My friend John was downsized out of his job about a year ago. He ended up working for Walmart for a fraction of his previous salary. A few months after starting at Walmart, John said to me:
“I never realized being poor takes so much time. It takes me hours to get to work. Any little errand takes more hours. And the bus is expensive relative to my income.”
Much of Europe has passed the USA in social mobility. The USA was once the “land of opportunity”, the land where hard work would make you prosperous. Somehow we have lost the opportunity. Today hard work just makes you tired.
What does Europe have that we don’t, how do Europeans provide an escape route from poverty.
The answer is really pretty simple.
Good public transportation so people can get to work and to the grocery store. Good health care so people are healthy and energetic. Good education, including free technical schools and college so a bright poor person can get marketable skills. Good, free care for pre-schoolers so a young couple can continue to work.
With this sort of support system a poor person can work their way into the middle class or the upper class. Without these support systems a poor person simply can’t make it.
We whine about bus systems that don’t pay their way, they need subsidies and we don’t like that. Somehow we don’t notice that our automobiles require massive subsidies in the form of roads.
Currently a little more than half of Americans are either in poverty or very close to it. A nation that traps half of its people in poverty is in a death spiral.
The primary institutions that provide an escape route from poverty are easy to provide. Public transportation. Free training and education. Healthcare for all. Childcare. There is no mystery about these things, every European nation manages it. All it takes is money and we are still quite rich as a nation. It is not too late to get our priorities right and to harness the talents of all of our citizens.
It is not only necessary for the nation’s survival. It is also the right thing to do.