Say No To Big Government

Say No To Big Government
M.D. Wright

Say No To Big Government? Why, you say? I’ll give you many reasons. But I will just focus on our wasteful, dysfunctional, lying local government (mayor); which pretends to care about the needs of its constituency, the front-running, grand-standing, whitewashed tomb that is City Hall (giving off appearances of doing good, but internally evil), the inefficient, wasteful, give-appearances-but-do-nothing-in-reality, city agencies and ALBANY with its band of crooks from all over New York State. I won’t even go there about Washington and the Obama Administration. There are not enough hours in the day and I don’t want to go on a 50,000 word column rant — because I definitely could. But I’m going to focus on what affects the 8.5 million New York City residents.

1. Taxes
We’ve long had some of the highest taxes in the nation in this city alone. The state taxes pretty much parallel those of the city, and upstate residents have never been happy about funding the wasteful spending habits of New York City, because their hard-earned/hard-to-come-by earnings pay for some of the frivolous spending that takes place here. But we are close to paying 9% on everything we buy (aside from the $110 retail sales limit, which the city is considering to repeal). Never mind the cost of living, the real estate, the added cost that is built into anything that is purchased in Manhattan (whether it be food, rent, clothing, etc.) due to any business owner paying higher taxes to recoup the costs associated with their high real estate overhead costs. The middle class is almost non-existent in New York City.

Consider this, the rich are the ultra-rich and most of the richest people in the nation live here or at least own property here; even if many have left since the last series of taxes have caused them to leave in an uproar (Rush Limbaugh among them, although I call ‘good riddance’). Without a middle class to tax, the working poor, which comprises more than half of the city’s population get squeezed even further. Not only do taxes increase annually, but so do rents (7% on average; rent-stabilized/controlled apartments excluded, obviously). Rich people, contrary to staunch Republican and/or conservative belief — do not pay much in taxes. They have TAX SHELTERS, which allow for them to provide funding for “foundations” and “organizations” in the name of avoiding their near 40% tax bills. This is one of the reasons the city is broke — poorer people cannot afford to pay taxes and many more are exhausting unemployment benefits (if they haven’t completely exhausted them already) or are new welfare recipients — many of whom are college graduates and those who were making $50,000 or even $100,000 plus just two or three years ago in some cases.

Who is funding these programs? Yes, some tax dollars come from the people who receive the benefits, but the so-called middle class is disappearing, because they fund not only the working poor, but the ultra rich and their lifestyles (look at the condition of subway stations and streets where the rich live, versus those where the people who are taxed the most — and actually PAY taxes). It is embarrassing. The corruption at City Hall and in Albany is to blame. I am not a fan of punishing the rich; no matter how they earned their riches, whether it be by birth/inheritance, by hard work and honest business dealings, or long-time exploitation of the very people they helped oppress (although I do not feel sorry for the latter group being punished — and they’re typically the ones whining the loudest).

Businesses claim they cannot afford to hire new workers, and to an extent it is true — payroll tax (40%), capital gains tax (21%) and corporate taxes (over 40%) prohibit many businesses who would love to hire people — from doing so. Others, some of which pay executives 8 figure “golden parachutes”, still cry poor when they have every capability to hire at will. They would rather overburden their shrunken staffs with work that would require 5 or 6 people to do — all under the responsibility of one or maybe two people. All in the name of increasing the bottom line. However, what this does is continue to stress an already creaking infrastructure and a collapse will soon be imminent.

I won’t even go NEAR the hiring practices of some companies, because I refuse to ignite people who accept the various, intricate forms of discrimination that exist.

2. City Agencies
For years, welfare was inefficient. Most would agree, even recipients. In 1996, then-President Bill Clinton passed legislation that would end the original welfare. I applauded it, because too many people milked the system while the middle class continued to see their hard-earned tax dollars go to people who frivolously spent their benefits on anything other than food (in some cases, before the Electronic Balance Transfer [EBT] inception — on beer, cigarettes and in some instances, ILLEGAL DRUGS). I was always incensed by witnessing this, because I have paid taxes for 16 years. I’ve seen such exploitation of benefits every place I’ve lived. The worst has been here in uptown Manhattan, but I won’t delve into that.

City agencies have never been accused of being efficient or even compassionate. The Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) has so many major problems that they cannot be listed here. Some of them are internal, some are bureaucratic in nature. The problem has been bureaucracy, but also the people who work within this organization and others like it have developed a sense of apathy; even those who have the compassion and heart to be proactive and serve their communities. So many hamstrung social workers are prevented from stepping in and helping avoid situations where children have been killed because of the bureaucracy.

The city’s social services and welfare programs are a joke. So many new college graduates, Masters recipients, even Juris Doctorates and Ph.D. holders are among the New Working Poor since 2008 in New York. Some can’t find jobs because they are misaligned. Others have realized that it requires extensive networking contacts with clout to even land a job, regardless of the level of their education. Many are on welfare (food stamps, cash assistance, rent stipends, etc.) for the first time in their lives, or sometimes in their family’s history. It is a startling problem.

When then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani decided that using euphemisms to address the Welfare Offices (he renamed them “Job Centers”), he expressed a desire to place a higher emphasis on “working” rather than the perception that welfare was a handout system. I had no problem with this initially, but the implementation over the past 15 years has been abysmal. There has been an intricate setup where the Job Centers conduct intake and assessment of new applicants. A great number of the people who enter Job Centers have been unemployed for months or YEARS in some cases, have exhausted their unemployment benefits (which they themselves PAID into — so the attitude that “why are they allowed to sit home and receive MY tax dollars” is ridiculous), and have little to no savings — as you are not allowed to have more than $2,000 in savings or retirement accounts, or real estate holdings at the time of application. For sure, there are loopholes around this; as there are people who still work and earn almost $100,000 annually receiving these benefits. And yes, THEY ARE OUT THERE AND SOME OF US KNOW THEM PERSONALLY.

