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Recently, Rep. Paul Ryan made some statements regarding antipoverty programs and their impact on the culture of work. As an immigrant who has lived in the inner city, I can firmly attest that Mr. Ryan is totally right. He was quickly dismissed by the Left and chastised and vilified as blaming poverty on lazy inner city men. California Democrat Barbara Lee, a Congressional Black Caucus member, described Mr. Ryan’s statement as a “thinly veiled racial attack”.
The low blow of these assertions against Mr. Ryan says more about his attackers who purport to help minorities and the poor. Mrs. Lee and company actually have supported policies that instead have hindered the upward mobility of these groups. The American Dream and the culture that promotes and nurtures it is slowly being replaced by a culture of government dependency, class envy, and complacency. It stifles innovation and ambition to achieve while sowing resentment.
Before I migrated to the United States, I also noticed that not only did many people desire to move to America, the land of opportunity. But some who left their home countries with little or nothing and very poor were able to achieve success far greater in America than they ever thought they would. They were able to achieve this despite the pre-conceived notion that ‘the deck was stacked against them due to alleged racial and social barriers in America’.
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Most were able to do this without government assistance, some despite language barriers. It was apparent that the concept of economic freedom, which allows the free movement of resources to where they are most productive, also applied to human resources. The absence of opportunity had evoked the strong sense of work ethic to be ready for when the time arises. People had the desire to move to America because it gave them the freedom to maximize the productivity of their ambitions and dreams by making use of the slightest opportunity to do so, and build on it. No job was below them if it was part of an upward ladder of mobility.
These attributes illustrate that there are no limits to where the culture of work could take you, even when the odds seem against you. America has plenty of stories where the poor, whether natural born or immigrants, went from rags to riches or notoriety due to a strong culture of work. Sometimes it encouraged entrepreneurship; and due to a strong work culture, our most noted American brands were born and have transformed the country and the world.
I was able to travel to the U.S starting in the late eighties during the summers. In 1998, I moved to the U.S permanently and lived in the south Bronx until shortly after 9/11. It was there that I was introduced to the effects of liberalism on a community firsthand. However, I did not know it yet as liberalism. Despite the south Bronx having many hardworking, kind, honest, and good people, the effects on the family unit due to programs that discouraged marriage were prevalent. In addition, programs that were supposedly to help the poor had not only created a culture of government dependency, but one of entitlement.
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This south Bronx experience highlighted there was a different vision and culture that had taken root in America–and especially the inner cities. It was a sharp contrast to the ideas that inspired the American dream that I had observed and grown to admire. One of my first jobs was at a pet store chain; and there, I noticed co-workers who turned down opportunities for promotion and higher pay because it would mean that they would no longer qualify for government benefits such as section 8 housing. They would rather stay at a stagnant economic level and forgo opportunities of a better quality of life due to the complacency of having a government safety net.
Programs that were intended to be a temporary lift to someone till they could be on their own became ones that encouraged generations to stay on these programs. As such, the culture of work diminished as new generations began to believe government dependency to be the way of life. This evolving mindset has become the poverty trap that Mr. Ryan described as “multi-generational”.
One of my earliest observations was that some couples in the inner cities chose not to marry, even when they were together for many years and expecting children. This was because they would not qualify for some government benefits if they married or lived in the same household. The impact on the family unit was rampant, as many children did not grow up with the support of both parents in the home.
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Such thoughts were inconceivable to me, as I had long pictured America a place where people constantly accepted opportunities to move up. It did not take long for me to realize that a culture of government dependency was replacing one of personal ambition, and it did not matter the color or race of the person. That is the point Paul Ryan was trying to make. He never mentioned race, as he knows that this not just a black, white, or Latino problem, but an American problem.
The longer I lived in America, the more I noticed this convergence of ideas. More so, liberal politicians have promoted government policies that encourage dependency with little accountability because beneficiaries are encouraged to vote for bigger government. These policies have been used to gain and maintain political power, and that is why liberal politicians like Rep. Barbara Lee are so adamant to protect the status quo. They cannot bear the thought that a conservative like Paul Ryan has highlighted a problem in the inner cities of America and may offer alternatives to uplift the poor and minorities in these areas. So they set out to vilify and amplify false stereotypes.
Part of the impact of a diminished culture of work has been resentment to success. It was once prevalent that if someone saw a successful businessman or organization, they were motivated by the thought that they too could be that successful and build up a similar organization. However, there has been an ongoing drive towards a culture of demonizing success as if it can only be achieved through greed, and that success should be punished and not admired. Driven by liberals who promote redistribution with chants of ‘inequality’ and the ‘evil 1%’, this has had a negative impact on the American entrepreneurial spirit and culture of success.
President Obama has scaled back key elements of the successful bipartisan welfare reforms of the late 1990s that reduced the number of people on welfare while getting more into the workforce. By reducing the requirements for actively seek employment when receiving welfare benefits, President Obama has negatively impacted Americas culture of work. In addition, Obamacare actually encourages people to be underemployed to receive certain subsidies. This should not be a surprise since House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi believes that unemployment benefits are a ‘stimulus.’
Perhaps Mrs. Pelosi and President Obama should work with Mr. Ryan on the pro-growth policies that he has proposed to actually create jobs and empower America’s culture of work, instead of demeaning his character and efforts.
If liberals like Rep. Barbara Lee really want to help the poor and minorities, they should join the likes of Rep. Paul Ryan in his efforts to combat poverty and to promote upward mobility. Mrs. Lee and others, instead of vilifying Mr. Ryan, should direct their energy to help lead the charge to discourage the many other liberal politicians who are constantly trying to block school choice. These programs have actually helped mostly poor and minority children get quality education so they can move up the economic ladder and appreciate the culture of work.
However, these reactions from the Left are unlikely because race baiting, catering to special interests like unions who are major donors to their campaigns, and deceptive populist mantras do a lot more to maintain their political power than what is right for the poor.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website.