who have the means aid and teach the poor (or not) of their own free will and choice... PS. Good for you for having the courage to speak up! I believe it is important to be OK with disagreeing with friends and still being able to respectfully listen to and learn from each other! I hope you have an awesome day! Corine :D

Rena said...

Gerb, I love your story so very much, and I love your take on it. Here is where I come in on the whole concept of "deserves". I don't believe we are living in a world that affords the same opportunities to all people. I think there are huge disparities still in much of this country on how races are treated, and it has a bearing on what opportunities are left open to us. And it's not just personal, it's in our laws, and the way they are applied. For instance, it is a fact that blacks and whites use marijuana at roughly the same rate. However, blacks are prosecuted for marijuana related crimes 4 times more. Or how about the crack vs. cocaine penalties? The same essential drug, but one is used mostly by poor minorities and one by predominately better to-do white people. The difference in the penalties are astounding. Or were, I think we have only recently rectified that (or are trying to) I think there are a lot of things in the way we operate in this country that are designed to keep the poor down and make the already rich richer, and while I love the life you have built for your family, born of nothing but a plan and hard work, I don't think that everyone has that same opportunity.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled across your blog from another blog, so I am not familiar with all of your posts. Like you I often stay away from political debates because I am not politically active enough to be able to truly argue any point. I do not know exactly what the term "redistribution of wealth" means politically, but when I think of redistributing wealth I think in terms of taxes and I do not think it is necessarily it is a bad thing. It makes sense, to me, that people in higher income brackets should pay a higher percentage in taxes and receive a minimal number of tax breaks, which is not always the case, and that should be used to fund social programs that benefit those in lower income brackets. Additionally, I think maybe you should look into privilege (white privilege is often discussed but really any dominant identity benefits from privilege) a little more. It can be very difficult for some people to be socially and upwardly mobile. Not to discount your own struggles or anyone else's, but there are some people who's background and identities, especially in the historical context of the United States, make their own mobility that much more difficult. If you were to think of a race two people may run the same distance but if one person start 1, 2, or even 3 miles behind the other, they will have to run that much faster to reach the same point. Then if you add obstacles and they are not running of the same smooth, level ground you can see how it could be impossible for them to ever reach the same point without some help.

Heather Rose-Chase said...

Gerb, you are so brave to put this out there. We obviously live outside America more than we live in it, so our thoughts come from a further point of not understanding, as we do not get a daily paper or newscast to fill us in (skewed as it may be). I can say that in our situation, both my husband and I had drive and opportunity. Both Michael and I knew what we wanted in life and we went after it, sacrificing everything we could to get where we wanted to be. Michael was initially kicked out of his home at 16, realizing from a young age there would be no handouts. I left for college at 18 and paid every cent of my own way. There was nothing that could have stopped me from reaching my goals, and there were plenty of things/people who tried. The opportunity came, I believe, as a side effect from all that drive (we made so many contacts knocking on figurative doors trying to get work in the chosen career field). And when the opportunity finally came knocking, it didn't initially look all that appealing. Like you living in a house 90 minutes from where you wanted to be, we saw that to get Michael to a point in his career where he wanted to be (position, pay scale), it would mean taking the leap and moving to Tokyo for a year. This was a HUGE sacrifice, as we'd just had our first child and knew nothing about babies and was away from grandparents and even English speakers. Everyone in the family was furious with us. But I can say every good thing, career-wise and personal-wise since then has come from that decision to be the one who finally stepped forward to go, after several others said no. When I think of someone "redistributing" our very hard won wealth, meager as it may be, I get a little shaky (as an American abroad, we pay taxes in both America and in our host country. That really gets my blood boiling!). We have done without so much (and continue to do so, I won't make a list) to get where we are and stay here. I am not without empathy and understanding for people who have less than we do. We support (through funds and time) people and organizations who have direct impact on those experiencing struggle who are less able to overcome it than we were. I'm grateful for our community of faith which is incredibly generous with time, money, and giving opportunities when someone is struggling. I wish we had a model like the local church for our government... aren’t we all more generous and willing to part with what we have when we see the actual face of the person who will benefit? Sometimes I get very discouraged that a sense of entrepreneurship is being replaced with a sense of entitlement, but what person sets out to take the harder path willingly? I'm grateful for Rory and her posts on white privilege which help me understand something I'm not a daily part of, living in country after country where my race is a minority. I'm still very much a student here, like you. In reading the comment by Anonymous regarding the race, and starting 3 miles behind everyone else, I think about how that is exactly the sort of thing which inspired me to keep pushing harder when I saw the ease other people had to start with (not having to work their way through college, being on parents' health/car insurance, etc.) I see some of the early struggles as a benefit which made me a lot stronger and gave me tenacity. This is not true of all people, sometimes the struggle is too great for them to overcome, and I guess that brings us right back to the initial question of what is to be done for those people? Thank you for your input and willingness to open up about this difficult to discuss topic!