Editorial: A Hand Up

by Donald Gates

As I drive around town during the middle of the day, I see so many seemingly healthy men and women lounging on the porch or walking around the neighborhood talking on a cell phone. I see them in grocery stores buying items with food stamps. Not long ago I was behind a woman in the check-out line of a local store who placed two inexpensive items on the counter along with two food stamp cards and asked to pay for each from a separate card and receive a $100 in change from each card. She then went back into the store. Do you think she forgot to include some food items and went back for more? Or is she going to select items that are not eligible for payment with food stamps? Is this legal? The clerk, when I asked, responded “yes”.

Why aren’t these young, seemingly healthy, people working? Why are we taxpayers paying for free cell phones, food stamps and subsidizing enumerable other hand-outs? Certainly, there are many deserving poor people who must be helped and we must see that they are cared for but it seems that our government does a poor job in adequate vetting to insure that only the qualified become beneficiaries of public funds. We must do something to change this terrible waste of taxpayers’ money and potential talent. Hand-outs will never solve the problem. We must work toward establishing a system that rewards a strong work ethic. To do otherwise is to reinforce irresponsibility and create a family environment which perpetuates dependence on government handouts rather than personal responsibility. It is so sad that so many of our young men and women grow up with the attitude that the government will take care of them. They feel entitled and expect to be supported for their entire lives.

Can this cycle of dependency on the government dole be broken? You bet it can! I have seen situations where poor young people have been able, through a strong determination, to escape a cycle of poverty. They were able to develop psychological traits of personal responsibility and independence. They were not afraid of hard work and sacrifice because they had a goal—a better life. In most cases when they saw a successful person, it was not with envy but a desire to be like him/her—not hate but admiration. They were motivated to improve their lot in life. These individuals, because of their good work ethic, often encountered people who recognized their potential and were willing to assist them in their upward mobility. The assist was a hand-up not a hand-out.

I needed a summer job to help support my family between my junior and senior year in high school and my uncle Nelson was able to get me a summer job at the plant where he worked. Before I stared work, he gave me some good advice that was beneficial to me for the rest of my life. He said, “Always be busy because the boss will be watching”. Now he was not telling me just to look busy. He was telling me to do more than the job required and that those extra efforts would be noticed and remembered when a promotion became available. The job advancement, in effect, is a hand-up; a reward for a job well done! I have had many hand-ups from that first factory job and, as a soldier, a college student, a graduate student and a college professor. There was always a boss watching who observed my dedication to duty, sense of responsibility and serious work ethic and was willing to give me a hand-up. Please note that I define a hand-up as a reward and a hand-out as charity. One motivates upward mobility while the other stagnates ambition.

I have some advice for people who want to break the chain of poverty. The US Army has as its recruitment slogan, “Be all that you can be!”. I like it because it implies exactly what I was talking about above. Get a job. Develop a sense of responsibility for your own behavior. Get rid of that degrading belief of entitlement. Develop a work ethic that involves a willingness to go beyond the bare minimum requirements of the job. Study hard, work hard, be a good citizen and I promise you that there will be those in authority who will recognize your efforts as an asset to the organization and will be pleased to offer you a hand-up!

And remember what my uncle Nelson said, “Always be busy because the boss is watching”!

2 thoughts on “Editorial: A Hand Up

  1. You make a lot of assumptions in this post. You don’t know if they have jobs – what if they work at night? what if it was their day off? Maybe they are looking for jobs and haven’t been hired yet. How do you know who pays for their cell phones? Or what that woman the food stamp card was going to spend the money on? Maybe she needed diapers or toilet paper – neither of which are allowed on Food Stamps, but seem to be necessities? (although to be fair, I never heard of someone having more than one food stamp card) Do some people take advantage of the help that is out there? Absolutely. But maybe, just maybe, you should stop trying to assume things about people from just seeing a few seconds of their life. Because those assumptions are part of the problem, too.

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