From a financial point of view, a person does not just go from comfortable one moment to poor and living on welfare the next moment. In the book, “All Souls: A Family Story of South Boston,” by Michael Patrick MacDonald, the author tells us from his point of view what it was like to live in these conditions during a time of controversy.
With a mother who sets no boundaries for her children and who is living in a world of depression, it is surprising that Michael turned out as well as he did. In an environment surrounding them rich in crime, drugs, alcohol, depression, and violence, one has to find a way to overcome temptation. In the case of All Souls and the MacDonald family, I believe things could have gone better had there been in effect a competent program to help get mothers working, and if the mother had possessed the common sense to mover her children away from this threatening environment.
Welfare is an issue that always seems to be a hot topic in politics and with good reason. As in All Souls we can see the reality of welfare. Many times the money goes towards single mothers who can’t work because they have the responsibility of raising children. Why work when you can get the money for free? Nevertheless, how can one possibly succeed, or at that, even get by financially from a measly $300 per month? This is what Michael’s mother had to live with on most of her life.
In the article, “From Institutional to Jobless Ghettos,” by William Julius Wilson, we can see by the statistics how much of an actual problem homelessness, poverty, and crime, really are. Wilson emphasizes how part of this is caused by the lack of jobs in these poor areas. A perfect example he gives takes place in Woodlawn, Illinois.
This neighborhood, south of Chicago, once had over eight hundred commercial shops and industries in 1950. “Today,” he writes, “it is estimated that only about a hundred are left, many of them represented by ‘tiny catering places, barber shops, and thrift stores with no more than one or two employees'” (113). So, if there are no jobs, then should the government really be surprised that so many people are on welfare and depend fully on it to live their lives? If there are no jobs to begin with then why doesn’t the government invest money into projects that would help creating jobs, thus getting people get off welfare?
Charles Murray proposes a different way to help those in need in his article, “Choosing a Future.” Unlike Wilson who just seems to read off facts, thinking this will some how shock us into a movement that will magically change everything, Murray does offer possible ideas that would (at minimum) help the unemployment level from burrowing any further into the ground. His three ideas deal with education, civil rights, and improvements in public welfare.
If the mother in All Souls had the opportunity to become self-dependent, make a decent income, get herself an education, then she would have done so. While she may be very liberal with her children in terms of restrictions in the eyes of many, she did love her children. This is unquestionable. Instead of blaming her and accusing her of being a bad mother by choosing such a dangerous neighborhood to live in, why not ask the question; Was this a decision that she could make, or was it one that had already been made for her?
The reason it can be so hard to get out of the “rut” of poverty is you’re completely reliant on other people. If a person is homeless and does not have a place to claim as a residence, how are they possibly going to get a job? Even if they do get the job, they don’t have anything to fall back on. The problem with being homeless is you are literally starting from zero. If you get sick and need medical attention you have two options, either blow your money on a doctor so that you have nothing once again, or ignore it and hope you don’t end up dead by the morning.
Ma didn’t have the luxuries most of us have today. While we get paychecks and put aside money for a rainy day (in theory), Ma was living day by day. She never seemed to spend money on herself, just the essentials that would keep her kids healthy. One of the many characteristics you have to admire about this family was how they stuck together. When Davey was admitted into Mass. Mental Hospital, Ma was right there by his side.
One of the key issues that Murray makes in his essay has to do with education. By educating the people (not just the youth), we can help people learn how to live self-sufficiently. Education would have encouraged the youth of the time (more so) to avoid making destructive decisions like turning to drugs and alcohol every time they have a problem, and deal with their issues in a positive and mature manner. Had ma had this kind of knowledge, she probably would not have had to face the horror of attending four of her own children’s funerals.
To think that a mother would only have so many children because she believed only a few would survive sounds less like something that you’d see happening here in America and more like something taking place in a 3rd world country. Although in some ways, Ma and her children did live in a third world country. Mentally, they had all seemed to have just given up. The kids gave in to drugs and crime, Ma buys a gun to scare people away and ends up taking drugs herself, Davey was admitted to a mental hospital, and hope seemed like something so far away that none of them would ever stand a chance of grasping.
The story of Michael and his experience in Southie, and the essays by Wilson and Murray all are examples for us to take to notice. In the past, wars have been fought so that others could be free. These stories, while tragic can still serve a useful purpose. In a world where we acknowledge that education, civil rights, and financial help for those in need do in fact affect us all, we all must play our part in the world to do what we can to help better it.
1. MacDonald, Michael Patrick. “All Souls: A Family Story from Southie” New York; Ballantine Books. 1999
2. Murray, Charles. “Choosing a Future.” 1984
3. Wilson, William Julius. “From Institutional to Jobless Ghettos.” 1996
The City Life Blues David A. Cox 1