Too Much to Ask

I was driving home after a recent Senate debate on changes to the state’s unemployment insurance program and marveling at how two people – or two groups of people – looking at the same problem can reach completely different solutions.

The bill was largely a technical one dealing with how to best use taxpayer dollars to help citizens that, after being productive workers, had lost their job and needed a hand to help them transition back into the workforce.

There was a provision requiring that, to continue receiving that cash from the taxpayers, the person had to, in some fashion, reach out to a potential employer to see if a job was available. That requirement was increased from twice a week to five times in a week.

Not everyone thought that was a good idea.

“I think it is overly burdensome. You are kicking people while they are down,” said one Senator.

 

I watched closely, to see if there was the slightest hint that this was just another attempt to score political points, by accusing the opposition of being insensitive, or even evil.

But that wasn’t it. It was the latest sign of two different philosophies – the heartfelt belief that requiring someone to seek a job one time in an 8-hour workday is just too much to ask, on one side, and the belief that’s a reasonable request on the other.

That pretty well frames our public debate. Some folks say we are not doing enough to help the poor. Others argue the poor need to do more to help themselves. And, of course, underlying both questions is a third question: How much should we ask those who are working to give up from their labors to help those who are not.

Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you”. And the context of that statement suggests there are limits. Here we are, 2000 years later, and we still can’t figure out where to draw the line.

I wonder if, and how, we will ever bridge that divide.

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