One of the ‘disadvantaged’

 We have become used to thinking of the ‘disadvantaged’ as ‘victims’; however, some have done everything to get where they are.  I give you Betty:

This mother of 3, ages 7-12, has 4 years of college, claims to speak 5 languages, and has traveled the world.  Her father was a high government official and most of her brothers and sisters are professionals.  She has a number of good qualities, and there the fun stops.

She was investigated for child neglect, but beat it.  She was evicted from one house.  One visits her home and there might be a beat-up car parked the wrong way or one abandoned in the drive.  The front and back yards are usually a mess.  A faucet drips making a puddle near the entrance.  A smoke detector bleeps for months, needing a battery.

The inside looks like a cyclone hit.  It’s crowded with expen­sive furniture that was shipped at more than it was worth.  Everything is stacked and strewn about.  There is no place to put anything.  The food is left out and spoils.  The toothbrushes are in the same glass touching each other.

She asks people to work on things when there isn’t the space, tools, light, manuals, or peace and quiet.  When being told simple alternatives to repairs, she doesn’t listen.

Once she had two families living there plus an illegal alien.  Usually it’s her family, a nephew or two, a roomer, and some down-and-outer referred from church.

Since her place is a disaster, the only people who stay there are ner-do-wells.  She cooks and cleans up after them.  Some sponge off her, break things, get into the mail, don’t take messages, run up the phone bill, take drugs, steal things, and move out, owing her rent.  She finds another who causes trouble for a while, moves out, and then she finds another as bad.  She doesn’t learn.

She is always late, overwhelmed, and unable to find things.  When a free washer and dryer were offered, she turned them down as they didn’t come with installation.

The kids and the roomers run her ragged.  Her health and morale break down periodically, and she looks old for her years.

She has no health nor car insurance, yet spent $250 for an answering machine, $400 to bail out a relative (not her responsibility), $1800 for a computer, sent her kids to private schools, and took them across the country.  When the family got back, they didn’t have a ride from the airport; when they got home, they had to break a window to get in.

Her messy car breaks down a lot.  Her phone and table manners are bad, she uses profanity and ethnic slurs around neighborhood kids, and she dumps refuse illegally.

She yells at her kids all day, lets them stay up late, and can’t get them up in the morning.  Her adult video tapes are out where they can see the labels.  Apparently the teenage nephews have seen some and stolen others.  One of them, 16, had her 12 yr. old boy out till 2:00 AM.  The latter calls her ‘mommie,’ won’t study nor lift a finger to help, yet she ‘waits’ on him at meal time.

For all of the above, she has a thousand excuses:  she is the victim, not the cause, the mess is temporary, the neighbors are low class – not her, others don’t know how to handle roomers – she does, other homes are depressing – not hers, people abuse her – not visa versa, even though they do a lot for her, they are ‘cheapskates,’ and she thinks she excels at everything.  All backwards.

Impulsive, nervous, irresponsible, unreliable, dumps her troubles on complete strangers – life owes her a living.  You feel sorry for her relatives, neighbors, and especially her kids, but not for her.

The public needs to know there are people like this.  If they are helped, it should be under the strictest conditions.

Social work in the past – rare wisdom

After frustrating years in social work, I came across an article I wished I’d seen when I was in school about social work in the l9th century.  In those days social workers saw some of the poor as improvident and irresponsible.  If a man came to a social agency hungry, he had to chop wood to get a meal.  If a woman came, she had to sew to get a meal.  This sorted out those who wouldn’t work, and made those who would, feel they had done something to earn their meal.

If a person needed further aid, his background was checked and he was categorized as:

  1. a. Unwilling to work.
  2. b. Willing to work.
  3. c. Unable to work, through no fault of his own, and worthy of relief.

When giving short term relief, the charity gave:   in small quantities, the minimum, what was least susceptible to abuse, less than what the person could get by working, and for the shortest period of time.

When the relief was long term, the charity would:

  1. Restore the ties between the person and his family and friends.
  2. Get their assistance.
  3. Assign a volunteer to the person. 
  4. Require the person to work.  This helped those who were motivated.  Nothing was more demoralizing to those who worked than loafers or the criminal poor who got by or ahead without working.
  5. Meet the person only half way.  Handouts were seen to be as dangerous as drugs; dependency was ‘slavery with a smiling mask’.  Welfare was the worst as it came to be regarded as a right.  [In England it had to be set below the lowest wage so people would  look for work.]

In those days, knowing when not to give assistance was seen as important as when to give it.  This also helped fund-raising efforts, as donors knew their money was used efficiently.

These practices continued until the l890s when the ‘Social Gospel’ emerged, claiming:

  1. None of the poor were improvident, intemperate, lazy, or irresponsible.
  2. Charity must be universal and unconditional.  
  3. Requiring a person to work for a meal was cruel.
  4. A person would not change if challenged, but would change when put in a pleasant material environment where his benevolent nature could come out.  Thus government was to provide agreeable housing.
  5. Compassion equaled money.
  6. Raising money through taxes forced compassion from the public.
  7. Professional social workers were best; volunteers got in the way.
  8. Private charities were bad as they made it easy for government to evade responsibility.

