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Letter: The Poverty That Dare Not Speak Its Name

My advice to teenagers these days is straight forward: Your college diploma must be accompanied with an up-to-date passport because if you are not prepared to leave the U.S. behind and emigrate to where the jobs are located, higher education may prove to be a waste of time and money. I know too many people in their 40s and 50s who have bachelors and masters degrees, years of experience in such fields as engineering and teaching and business management, who are now unemployed and collecting food stamps and other governmental largesse that they paid taxes to support back when they were productive citizens. What’s holding them back is not lack of education, experience, or work ethic, but economic discrimination.

Economic discrimination is the elephant in the living room, nay, a dead and decomposing elephant in the living room. Its previously middle class victims won’t speak of it as there’s a social stigma affixed to being poor because hitherto the chronically unemployed type was a slacker and a troublemaker and the homeless person was the mentally ill fellow on the park bench talking to himself.

Well, not any more. And don’t expect the Romneys and Obamas of the world to deal with economic discrimination either. They are far more interested in providing jobs for people in call centers in India and people entering America illegally from Mexico than about American citizens getting jobs. It’s all about the cheap votes, cheap labor, and corporate profits that buy elections.

What is economic discrimination, you ask? It’s businesses that would rather hire a 20-year-old with a checkered past who can barely read, write, or speak English and exploit him for peanuts than hire a college-educated family man and pay him an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s labor. It’s businesses that won’t hire people who can’t speak Spanish—“bilingual preferred” is how they word it in the classifieds—not because they are an import/export company doing business overseas with Spanish-speaking countries, but because they hire so many Spanish-speaking employees who speak little English. It’s landlords that won’t lease houses and apartments to those potential tenants who can pay the monthly rent simply because unemployment and underemployment has damaged their credit rating.

The last point, as a Levittowner, I find especially disquieting because back in 1947, the Federal Housing Authority strong-armed developers like Levitt & Sons into adding racially discriminatory clauses into their housing contracts until the Supreme Court stepped in and found them unconstitutional.

Today, an engineer or computer technician with a few university degrees, whose credit score is low because his job was outsourced to India and McBurger Friend Taco isn’t hiring the “overqualified” is in the same boat as the African-American family seeking a suburban home back in 1947.

Unfortunately, there are businesses and landlords right here in Levittown that engage in these practices. I boycott them and entreat others to do the same as they do little more than contribute to our community’s deteriorating socioeconomic condition. (Conversely, I frequently promote local businesses supportive of the community.)

Somebody back in the 1980s described the Soviet Union as a “third world country with a first world military capacity.” Indeed, without a thriving and growing middle class, no country can become, or remain, a world power. This economic discrimination has been going on for more than a decade now. The fact that neither Republican or Democratic parties have chosen to address it illustrates the degree to which both are as clueless about the realities of life as the Soviet Communist Party was back in 1990. I suspect that they will join the Soviets in that proverbial rubbish heap of history and our children and grandchildren will struggle to create a new national order.

Paul Manton