Always Wanting Something to Help Them Get Ahead
by Pat LaMarche
Some guy asked me for help the other day. Considering the time I spend hanging with homeless folks that sentence likely wouldn’t surprise anyone. But this guy wasn’t homeless. In fact he’s not even poor. He’s got it “going on” with a great job and he’s well educated. He came from a good family and was sent to the finest schools. He got a great college education back in the day when I got mine. Back when all four years of private higher ed was cheaper than one year is now.
Seems his brains and good looks, comfortable station and high profile job just can’t get him what he really needs to move ahead. What can I do for a guy like that? I mean for all intents and purposes he and I are peers. In fact we even do the exact same job; we’re both talk radio hosts. We literally got our broadcasting start in the same small market, although he was a little before my time.
Our similarities pretty much end there. Our shows are very different. His radio show is in line with most talk radio. In fact he’s a broadcast agent of just about everything I oppose. Talk radio — like his conservative talk radio — is part of the reason the poor underclass of this country is so maligned, not to mention misunderstood.
My show is the exact opposite. For example, when someone on my show says that the food stamp recipients should get jobs, I remind them that many SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients are employed. Well, not the kids of course. In 1938 the feds made child labor illegal, so even kids on food stamps aren’t allowed to work. Unlike my buddy the conservative talk radio host who needs my help, I do take the time to remind my listeners that labor unions organized and saved our kids from work houses freeing them up to go to school. There was no change of heart on the part of benevolent “job creators” causing them to reconsider their exploitative ways and kindheartedly shed their cheaper child laborers thereby giving adults more opportunities for work.
The knowledge that food assistance goes to children — and other folks who can’t work — appropriately changes the picture painted by most talk radio propagandists SNAP recipients aren’t a class of lazy middle aged slobs. No, they are deserving needy individuals. In fact, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “About 75 percent of SNAP recipients live in households with children; more than one-quarter live in households with seniors or people with disabilities.”
This guy who makes a living putting the “us versus them — the wastrel versus the capable” mentality in people’s heads works every day to erase the similarities between him, his employers, their conservative politicians and the poor — even as he extends his hand to me asking for something he can’t do for himself.
I wouldn’t try and remind this guy that the story of poverty in this country isn’t just a tale of a lazy under class. It’s a story of people who work but don’t earn enough to provide for themselves and their families as well as the story of disadvantaged people who cannot work and others who cannot find jobs. I would love to tell him that the folks who need a hand putting food on the table are just like him. They just have different needs they can’t fulfill on their own.
If I thought it would do any good, I might ask him why he thinks he should tax my time to help him get ahead, tax my influential friend to help him improve his career, when he doesn’t think that he and his wealthier buddies should be taxed to provide healthcare for others.
I haven’t asked him any of that because frankly, I don’t think he’d acknowledge his similarity to an unemployed shelter dweller. And I’ll talk to my big guy for him because this dude with his hand out knows my aunt. That’s how we met. It seems my aunt and I are a couple of degrees of separation between this guy and his brighter tomorrow. Oh, and I’ll do it because people are meant to help each other when we can. But I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were him, see my big influential friend thinks like me, and he might ask this guy to stop making a living putting needy people down just because they can’t open doors to opportunity for themselves.
Pat LaMarche is the Vice President of Community Affairs at Safe Harbour, Inc. In 2004, she was the U.S. Vice Presidential nominee for the Green Party. During the campaign, she traveled the nation living in homeless shelters and on the streets; the book she wrote about those experiences is Left Out in America: The State of Homelessness in the United States(Upala Press, 2006). LaMarche writes a regular political column for The Bangor Daily News and contributes to the Huffington Post; hosts The Pulse Morning Show that broadcasts from Maine; and is a Contributing Author for New Clear Vision.