Dear better future,
The laws that I want to change are mostly subject to which sociology class I'm in at the moment. I'm still learning and figuring out what I personally think is the core of the issue. Maybe ask this question again in a year or two and we'll see how I feel then.
For now, there are two things that I think I really want to change. And it all has to do with how we handle poverty in this country. Some information:
- The United States has some of the highest rates of poverty of all the developed countries, and we have the weakest safety net to support those who need help. (see source charts here. A very interesting read!)
- Upward mobility in the U.S. also lags behind other countries.
- The greatest predictor of child outcomes is the socioeconomic status of their parents
- Over 43% of people born in the bottom quintile of earnings remain in the bottom quintile.
- People think that the U.S. welfare system "increases dependency" and makes recipients lazy because they're taking handouts. Totally false. Over 71% of welfare recipients with kids have at least one family member working. Many of those who don't work are physically limited and can't work, though they wish to. Lots more are students who are in school and don't have time to work and attend school and support their family. Welfare recipients are not lazy.
- For more information about welfare in the US compared to other countries see this article.
- Poverty is strongly tied to race and single-motherhood.
- The wealth gap is ever increasing because we continue to make policies that help people that are already on top of the game.
The United States pretty much criminalizes poverty. Even if poor people weren't criminalized, at the very least we talk about them like they're either too lazy to get a job or they're just dumb. I mean, think about the stereotypes that we give poor people (white trash, daddy-issues, welfare queens, dirty hobos, lazy millennials living in their mom's basement...) The Protestant Work Ethic has woven its way into the fiber of American moral judgment, so we think that we deserve everything we earn and people who are down on their luck deserve what they've got as if their situations are entirely their own faults. Really those people most often have become the victims of unfair systems that make it more or less impossible for them to get on top of things.
You know how in Mario Kart the blue shells only hit the person in first place? Yeah. That seems like it makes sense, right? You wouldn't throw blue shells at the person in last place, that's just rude! But that's exactly how the U.S. treats the poor and marginalized. They have to take hit after hit after hit and then people expect them to get back up. Doesn't make any sense, it's not Christian, it's not kind, it's not moral.
I know a lot of people are going to read this and disagree with me. Lots of people think that the welfare system we have in place is already a huge waste of money. It's better to give fast offerings so you know your money isn't getting wasted (I can't disagree with that point, though. The LDS humanitarian services are a great example.) I get that. I'm not suggesting we go socialist or that every rich family has to adopt a poor family to support, or whatever else. I agree, some people do work harder than others, and we ought to reward that. Some of us don't actually want to be super rich. Some of us want a more modest living and we would be happy. That's awesome. We don't need everyone to have the same amount of money, but we do need to do a better job at taking care of people who need it. We need to fix the systems that are broken so that everyone has a fair shot at achieving their dreams, and that starts with poverty, I think. Especially poverty that is partial to specific races and genders.
So. The two things I would like to change (though I don't think they're actually 'single federal laws'):
- A more efficient and humane safety net for the impoverished (aka, better welfare system). There are some parts of it that are fine. I think work requirements make sense. But I think we could definitely improve what we have. Housing stipends especially would be incredibly helpful, as most Americans who live in poverty end up dedicating over half their income each month to housing. I'm not an expert on this subject... but I believe we should dedicate some serious analysis to the welfare system to see what we can do. America could be great, but it's only as great as the collection of its citizens, and right now we aren't doing a great job taking care of them.
- Better shelters for the homeless. I have a few ideas for how we could turn 'soup kitchens' into something a little better. If people are already volunteering, I think it could be possible to organize homeless shelters that have classes on financial independence and planning, maybe some running haircutting stations etc... that kind of thing. Have a better support system to give people a little bit of a push back on their feet, give them some momentum. That's not really a law or anything... but just an idea.
If we could cut the severity of economic inequality, I think we would start to see serious improvements in the way society functions, how the education system works, and lots more. The U.S. is filled with a lot of issues and inequalities, but compared to other developed countries, perhaps one of the most embarrassing is our approach to poverty. And in my opinion, that's where we need to start.