Where Government Drops Ball, People Must Take Up

This is one of those stories that makes you feel good about one human being seeing and hearing and helping another human being, but it also frustrates, because long-term answers are not forthcoming.

When she asked if she had paid for all the food she was carrying, Robles confessed that she hadn’t.

“I asked her, ‘Why would you do that? What would make you do that?’” [Officer] Thomas told WSVN. “And she said, ‘My children are hungry.’”

Thomas pulled her aside and checked her criminal history. Finding nothing major, she charged her with a misdemeanor.

However it was Robles’ story that left Thomas concerned, as she knew the single woman’s problem wasn’t at its end. “I made the decision to buy her some groceries because arresting her wasn’t going to solve the problem with her children being hungry,” she told the station.

Thomas spent $100 of her own money on groceries for the young mother. . .Anais, Robles’ 12-year-old daughter, had tears streaming down her face as she expressed her thanks.
[...]
It’s “not fun to see my brother in the dirt, hungry, asking for food, and we have to tell him, ‘there is nothing here,’” the 12-year-old sobbed to the news station.

It’s great that the cop did this, but $100 worth of food plugs a hole that will be open again in a few days. What this lady needs — and I’m sure she would agree — is a job.

People like having jobs; they like to be self-sufficient and feel like they have options in life. No one likes to feel powerless. No handout can replace the sense of pride one gets by accomplishing things on one’s own.

Back in April, the Chicago Tribune reported that almost 90 million Americans were out of the work force. It has gotten only worse, since then, and five years after a promise of “shovel-ready jobs” the government still seems unserious about job-creation. Hundreds of billions of “stimulus” dollars meant to support the creation of “green” jobs have been wasted as one “green” enterprise after another has gone belly-up, after having “created jobs” that amounted to a statistical nothing.

Why aren’t we creating jobs?? Our bridges and roads, even our grid sure could use some attention and there are plenty of people who could do the work. Who knows why the $800 billion in stimulus funds did not go toward repair and maintenance? Some blame the EPA; some blame the Obamacare laws that discourage employers from hiring full-timers; some blame the unions; some blame the president and his priorities, which seem so detached from our employment issues that Obama needs to constantly pivot — usually just in-time to change a subject that’s grown too uncomfortable for him — in order to find the file marked “job creation”, which he never seems to actually open before pivoting once again.

Assigning blame may be gratifying, but while we indulge in it, people are not just losing jobs; they’re not just blowing through savings and 401K accounts to hang on to their houses. They’re going hungry.

In social media, yesterday this mother’s story generated many sympathetic reactions, several tweets about “teaching a man to fish” (which as true an axiom as it may be, doesn’t really apply when people are looking for work and can’t find it) and a little noise akin to Scrooge’s “are there no workhouses?” One person noted the mother’s tattoo and wondered if the ink might have been better-spent on food, but that road leads nowhere; she could have gotten the tat when she was flush, and besides, as Dorothy Day said, “The Gospel takes away our right forever to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.”

So, fine, everyone opines on social media, and then the timeline moves and this family is forgotten; we’ve been trained to feel a thing and then immediately get over it for these fifty years or more. “Gee, those poor people; that’s awful. Oh, look! Puppies! A new i-thing! I want that!”

But we shouldn’t be able to forget these stories so easily. I’m sure this mother would prefer not to have her kids faces splashed across the paper for the sake of their need, and yet the inherent dignity of these people — this woman and her children — reaches out from their photos, and cannot be denied.

“Where is the father?” A good question, and one that we can ask in too many households, today, but it’s not the first question. The first question needs to be: how do we help this lady get on her feet to the point where she can put body and soul together, and feed her children. How do we create jobs, and help unskilled workers to grow in experience? Does raising the minimum wage do it? I frankly don’t think so; employers who are not hiring unskilled workers at $7.50 an hour are not going to be more inspired to hire them for $10 an hour.

