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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Boyd: Sadly, shaming the poor is the American way

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Joe Manchin doesn’t like poor people.

The Democrat senator from West Virginia allegedly told a few colleagues in private he thinks poor parents will use money from the enhanced child tax credit for drugs. According to an article from Huff Post, Manchin allegedly also is concerned the proposed policy for paid sick leave will encourage Americans to play hooky. Instead of going to work, Americans will go hunting.

Manchin is under fire for blowing up President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill, an almost $2 trillion package focused on repairing economic and climate issues facing the country today. The bill was whittled down to appease Manchin after he voiced earlier objections to the price tag.

One of the sticking points for Manchin is the enhanced child tax credit through the American Rescue Plan. The child tax credit increased from $2,000 to $3,000 and children under 6 received an additional $600 for 2021. Half of the money was given to families through monthly payments; the rest once 2021 taxes are filed.

Starting in July, families with children under 6 received a $300 monthly payment. Those with children ages 6-17 received $250. Low-income parents who don’t file a tax return were also eligible for the enhanced credit. Build Back Better included a year extension of the credit.

About 36 million families received the enhanced child tax credit, and the payments have cut child poverty by 30%. It’s expected about 10 million children will fall under the poverty line if the credit goes away.

But all of that is beside the point for Manchin. He’s more concerned that the parents of those children will take the money to get high as if poor people are the only ones who use illicit drugs and are the only ones irresponsible with money.

“I cannot accept our economy, or basically our society, moving towards an entitlement mentality,” Manchin said a few months ago. “That you’re entitled. OK. I’m more of a rewarding because I can help those who really need help because I can help them do so.”

Well, that’s pretty rich coming from a coal baron. Back in October some West Virginians kayaked to Manchin’s yacht, Almost Heaven, to protest his resistance to the Build Back Better plan when it had a $3.5 trillion price tag.

My problem with Manchin and so many others in our country is how it’s so easy to shame the poor. We like to pretend everyone who is wealthy received their money through hard work. And we like to pretend as if wealthy people — and the not so wealthy — don’t have an attitude of entitlement. Entitlement is an American tradition. It’s OK for the wealthy to be entitled, though, but poor people better not. It’s OK for wealthy people to use drugs, but not the poor. And it’s OK for wealthy people to skip work, but if you’re poor, you better be at work and be there early!

Politicians get us worked up about supposed welfare for the needy while corporate welfare goes unchecked. The myth of the welfare queen continues to anger hard-working Americans. As long as we’re focused on nonexistent people getting rich off of welfare, we’re not angry that the average pay in 2020 for CEOs was 351 times higher than a typical worker. From 1978 to 2020, CEO pay grew by a whopping 1,322%, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

This doesn’t get our attention, though, because we want to believe that one day, we too could be that rich CEO, and we don’t want to identify with the person living in poverty. No one wants to be poor. It’s why we work so hard to look as if we’re not.

Although, if we’re honest, more of us are closer to poverty than wealth.

According to U.S. census data, the median household income in 2020 was $67,521, a drop of 2.9% from $69,560 in 2019. Median household income hasn’t had a statistically significant decline since 2011, so this is a big deal. Between 2019 and 2020, the real median earnings of workers aged 15 and over declined 1.2% from $42,065 to $41,535. In 2020, the official poverty rate was 11.4% a 1 percentage point increase from 10.5% in 2019. It’s the first increase in poverty after five consecutive annual declines. Black people had the highest poverty rate at 19.5% in 2020.

We know people who live in poverty work a lot. Many work more than one job. It’s not the lack of working; it’s the wages. They’re too low to live on and this is why people need assistance from the government. Being poor doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s not a character flaw, and it certainly doesn’t make you more prone to drug use than any other group of people.

America tells you to work hard but then shames you if that hard work doesn’t make you rich. Now, that’s shameful.

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