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February 25, 2011

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While aerobics instructors and trainers may not make great salaries, owning a wellness/fitness center(s) might make for a good living.

My business partner, who I discuss personal finances with, plans to teach fitness as an income supplement to an early semi-retirement. I'm impressed with how much she already makes off of it part time considering its also the best thing she could ever do for her health.

I shop locally and am willing to pay a premium because I'm tired of the homogenization of American cities. Of course, I'm only willing to pay a certain amount of premium.

Given the amount of effort it takes, an unsatisfied self-employed person's business is quickly bankrupt or wound down, so this makes sense.

I shop big box and when it makes sense I shop on the Internet.

Porter's Five Forces analysis would indicate that locally owned stores selling commodity goods doesn't make economic sense.

THis set of numbers all seems realistic. No surprises.

I work at our county's social services agency, which includes the food stamp program. I agree with your #4 statement about the goverment not being the best way to help people. In my personal experience, about half of that 40 million are people who just won't work. The goverment has crippled them by giving them handouts instead of creating real jobs and making them work. And I'm conflicted about this because I'm glad they can get food stamps so their children don't starve because of their laziness, but those same children are going to fall into that same lifestyle when they are grown, creating an even bigger strain on the government.

Just to be fair and not to make anyone mad at me, there are also lots of people who receive stamps just because they have fallen on hard times: unemployment, sickness, their work hours have been cut, etc. They don't like being on stamps and are actively looking for ways not to be. There are also elderly people, single parents who work but get no child support, etc. These are the people I like to help because they are trying to provide for themselves and their families but circumstances beyond their control have gotten them to the point that they can't.

As for your #3 statement, I don't know how we can afford that type of spending because our state has frozen yearly merit raises for its employees 5 times in the 10 years I have worked here. We are currently under a hiring freeze and there is talk of furloughs/layoffs for state employees. Which means less tax money they are bringing in from all those state employees, less spending by those state employees, etc. And this is going on all across the country in other fields. Our unemployment rate has jumped just like everywhere else and applications for food stamps are flying out of our office like crazy.

People are always talking about how Soc Sec is broke, but from what I've seen the entire system is broken and the future isn't looking good for our country. Please forgive my rant, but this is a pet peeve of mine.

@Broken
First of all let me say how much I liked your well written blog.

The main reason why the future isn't looking good for our country is that, unlike us, it hasn't been living within its means for a very long time.

The dam suffered a large break during the Reagan administration - remember the "Trickle Down" theory that if you cut taxes for the rich then the benefits trickle down to the poor. Bill Clinton finally closed the break the year he left office, and then George W. Bush opened it wide again with the two wars, the unfunded tax cuts for the wealthy and the unfunded medicare prescription drug plan. Then, as a direct result of outsourcing all of the production, that used to be performed here at home, to countries with low labor rates so as to increase the bottom line for large companies and help wealthy investors, came the greatest recession this country has ever known. Then in an attempt to save our largest institutions and companies from bankruptcy the break became the largest it has ever been and currently the hope that it can ever be repaired is getting dimmer and dimmer, especially now that the two political parties are at loggerheads over what needs to be done. It reminds me of the phrase, "Nero fiddled while Rome burned", at a time when Italy was a great world power just like us.

Great empires have risen and fallen throughout history. When I was a 5 year old boy half the globe was colored pink and the sun never set on the British Empire. The Queen still reigns, bless her heart, but Britain's wealth disappeared during WWII in its effort to stay afloat, the empire is now long gone and the country is a shadow of what it used to be during its former greatness. Visit some of Britain's large cities these days and you may think you are in India, Pakistan, or Africa. History keeps repeating itself, that's a fact of life.

The stockmarket has been rising nicely this year but the primary reason is "QE2", the Second Quantitative Easing program of the Federal Reserve Bank, that supposedly ends in June, whereby 100 billion dollars every month is loaned to the largest Wall St. Investment Banks to invest with the express idea of attracting more money into the market, driving up interest rates, and increasing inflation. The program has been very successful and commodity prices have risen greatly all over the world, greatly impacting the cost of food in poor, arid, countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen where some families spend 80% of their income on food.

In these times, my motto is "Look after #1", where #1 stands for my own family.

Broken, I feel a little torn about your comment-I think you're absolutely right, there are people on food stamps who just refuse to work (in my congregation we have two families on stamps, one working really hard to get off of food stamps, one who just assumes no one would ever hire him) but I'm not sure how we figure out which is which, and I guess I'd also acknowledge that food stamps are pretty cheap for our government in the larger scheme of things-58 billion dollars a year, or roughly 2% of our national spending. I'd be much happier seeing us cut spending on other things, namely health care expansion and the military, costs that take up 40% of our budget before cutting food aid for the poorest people in our country.