In 2006, the labor force was larger, people were working, and tax revenues were breaking records. Seven years later, things are very different.

Given that reality — and the utter dysfunction and fakery that characterizes a political class that has become unserious about anything but itself — the search for solutions should begin in local communities; the churches should be at the forefront of that search. In actuality, that means you and me; many hands, many pocketbooks, makes light work, light expense.

***If you’re doing alright, are you going grocery shopping this week? Can you afford to slip a few bars of soap, or shampoo or some toothpaste, or cereal, or soup, or tea, or tuna, or rice and beans and juice cans into your list, and then take that stuff to church with you on Sunday? Can you try to commit to bringing something, at least one thing, for your outreach or pantry, every Sunday?

***If you’re making a trip to a “big box” store, like Sam’s Club or Costco, consider throwing a thing of mac-and-cheese or pasta into your cart, for the food bank.

***Consider helping your church build a team that can help people write resumes and practice for interviews, and offer gently-used clothes, suitable for a job-hunt.

***Can your church “create” some jobs by pooling funds to hire someone to do light maintenance a couple days a week? Can the folks on your block pool funds to hire a “handyman” (or “handyteens”) to do autumn yardwork or neighborhood cleanup?

Yeah, okay, these are all small, temporary measures, but if they can put a few bucks into someone’s pocket and introduce some energy where there is none, perhaps it can lead somewhere. Energy begets energy, and if you’ve read this and thought, “but it’s the government’s job to do this” or if you immediately smirked and called me naive, or if you went negative because I’m talking temporary measures instead of permanent solutions then you’ve unwittingly fallen into a mindset of stagnation that mirrors Washington’s.

And who the hell wants to be like Washington?

Why not begin to organize projects between (and under the auspices of) community philanthropic groups (Knights of Columbus) and established local businesses (Rotary, Chamber of Commerce). They’re already in place and functional, and not subject to onerous new set-up requirements and restrictions, but maybe they needs some fresh input, some new ways to work cooperatively.

If you’ve got an evening free, join a local organization that is not a government entity; stand up at a meeting and say, “I see a need; what can we do?” Once things are put into motion and energy is expended, who knows what inspiration may come, or where the Holy Spirit might strike. Who knows what bright idea might take hold of someone, or some group, and begin to create real and lasting change, real opportunities?

Things are stagnant; nothing good is happening; sometimes you have to open the door a crack, to give the Holy Spirit room to move. We can’t sit around, waiting for a cop to bring $100 worth of food to a hungry family, or a pair of boots to a homeless guy. Small efforts and small starts are better than no effort, and no start. We have to be the change we want to see.

Image courtesy of shutterstock.com

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About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Fiestamom

    If I may also add a suggestion…. We pro life folks can donate diapers, wipes, etc to your local crisis pregnancy center. Diapers are SO expensive. Winter is coming and kids coats are expensive, too. A lot of times these kind of centers are working with young moms, and a timely phone call might lead to them asking you to purchase a specific item. Not to be all conservativey, but I do like to leave out the government as middleman in my charity.

    Great suggestions in your post!

  • vox borealis

    Our bridges and roads, even our grid sure could use some attention and there are plenty of people who could do the work.

    …and a little noise akin to Scrooge’s “are there no workhouses?”

    Aren’t these kind of the same idea?

    Otherwise, a very nice piece that gets much to the heart of the matter.We all as individuals and as members of private and local entities must do more, myself included (guilty as charged). Government, especially the federal government should be the last line of defense, not the first. Really, in a better world, your headline would read “when people drop the ball, government must take up” rather than the other way around.

  • MeanLizzie

    Yes, great to mention. I remember a few years ago I found one of my son’s old snowsuits and brought it to the parish outreach and they turned to each other and said, “quick! call that woman who was just here and needed a snowsuit!” Providential! :-)

  • MeanLizzie

    I don’t think they’re the same idea. The Dickensian gov’t provided assignments, true, it was a kind of debtor’s punishment, and there was no hope in it. No one could build a life on that, only manage to get away from debt. Gov’t infrastructure jobs can help people actually afford to pay bills, get married, etc. while we wait for whatever miracle is going to happen to restart our economy…assuming one comes. :-)

    And I agree with your last point, but we’ve moved way beyond that, sadly.

