Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Entitlements aren't just for the poor

I seem to hear a lot of grousing about entitlements and socialism and Barack Obama.  As I've mentioned before, I do strongly believe in personal fiscal responsibility---living within your means, not buying on credit unless you can pay for it within the month, paying oneself first via savings.

But I also think the term "entitlements" is used very, very loosely by most people.  Basically in the current lingo, an entitlement is only a benefit that someone else gets that you don't.  And that someone is necessarily lazy or poor or stupid because he or she gets said entitlement.

For example, if someone qualifies to get a free cell phone (this is my favorite "example" thrown around of how Obama is a socialist), this is an entitlement.  (Mind you, the person who qualifies has to be at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines, which for a family of 4 would be $30,173).  But if someone is able to deduct the mortgage interest on their home loan, that is not an entitlement.

Or at least this is the argument I hear.

An entitlement according to Meriam Webster is a government program providing benefits to members of a specified group.

Could the argument be made, then, that the IRS is providing a financial benefit to members of a specified group, i.e, homeowners?
Why sure.
Oh but I forgot.  An entitlement is only an entitlement if it's not your entitlement.

I recently had a discussion with a friend that somehow got us discussing how our local library system has been making upgrades to libraries in some of the "poorer" neighborhoods in the metro area.  My friend didn't think this was fair.  I understood her point, but I politely (or at least I hope I was polite) disagreed.

There are libraries in the wealthier sections of the city, and while they are slated to be redone eventually, I do think the older, poorer libraries need to refurbished first.  Because people in the poorer sections of town rely on their libraries far more than the people in wealthier sections rely on theirs.  I could decide NEVER to take my kids to the library ever again, and they would still have internet access at home and tons of books.  I take my kids to the library for variety, not necessity.

If a person is upper middle class, at least where I live, there generally seems to be the mindset that "I want a safe neighborhood to live in, where everyone maintains their home and property values go up every single year and everyone pays their homeowners dues and there is a Kroger or Whole Foods within a 10-mile drive and my children do not ever have to get on a bus and be sent to a school that is 45 minutes away."

I am certainly guilty of having this thought (particularly the home maintenance part).

But that is an entitled feeling.  Feeling that you, because you have a degree or make a certain amount of money or work hard or were born on a full moon, deserve something from the government or the school system or life in general.

If I were working right now, based on my master's degree and teaching experience, I would make a little over $49,000 a year.  Even if I were a single mom with 3 kids, I wouldn't qualify for a free cell phone per the federal guidelines.  But I have a master's degree, so 6 YEARS of higher education.

Let's say, then, that someone who dropped out of college and got their GED works full-time as an aide at a nursing home.  A difficult job and certainly one that is greatly needed.  That person would likely make $20,000 a year if he/she was certified.  Someone working in dietary would make around $16,000.

I'm sorry, but someone raising a couple kids on his/her own (or hell, even NOT on his/her own but with a spouse who has similar employment) can't do a whole lot of anything on under $22,350 a year (which is the federal poverty guideline for 2011 for a family of 4.)

And this is what a whole lot of people forget when they get into this entitlement argument.


Bethany said...

I've been thinking about this a lot, too. I have a branch of my family tree that is in poverty. And its fairly bad. My husband and I go back and forth on sending money. We want to, because its right and good and kind, but also because we don't want them taking from the govt all the time. I really do wish our tax systems and etc were structured differently (yes, libertarianism is coming into my political frame of reference now as I near 30~) so that instead of paying in so much of the money I worked for (and feel ENTITLED to), it goes into the big govt pot. I would rather the money go into charitable contributions. I do believe people could take care of their families better if they had more take home pay. And that if they had more take home pay, charitable organizations and churches could take care of the poor and sick and etc. That's my version of a political utopia.

But we don't often send money because these family people don't make smart choices with money. Its ridiculous to see it disappear into dog costumes or junk food instead of for a jug of milk and mortgage payment. Its a huge battle for me on this, because we are on a super strict budget with our one income and our miminalist lifestyle - I know its cushy for some, to have a place in the budget allocated for medical bills and savings, not everyone does this.

So I think people feel frustrated with govt programs when they see mismanagement and think about how they worked hard for that money that went to the govt that when to a subgroup that didn't do the same work. I think its tough to swallow someone else getting my money (and I do feel entitled to the money I earned from the work I did) when I didn't even get to volunteer that money to be spent.

I don't know if this makes sense, I am still thinking through all of it.

CARRIE said...

Your comment makes me think about how much of what people do is learned.....especially bad choices. And how the educational system is basically an attempt to compensate for poor parenting (which is one of those biggies that is learned behavior from how one was parented). It is a never-ending cycle.

I wouldn't send money either. Maybe for me having "big ole government" do it before the money is ever in my account makes me less ticked off than if I had to send the money directly to family members/friends who make dumb choices.

I don't know either.....but that is why I help me think it through. It is a prickly thing, though.

Kelsey said...

I am impressed by how clearly you've made your point here Carrie. I get all emotional when I talk politics - and even if I am making a rational point it never comes across that way...

Keri said...
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