I agree with you Old Limey-the biggest problem is not living within our means. I didn't even go into the waste that I see in goverment, for instance, all state employees will soon get two computer monitors b/c apparently someone doesn't realize there is a minimize/maximize button on the programs. Then there's the discretionary director's money that our office gets every few years to buy additional equipment and/or supplies that are outside the normal budget. This is use it or lose it money and my director tries to be very frugal and conscientous, but we have 3 large filing cabinets sitting in our hallway-empty-b/c we didn't actually need them and a laminator that has never been used. Gee, no wonder the state can't give us a raise.

I was still sublimely oblivious of politics during the Reagan and Bush #1 eras. Clinton went into office a year before I was legal to vote. Probably only in the last 10 years have I started to pay attention to politics and frankly it gives me a sense of panic to watch the news, so I avoid it most days. Most likely it won't be long before the American 'empire' falls. We already look like stumbling drunks.

Fortunately, as a Christian, I know that I have a higher authority in place. However, as a Christian, I am terribly conflicted about our government programs. I know that we are supposed to help the poor in their distress. But it's hard to have the mind of Christ when one of those poor cusses you out because they didn't get their food stamps on time (b/c they didn't turn in paperwork on time btw). And, oh also btw, their food stamp allottment is almost twice what my grocery budget is (I have a two income household with four guys to feed.) It's hard to just stand there and take that from a perfectly healthy, able bodied, grown man who quit his job b/c I dont' know, maybe they expected him to actually work while he was at work. That's just one scenario.

So you see, StLpastor, I struggle daily and am torn daily by having to work out my faith in a place like this. I struggle with feelings of hypocrisy and bitterness. Most days the loud, angry, insolent voices of the people who suffer from entitlement syndrome drown out the meek and mild voices of the genuinely needy and truly appreciative.

The last thing I want to do is sound like some WASPy white chick, so I'll also say that God led me to recently ask to take over our office's emergency food pantry and...to take my meager mileage check that I get every month and buy food to put in that pantry. B/c God knows that I focus too much sometimes on the big political picture and forget to bring it down to the level of one hurting, needy person....the least of these.

Broken,
I'm sorry if I came off critical-I didn't intend to be. I struggle a LOT with how to demonstrate Christian love. You didn't even engage with the issue of drug and alcohol abuse, but I know the vast majority people in my community who are the poorest are addicted to drugs, alcohol, and often cigarettes, spending much more on these self destructive habits than on self improvement and health. And I'm sure the abuse you take is frustrating-I know how hard it is for me when I have to say no to people in my congregation and strangers who come to the church door asking for help and to have them grumble (or even to help, and still get no gratitude).

I struggle as a middle class person in how to balance things-to acknowledge the ways that poverty is a generational thing, and society can perpetuate it through mass incarceration and other practices, to understand how mental illness really is a significant part of a lot of homelessness in our country, and I wonder if maybe the entitlement culture is just the price of keeping truly needy people from being completely destitute. But I also want to challenge the poor people I work with to abandon their sense of entitlement and to adopt values that will lead to an actual life transformation and a better future for their children, since working hard and staying out of trouble and spending less than you earn really does work. Blessings on the work that you do, and the people you help.

StLpastor-
I didn't think you were being critical;I fully understood what you were saying. Looking back on my comment, I realize I may have sounded defensive, but that was actually my frustration with my own shortcomings and my inability to 'fix' the situation or myself leaking out. And you are right, addictions run rampant among the poor. My own father was an alcoholic (it was the death of him by the time I was 15) and I remember many times when there was beer in the fridge if there was nothing else. He couldn't keep a job, neither of my parents finished high school, my mother had to work minimum wage jobs to keep us going, and at times, we were on food stamps. So at one time I was in that statistic group.

And I refused to stay there. I'm no after school special success story :), but I refuse to be in bondage to alcohol....or poverty-which is why I read this blog! Ultimately, there are no easy solutions for any of these issues. I could always quit my job or find another if I don't want to deal with this mess, but I realize that God has placed me in such constant contact with these rough edged people to sand down my own rough edges. And as a Christian I still have a responsibility to help the poor. Which is why I am making myself contribute to the food pantry that will serve the people who cuss me out. I may have to grit my teeth and bite my tongue while I do it, but....