  • vox borealis

    I was being a little facetious. But I am always nervous when the response to “we need to create jobs” is “let’s get the government to dragoon people into public works programs,” mainly because my faith in our ruling class is so low that I assume these infrastructure jobs would turn into yet another means of creating a permanent client class dependent on government largesse for survival. Of course, as you hint at in your last line, we’re pretty much there already.

    I’m in a dark place these days.

  • perpper

    The government should never have had that ball in the first place. It is the everlasting shame of the western Christian community that they put the ball in the government’s court. Shame on them. And this is one reason my tithe goes only to organizations that do not seek government funding, to help build that “shadow” economy of charity.

  • Nan

    Back to the CCC and WPA? Those were both temporary programs for the unemployed and unskilled which were put to rest once we got in to WWII.

    What we need is the Keystone pipeline and drilling both in the Gulf of Mexico and in Alaska. The two best economies in the US right now are in TX and ND. Common factors include a) fiscally responsible and b) oil.

  • Lynda

    Good points Anchoress. I live in New Zealand but have a nephew in the us army, married With two small daughters ….so I would like to comment. I take the point about the minimums wage….but the US level is the same as what ours was in 1988. The US minimum wage must for the sake of justice rise. How about a minimum living wage as a benchmark. A living wage that keeps a parent and two children. The state has to base it’s minimum on something and it should be them struggling families. there is no justification for a us worker to earn $7.50 an hour that’s appalling.

  • MeanLizzie

    I don’t disagree with the idea that our current situation needs changing. Take a look at the link I had imbedded in the body of the piece, and in particular where it quotes Mr. Fenwick. :-) http://www.patheos.com/blogs/theanchoress/2013/01/10/the-paradoxical-meanness-of-the-minimum-wage/

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Great story. And let me add my perspective. That personal human connection between the two was Christ in action. From St. Teresa’s paryer: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the earth.” When you help from the heart you bring Christ to people and the world.
    No government beauracracy can do or replace that. No government program brings the love of Christ in people’s hearts. Perhaps it might just be the opposite. The more government programs we have, the more atheism seems to grow. Is it any wonder that the most beaurocratic states or countries have the least religious faith? Is it any wonder that communism tried to kill religion? Christ’s love is doesn’t get generated from taking money from one to give to some other.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Great reply and see my perspective.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Anchoress we spent a trillion dollars when Obama took office on “shovel ready jobs” that did nothing. Vox is right. By taking money out of the economy you are stifling the public sector.

  • Dan C

    Communal infrastructure requires repair. Humans need jobs. The Church bake sale is not a good way to fund bridge repair on the TappanZee. Sophisticated large capital outlays need to repair a well-worn and well-used infrastructure, one that Republicans in Red States like Gingrich’s Georgia make sure is well-repaired.

    Neo-liberals have rejected big government responses and the direct provision of jobs a la the New Deal as much as conservatives. Hence the stimulus went to those conservatives lovingly and erroneously call “job creators.”

    A quick efficient assurance of job creation is to have the government emply people. This may not be the best arrangement, but it is a policy arrangement and not an immoral choice as libertarians will suggest-such small government folks link anti-abortion to libertarianism as morally equivalent and linked policies, see Ryan Anderson. For those who excerpt Ratzinger’s one sentence from a private communication in 2004 asserting not all moral issues weigh the same as abortion, it is at least refreshing to see these same conservatives acknowledge that they disregard Ratzinger as much as liberals (Robert George posted a love letter to libertarians too, trying to assure them that the pro-life movement has a small government priority.)
    And maybe modestly wealthy people need to hire more people at their jobs.


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