Retired newspaper editor and columnist Denny Bonavita of noted I-80 truck stop DuBois, Pa., puts the pencil to Pennsyltucky with his deep insights on deep poverty in Philadelphia. Honestly, the piece wasn't exactly what I expected when I first saw the headline, "Poverty problem in Philadelphia is our problem, too." It turns out that what he means is that the poors are "our problem" because they're stealing Denny Bonavita's money and living high off the hog!
Philly is a notorious "giant sucking sound" on the treasury for the entire state.
"What does it matter for our area? Let Philly go under," we sometimes hear.
But the voting power of Philly and environs ensures that billions in state dollars will continue to flow to Philly. That is money that will not flow to DuBois to underwrite the costs of our schools or fix our roads — or, worse yet, that is money that the state otherwise might not need, so it could stay in our own private bank accounts rather than flow to Harrisburg as tax payments.
I love the next part about "(mostly) caring Christians" but he quickly steamrolled past that, to get to his real point -- that the main problem is that we give the poors just enough money to live the good life (and someone named "Bonavita" knows the good life!) and not have to work -- except maybe for all the ones spending all their Obamabucks on booze or crack.
Philly lost jobs, millions of jobs, during those 50 years. Shipping, manufacturing, textiles all went away. In came drugs, booze, urban decay — and continued government handouts that kept people not just afloat, but comfortable enough to stifle the work ethic and inventiveness that helped to lift previous generations of Americans, including waves of immigrants, out of poverty and into middle-class prosperity.
Instead of "creating jobs" — which is a hogwash euphemism for vote buying — we need to focus on recreating the work ethic, and do away with free cell phones, vehicle subsidies and the like.
I'm sure all the Philadelphia school parents who are out there protesting because their school's already lost its nurse and closed its library and now it's probably going to close altogether because of yet another $200 million gap are thinking the same thing as Denny Bonavita, that life would be much better in the Keystone State if we just sent a few more dollars to DuBois to fix the roads!
Also, putting aside his Reagan-era not-yet-post-racial stereotypes about big city welfare queens, if that's possible, I also enjoyed his throwaway line about the "millions" ("millions"?....forget it, he's rolling) of jobs that Philadelphia lost. He's not good at math,but he's right that manufacturing, textiles and shipping all did go away, to be replaced with a) nothing or b) jobs that pay at or close to the minimum wage for flipping burgers, working at a big box stores, loading luggage or cleaning bed pans -- jobs that often aren't enough to feed a family without food stamps. But programs that address that -- better targeted job training, or extended unemployment benefits until the jobs crisis gets better, and a higher minimum wage so that taxpayers like Denny and me aren't making up the difference -- are what Bonavita calls "vote buying." Instead, he says, people need a work ethic for the "millions" of jobs that actually don't exist.
I love how so many folks on one hand acknowledge the reality of deindustrialization -- but on the other hand completely discount it as a factor for poverty. Imagine if we could only survive by fishing for our dinner -- and one day they came and drained the lake. Denny Bonavita would be on the shore with his bullhorn. Cast out farther! Try a different bait!
Bonavita needs to get in his car, turn off his AM talk-radio pre-sets, and come to Philadelphia and meet some real-life poor people. I'd be happy to set that up. I'm sure that -- despite our different ideas -- we'd trade old war stories about 1980s Atex terminals in the newsroom and get along great. If he's willing to come, we can show him the truth: That being poor and raising kids in Philadelphia in 2014 is hard work, and it's a lifestyle that absolutely no one signs up for...even with the "vehicle subsidies," whatever those even are.
In theory, it doesn't matter much what Bonavita thinks of us here in Philly. But in reality, there are "millions" of Bonavitas in the central and western Pennsylvania who share his dittohead views, and thanks to gerrymandering, etc., the people they elect and send to Harrisburg have a ridiculous amount of influence over public policy in Philadelphia.
When you wonder why we can't expand Medicaid for the working poor, enact a livable minimum wage, or pay for even passable public schools (also a problem in DuBois, apparently!), those "informed" decisions in the state capital are based on the pearls of wisdom from back home, spelled out in a column like this one. I guess we could try to call Bonavita up and set him straight. Thank God for our free Obamaphones!