The outrage comes from those who are forced to enter “Back to Work” programs, which are laughable. They only cater to the undereducated, not realizing the new poor are mostly college graduates or those who have completed a good portion of undergraduate studies and have substantial work experience. They are forced to “work” for their benefits, even if the benefits themselves are paltry and do not resolve any real financial issues in the home. The benefits are structured to be supplements to other income or savings, but in the case of 75% of the people on welfare, they HAVE little or none of each (which is one of the very stipulations for receipt of benefits as I originally mentioned — it’s a circle of oppression). There are people at these Back to Work programs who are then sent to “Work Experience Programs”. Again, for those with substantial work experience, this is a colossal waste of time. They know how to work, they’ve had a structured work/home life for years. They just need help. These program requirements do more harm than good. The amount of time that is required (35 hours per week) sometimes prevents useful job searching efforts.

Let’s not even begin to attack the level of employment provided by these agencies. Barely-minimum wage jobs, and the desire to keep the recipients “locked” into the program (by almost discouraging obtaining work that pays more than $14/hour or $28,000 per year) all propagate the vicious cycle. After months of dealing with the inefficiencies, many people give up and others, even the strongest-willed amongst them all. This lends to the stigma that welfare produces — but from the outside looking in, people fail to realize how demoralizing the process is, regardless of how motivated the recipients are to get (back) to work, or even get on their feet for the first time in their lives; as some of the recipients are ex-convicts, former homeless, domestic abuse victims or former runaways and the emancipated poor.

There is so much waste at every level within this program that it would make Tammany Hall blush with envy. I won’t go any further, but people who have never been on welfare should never wonder why this city is broke and why so many homeless, drug dealers/addicts and demoralized workers making $8/hour (which should be illegal in this city) exist.

3. Unemployment
The unemployment rates are high. Period. Congress and President Obama continue to state that the DEPRESSION… ehem, “Recession” is “over”.

Who are they fooling? With what numbers do they base this?

When unemployment is below 4% again (and less than 3% amongst the college-educated), then say it. Otherwise, KNOCK IT OFF, liars.

And they massage the numbers to look like what they want. The nationwide figures are about 9%. In New York City, it is about 12%. In Harlem it is about 20% (and solely amongst Blacks and Latinos in New York City, it is closer to 25% — and that is only buoyed by women of both ethnic groups, because the men amongst both are unemployed at an even HIGHER rate in Harlem, Washington Heights and the Bronx). Best Buy, Costco and Marshall’s at the East River Plaza on E. 117th Street in Harlem were required due to their agreement with STRIVE to hire from the Harlem neighborhood. Predictably, they found loopholes and hired from other boroughs or from downtown Manhattan. Their whole claim when building that eyesore on the FDR was to help revitalize the economy condition of the Harlem area and the immediate surrounding neighborhoods. What ends up happening (and the only reason I have a problem with the new Harlem residents) is you have people come from downtown or other neighborhoods who move to Harlem, but spend their money everywhere else BUT Harlem. That does not “revitalize” anything. That is solely tantamount to moving here for cheaper rents and that is it. These people put their children in schools on the Upper East Side or West Side or downtown (money not going into Harlem), they spend their leisure downtown (understandable, but still — there is a burgeoning nightlife on each side of Harlem), they shop, eat and recreate elsewhere. Where is the revitalization? The income gap in Harlem is startling, especially on the Columbia University side, where millionaires share sidewalks with the homeless and some even live on the same street with people who are on Section 8 and on the verge of eviction due to previous Mitchell-Lama project housing being converted to private homes and “condos” being sold at outrageous prices — which naturally prevent longtime Harlem residents from purchasing.

The stats are being manipulated and massaged by the city and government in Washington to make things seem like they are getting better. I know several dozen people who have one or more college degrees who cannot find work. There aren’t jobs, that, or companies aren’t hiring (and discrimination taking place in some instances). Women are perceived as “less threatening” which is why they are not being hit as hard by unemployment as men are.

I hear officials state that “unemployment claims” are down, but what does that really mean? So many millions have gone onto unemployment since 2005, and many have exhausted their benefits. So while there aren’t as many NEW CLAIMS, anyone with a brain knows that is because eligible recipients are already ON unemployment. Then the income levels come into play. You have to be an AmeriCorps volunteer or homeless (virtually) to receive cash assistance and have to fight for weeks to get any sort of benefits from the city whatsoever. Most people are told they make “too much money” in order receive anything. The poverty level nationally is considered to be about $14,000, but in New York City, it should be $40,000. No exaggeration. With the average rent being about $1,450 monthly, the cost of grocery roughly $200 per person, or $500 per family of 4 monthly, rising cost of MetroCard fare (due to the continued corruption and mismanagement throughout every level of the MTA) to $104 monthly, who is truly below the “poverty” line here? A person earning $40,000 annually brings home about $29,000 after taxes annually. That is a little under $2,500 per month. With the figures just stated, how is anyone able to pay for those things, save AND/OR enjoy any sort of social life? I want someone to leave political agendas and their partisan sidings on the bench and TRUTHFULLY tell me how this bodes well for anyone?

This is what happened in New York in the 70s and it is going to be much worse this time if they don’t fix it soon. Inflation has ensured that matters are worse now than they were in the 70s, because the cost of living ratio with regards to income is higher than it was 35 years ago.

What do you have to say about this? I’d like to hear non-racist, non-political solutions to this, because more and more people are being affected negatively every day here.



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