Last week I talked about two kinds of poverty, one an aspirational poverty -- a poverty that is temporary -- and another more insidious poverty that wrecks the soul and makes one happy with their lot in life no matter how dire. We have too much of the latter in Macon-Bibb County and not enough of the former.
We see aspirational poverty in many of our immigrant communities. People may rail against illegal immigrants while at the same time knowingly paying them to do their landscaping, home repairs or other jobs because they work long, hard, fast -- and cheap. They may sleep eight to a trailer, but they don’t plan to stay that way long. They send money back home and are looking for opportunities to bring along their families. We may not like it, but they believe in the American dream. Don’t believe me? Go to any Wal-Mart on Friday if you want to see a true and accurate picture of an underground economy.
Then there are others who have forgotten the dream. I’m not talking about those called lazy, living off taxpayers. They are an easy target people have used for their own purposes for decades to make themselves feel better. No, I’m talking about the single parent working two minimum-wage jobs to keep her family clothed and fed with a roof over their heads. She, and it’s usually a she, doesn’t have time to dream. She knows she needs to go back to school to update her skills, but where’s the time?
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And that underground economy is right there to help her when times get tough. Need a washer-dryer? Sure, here it is. The interest rate only means she’ll probably pay more than twice what the appliances are worth. Need a little money until payday? Sure, we’ve got a title-pawn that will wrap it up for you in a convenient knot that will take years to escape. No, there’s no time for dreaming anymore.
That lack of aspiration gets passed down to children. They see the same marketing on TV that other kids see. They want the same things all the other kids want -- the iPhones and iPads and expensive tennis shoes -- and their parent tries, out of guilt or some other emotion, to get those things for them and again ends up at the title-pawn shop and falling deeper into debt.
It’s hard to break out of the pack when there are few examples of escape and when there are so many forces that pull a person back into the vortex of dreamless poverty. It becomes generational.
But there is hope, and that hope sits in the education of their children. For many of the products of this educational system, it’s too late. They will be stuck in low-paying jobs for the rest of their lives if they don’t seek a way out -- and there are ways to escape, but it takes sacrifice.
Central Georgia Technical College has adult education courses so people can attain their GEDs, something most employers require. Some employers are weeding out personnel who don’t have at least a GED. Getting a GED is only the beginning, but it opens up a whole new world for the individual and their families. Instead of a job, maybe they can think about a career.
When the parent recognizes education as a priority, guess what? Children start recognizing education as a priority. Yes, it’s magic. And guess what happens after that? People start dreaming again. A world of possibilities suddenly appears. New job opportunities open up. Pride returns, and if you remember last week, I talked about the old woman who swept her grassless yard because she had pride. She didn’t have much, but what she had she wanted it to look nice.
Let me throw another example at you. Look at the pictures from the civil rights movement. You don’t see marchers wearing jeans and T-shirts. No, you see marchers wearing their Sunday best on hot, sweltering afternoons. The marches generally started and ended in churches, and air conditioning wasn’t an option. It wasn’t comfortable; still they did it. Why? Pride.
These folks were not just marching for their right to vote. They were marching for their children’s right to vote. They sacrificed so that our lives would be better. By any measure, they were successful. All of us have to take a step back and pick up some of that pride we left along the way with a vision for the future. If we do that, you’ll see fewer young people walking down the street with their butts exposed, a sure sign of a generation with no pride.
Charles E. Richardson can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet @crichard1020.