The opinions stated in this article are solely those of the author and not of The Davis County Clipper.
This is a story of Ralston and Bryce and Emma. It is also a story about economics and income.
Recently a Pittsburgh journalist gave his opinion on welfare in a nationally-syndicated column. He wrote, “It is good for human beings to have things they must do. It is good to have deadlines and pressure and jobs and projects we must completeЙAs we succeed we are lifted upЙSo why are we encouraging so many people to not achieve self-sufficiency through our welfare programs?”
Using statistics from the conservative Heritage Foundation, he writes that federal and state welfare spending is 16 times greater today than when the War on Poverty was launched in the mid-60s Р yet the 15 percent of Americans on welfare has remained the same, despite expenditures of some $20 trillion.
He is correct in that would should not incentivize people not to work, and he is also correct that humans feel self-worth when holding down a job or accomplishing a task. And it got me thinking about Ralston, Bryce, and Emma.
I have met Ralston and Bryce only one time, but a close friend knows them very well. The two occupy distinctly different spots on the income ladder. Ralston lives in the Midwest. He and his wife hold down relatively low-paying jobs, he in landscaping, she in an office cubicle. They live in a small house, own one vehicle, have virtually no savings, and “splurge” once a month by going to dinner at Applebees.
Bryce, on the other hand, is nearing retirement and has more than $4 million in cash, stocks, and bonds. He and his wife take frequent vacations, think nothing of dropping $200 on a fine dining dinner complete with expensive wine, and own an impressive residential spread in a suburban Utah community.
“The irony,” says my friend who know them well, “is that Ralston and his wife are probably happier than Bryce and his spouse. Ralston’s job gives him some health benefits, he never expected much out of life, and he’s happy as a clam working outdoors in a job he’s good at. Obviously, money is not the only determinant of happiness and personal satisfaction.”
While I have only a passing acquaintance with Ralston and Bryce and their spouses, I often see Emma. She and her husband have been married eight years, earn slightly more than minimum wage and live in a Salt Lake City apartment. They have perfected money management. She shops for fresh produce and pasta at the Farmer’s Market, sets a weekly budget and sets aside a small amount for “mad money” adventures. They have traveled to Europe twice and recently spent three days in New York City, all by shopping around for the least expensive hotel accommodations and airfares. In Europe, they often enjoyed picnics rather than chic restaurants.
Yes, there is a place for welfare. A safety net is needed for those who are beaten down by health challenges or temporary job layoffs. A rural West Virginia coalminer is hardly in a position to transport his family to an urban area and immediately enter a new high-tech career.
But self-reliance is a vital ingredient in a purposeful life, regardless of how much money we earn. If welfare programs stunt self-reliance, we should rethink them. Not all of us can be Bryce, but almost all of us can be Ralston and Emma.