The l960s accelerated this.  Welfare was given on the basis of entitlement, not need, with the result that the poor were worse off, with less hope, less pride, less reason to work, and greater resentment over being dependent. 


Welfare has broken up families, set fatherless boys on the streets, and polarized those who work against those who don’t.  Bad charity (welfare) has driven out good.  The list goes on.  We’d do well to study the past.

Social work myths

The public would be surprised to learn how little is accomplished in social work. They’ll probably never know, however, as results are hard to measure and social workers don’t believe in measuring. One yardstick, though, is the failure of the War on Poverty of the 60s. We spent millions fighting poverty and poverty won.

Social work fails because it postpones traditional values with:


The poor are portrayed as downtrodden ‘victims’ of bad teache­rs, landlords, employers, merchants, police, clinics, whatever. They have ‘fallen through the cracks’, are ‘trapped’, ‘down on their luck’, etc. (Whether they’ve drunk and gambled their money away, committed felonies, or never worked isn’t brought up.)


Each social problem has some deep ‘psychological’ origin. ………. (This is taken to great lengths which relieves the poor of responsibility.)


Only through a close relationship with the social worker can the poor be motivated to improve. ………….. (This creates patronizing, unreal relationships which often backfire.)

Values are relative

This becomes ‘Who are you to impose your middle class values on people in the ghetto? ……………….. (Sounds reasonable, but middle class values are traditional and universal.)

Society is wrong

It is seen as hypocritical, oppressive, exploitive, and racist. …… (This outlook, tolerated in college, is impractical in the real world.)

The poor are victims(if misguided).

They must be helped to come up with values without being prejudiced… …. (This extremely indulgent, blank slate, approach postpones tradi­tional values and doesn’t hold the poor accountable.)

No negatives

(False – if there are posi­tives, there are negatives; if there is reward, there is punish­ment, joy/pain, pride/shame, love/hate, success/failure.)

No Authority  nor discipline, and certainly no punishment. It’s all carrot and no stick … (result is turmoil, complete disorder)

No ‘humiliation’ Even minor teasing is considered ‘humiliation’.

Lure the poor

Programs have to be so appealing the poor will want to join, where society’s values might eventually rub off. This is far too indulgent.


Everyone has to be included and everyone has to progress together. ….. (Naïve and it allows the bad apple to ruin the bunch.)

An example of these myths is a picnic for poor youths from the inner city. Most don’t have the interest nor skills for preparing the food and making the arrangements and are not asked to. Some show up, some don’t. Some expect everyth­ing to be done for them. Some com­plain. Some of the table manners are awful. If there is a baseball game, there is often profani­ty, cheat­ing, screaming, and bullying to win. There can be property damage, injury, verbal abuse, a fight, annoying others nearby which can increase ethnic or class prejudice, the chance of getting kicked out of the park, and embarrassment for the staff (if they would admit it). The next day, however, the staff laughs off everything and talks about all the ‘fun’, ‘growth’, ‘relationships’, and ‘colorful’ stories.

In my many jobs, social workers spoke psycho­babble and spent months developing ‘relationships’ with the youths in hopes some values would rub off. There was a lack of basic literature, and what there was, was unreadable or worthless. The poor were portrayed as miserable, when many were happy (some happier than their social workers). Programs lacked definition and management, and the poor stagnated. The window dressing kept changing, but the work stayed the same (babysitting), and social workers became disillusioned.There were only a few good programs. They swam upstream against the nonsense above, doing thankless work, and producing results, but were constantly criticized by bleeding hearts in academia, the media, and the ACLU.

The views of one of our best known economists [of the 50s] Henry Hazlitt, support my experience. He complained that social workers: never defined ‘poverty’. pitied the pauper, but not the worker nor the taxpayer, talked as if anti-poverty is a recent effort, never faced the dis­astrous results of social progra­ms, wanted no loss of dignity for a person when he got on welfare, but a gain when he got off, coddled the poor despite their agency’s policies to the contrary, worked to make everyone equal by leveling down, never summoning up, preened themselves on compas­sion, systematically ignored the reasons for poverty, insisted on seeing the poor as ‘exploited victims of maldistribu­tions of wealth and heartless laissez faire’, didn’t learn from the past, and didn’t distinguish between poverty caused by misfortune and poverty caused by folly. 

If social work wants to take its place, it should: Drop emotion, guilt, and love and be realistic. Use plain language. Rate programs and literature. Find out how poor immigrants with limited English pass our poor who are fluent in English. Find out why nonprofessionals are effective in helping the poor. Instill traditional values. Require the poor to work before being eligible for job training, and counseling, etc.