No Exit Strategy for Those Living
in Poverty: Work Ethic Has been Replaced by Dependence on Government by David Coker
EVANSVILLE, IN —When I was growing up, at my grandparent's house
there was a floor-to-ceiling pantry at the foot of the stairway going
up to the attic, just adjacent to a doorway into the kitchen.
For years it was stuffed, chock-a-block with canned goods. They also
had two refrigerators totally full of food on any given occasion — beer,
soft drinks, orange juice, you name it.
My mother once remarked that it was "Depression Mentality." They
never wanted to run out of food, having lived through the depths of
the Great Depression.
My grandparents did not fare very well in the 1930s.
As so many millions of other Americans and others around the world
whose lives were rocked by the economic catastrophe that occurred after "Black
Tuesday," Oct. 29, 1929, they did everything they could to get
Seriously constrained by the reduction in industrial production in
Evansville, my grandfather, Harry Coker, "rode the extra board" in
the Howell Yards of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. Similar
to the coal mines and other firms around here, the lack of business
meant they only had work for some of their workforce six months out
of the year.
When not working for the railroad, he would cut grass, paint houses,
clean up trash or do anything he could to earn money.
My grandmother, Fern Coker, made cakes for people and took in laundry.
Had it not been for the financial generosity of my great-grandmother
Ida Amanda Grossman Coker, working at the Sears & Roebuck store
downtown, heaven only knows how they would have survived.
During several years when only partially employed by the railroad,
my grandfather also worked on Works Progress Administration projects,
building structures at Garvin and Mesker parks.
I heard about this many years later, sadly, I was never able to learn
from him personally what specific projects he helped construct.
There were painful stories.
In one instance my grandmother apparently had what was then called
a "nervous breakdown" and traveled to West Virginia for a
time until my grandfather borrowed a car and went to retrieve her.
Despite these intense privations and the incredible hardship experienced
by this family and countless others during the period, what I remember
of my grandparents growing up in the late 1950s and 1960s was a couple
whose dignity and sense of self-worth remained intact.
They wore their best clothing to attend church on Sunday morning and
had many friends who would call upon them on Sunday afternoon. The
difficulties of the Depression years were stricken from living memory
and a modest railroad retirement earned during and after the war along
with Social Security allowed them to live a modest, yet comfortable
life in retirement.
Having discussed this topic with several individuals the past couple
of weeks, a few suggested that it was their faith in God and loyalty
to the church which helped keep the family — indeed the entire
community — intact.
Contrast this personal experience with what currently transpires among
people living in poverty.
Routinely, people who receive public assistance live in families with
only one parent in the home. Rarely do they attend regular church services
and the food stamps, housing subsidies, free health care and other
gratuities develop a pronounced entitlement mentality.
One does not earn the right to purchase groceries, health care, shelter
and other essentials to sustain daily life; the expectation is that
these are to be given freely with no work requirement.
Herein lies the greatest fallacy — and the monumental human tragedy — of
the historic "War on Poverty" we have been waging for the
better part of my life.
After spending literally trillions of dollars on these and other federal
anti-poverty programs, we have a sizable portion of this nation's urban
population totally dependent upon public assistance.
The work ethic, once the solid backbone of the nation's industrial
economy, has been rendered obsolete and unnecessary to those who receive
A way of life that once would have been considered shameful has become
acceptable with no guilt attached.
Dovetailed with the growth in the urban drug culture, gangs, and street
violence, an abiding media complex creates equally dysfunctional millionaire
rapper role models out of the urban chaos while many fathers remain
Throughout all of their ardent advocacy to "end poverty in America," proponents
of this foolishness have never been very concerned with developing
an exit strategy for those living in poverty. With many of the low-paying
jobs which used to be available being off-shored to foreign countries,
the business community has largely washed its hands of any responsibility
for providing employment opportunities for the least fortunate among
However, the job of reclaiming our cities from the urban plague of
poverty today begins with restoring hope and confidence in the children
of poverty — a daunting task for outsiders who cannot begin to
identify with the social pathologies confronted by these people.
Until they discover dignity, a sense of self-worth and the ability
to achieve, we will never solve the serious problem of growing poverty