GUEST COLUMN: What about those under the middle class?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:03 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 30, 2010

We have been admiring the amazingly attractive Obama family and naturally attempting to establish an affinity between the Obamas and ourselves. Meanwhile, we already have a kinship with other human beings who deserve as much attention as the Obamas but are ignored or forgotten by us and others. Our ignored kin are no less noble and worthy of our respect and attention. Yet they appear to only gain a little of our attention, which we appear to only give to them begrudgingly. We are all God's children, and as a consequence, we are related.

When our presidential candidates said they were going to "save America," they were quick to use the phrase middle-class Americans, not low-income, under-employed, uncounted, unemployed or any term related to our kin who live at a low- or no-income level.

They are perceived as powerless, hard to reach and insignificant. They are often unseen or ignored by all but photographer lenses, when images of plight are needed. They lack wealth. Financial wealth is a prominent predictor of our ability to sustain in periods of crisis such as ill health, hunger and depression. Too few programs are directed toward helping our forgotten kin. A large number of our forgotten kin are people of color, though many more are Caucasian. They are the people who Reagan's trickle-down theory rarely touched. They are the ones who Bush's thousand points of light left in the shadows. They are the victims of Clinton'sfailed Welfare to Work program. They represent the streets Obama's organizing missed in Chicago. Programs, which claim to work from the bottom up, often focus above the forgotten kin. Promises are directed toward the upper class with tax cuts, toward the middle class with jobs, but rarely toward our forgotten kin.

These are the people who many community organizers and formal service delivery programs ignored. They are not counted as unemployed because they no longer receive unemployment or seek employment. They rarely seek food stamps or lodging at homeless shelters. Their children only receive medical and school assistance when it is absolutely necessary. They are often uncounted in the census and the judicial system except for those who are incarcerated.

These are the people who are most negatively affected when catastrophe strikes. They are the first affected, and last to recover, i.e. Katrina. They are not considered as good candidates for hope. Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint don’t communicate with these people even though they talk about them. Our kin have written off the formal media as insignificant to their lives. They only get media attention regarding the negative aspect of their lives. They live moment-to-moment. Quite often, the moments are not good. Sometimes the moments are productive. Rarely do they get media attention. It should not surprise us when our forgotten kin cry out in despair and with anti-social behaviors. They mistakenly believe these behaviors will allow them to be heard legitimately.

Our forgotten kin possess the same nobility as the Obamas. They may lack opportunity, luck and desired social, psychological and material resources. But they are still our kin.

Our forgotten kin are people living at the bottom of a half-filled glass of hope. It is never too late to assist them.

We try to ignore our brothers, sisters, parents and other kin who reside at this level of the glass, but they will not go away. They may multiply. They are here and will need addressing, whether or not we choose to do it. If we should address them, it must be in their own context. Any desired change must be relevant to our kin.

We need to build bridges between them and ourselves. Bridges can’t be built by preaching about what they should or should not do. Trust has to be developed so that we can establish a helpful environment. We must acknowledge the legitimacy of their context before we can engage in strategies to make legitimate changes in their lives.

We must start where they are and move with them at their own pace. We can join them in determining a way out of their negative circumstance with appropriate programs. We must first stop ignoring them and extend a hand out— not down — to them. They are not the least of us. They are us in a different circumstance. Their circumstance can change with our help.

A positive change for our kin will mean a positive change for all of us.

William E. "Gene" Robertson is a professor emeritus at MU.

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Ayn Rand February 11, 2009 | 11:32 a.m.

We've spent hundreds of billions since the Great Society days, and what do we have to show for it? Shoveling more good money after bad isn't suddenly going to help people who make poor choices.

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Charles Dudley Jr February 11, 2009 | 12:12 p.m.

Great article and we need more such advocates as you Mr Robertson.

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