Thanks for hearing me and good luck to you in your own ministry.

(FMF-sorry for getting off on this tangent in your comments and keep up the good work.)

I became self-employed last May, and I can testify to the fact that I am much, much happier now than I was when I worked for others. I'm making far less money now than before while I build the business, and I'm still in the red, but the gap is narrowing and I should be profitable in another year and, eventually, make more money than I ever dreamed of. I didn't do it for the money, though, but for my sanity. I have hectic days, but I no longer dread going into work, and when I feel I need a day off, I take it. My new boss is great! :)

Broken:
Back in the 80's my wife used to work as a teacher in a school where there was a State funded program to help single as well as married mothers obtain educational and/or work skills so that they could get off welfare, obtain a job, and become self supporting. The program worked wonders for the Vietnamese boat people that were refugees from the Vietnam war that came to California in large numbers. They had a lot of pride and wanted to be productive members of their new country, and it wasn't very many years before they achieved their goals and started earning too much money to still be eligible to stay in the program. These parents also had cultural beliefs that they passed on to their children that education was the way to become successful, and not only were their children very well behaved but they had to learn a new language, as well as acting as interpreters for their parents, and today, decades later, many of them are professionals in high paying jobs, and their children fill the lists of the high school valedictorians that are published in our newspaper at graduation time. It's interesting that we also have one school district that now has a very high percentage (over 90%) of Asian students and families willingly pay higher prices for homes that are in that district because of the very high educational test scores that are also published in the newspaper.

Unfortunately there was another large group that were born here that entered the system and they seemed to have no incentive to acquire educational or job skills and leave the program but rather to have more children, collect every benefit possible such as food stamps, assisted housing, welfare, healthcare etc. This group never stressed education to their children as the path to success and they went on to become the teenagers that we read about in the newspaper that have huge high school dropout rates, extra high unemplyment rates and contribute greatly to the crime rate.

My wife and another teacher also tried to show many of these mothers how to prepare nutritional, healthy, and inexpensive meals for their children by buying food items in the supermarket that were in season and good value for money, and with a little work could be made into very tasty meals and soups for their children. The program never caught on because the mothers preferred to take their kids to a fast food restaurant where they could buy them a Happi Meal and a Soda rather than cooking a meal at home.

Now that our state is like many others that are trying to balance their budget there will be heavy cuts made to these kind of programs which doesn't bode well for the future.

Broken said: "I don't know how we can afford that type of spending because our state has frozen yearly merit raises for its employees 5 times in the 10 years I have worked here"

Food stamps are paid for by the federal government. They are administered by states but the money comes from the fed. So a state might have budget problems but that won't really impact food stamps.

The food stamp program definitely has some problems but its certainly a good program overall. Theres a small % of fraud, people buying unhealthy food, unemployed yuppies eating at whole foods, etc. But by and large this program is there to help poor families from going hungry. 80% of the food stamp recipients are households with children. Some of their parents may be irresponsible screw ups but at least the kids get some food this way. Even with the abuse, 'entitlement mentality' etc. its a good program and worth the funding. As a % of the federal budget its really a drop in the bucket compared to the positive benefits it has.


I was really struck by the statement that "95 percent of Self-employed Americans are "completely satisfied" or "mostly satisfied" with their jobs." I want to join that club! I'd love to hear comments from people who are self-employed -- what do you do, how well does it pay, how much do you work, and how much do you love it? I'm planning/hoping that I can afford to leave corporate life in the next 3-5 years, currently saving as much as I can (and investing in rental houses for side income and experience), so that I can start working for myself. However I haven't found my next endeavor yet (it has to be fun, profitable, and not an insane workload). FMF -- have you had any discussion on this topic in the past?

I do actually understand the difference between the state and federal gov't. A good part of time at the office is spent making sure we do things timely and correctly in order to pull down federal dollars. That statement, Jim, was an expression of my complete lack of faith in the efficiency of gov't at any level. And I would amend your statement-there's a small % of fraud- to say---that we can prove.

I'm not saying the FS program doesn't have positive benefits for some. I will defer to the very wise, very godly late Larry Burkett who, in his book Using Your Money Wisely: Biblical Principles Under Scrutiny, states: With the best of intentions, our welfare system traps people at the lowest economic level through indiscriminate giving....Indiscriminate giving traps the recipients by making them dependent. He further states, and I agree, In Scripture....those who were poor-not lazy-were worthy of support. This comes from the chapter titled: Is Welfare Scriptural?

I have no problem helping the poor, widows and orphans. It is the lazy that do not deserve our support.

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