Thursday, December 19, 1996
Let's get rid of excuses for not working

The Cincinnati Enquirer

This will be my last elitist column of the year. So, do not bother to read this if you are poor. This is not for you.

If you are worried about your 401k plan and thinking maybe you've driven more miles than the lease allows on your Lexus, I hope you'll stay with me. If you've been to college or a trade school, if you have a mortgage, if you have a nanny, if you pay taxes, I beg your attention.

If you are wondering whether you are about to be evicted, if you are hoping to qualify for subsidized child care, if you are wondering whether you can put food on the table, you already know what I have to say.

Poor people already know that a lot of people on welfare would rather work than accept a handout. OK, not everybody. Some people are just looking for an excuse to stay home and watch Jenny Jones, but a lot of people would like to pay for their groceries with cash instead of food stamps. And they don't look forward to standing in line at the FreeStore/Foodbank for their Thanksgiving turkey.

Abusing the system

I have no hard figures here, and I'm sure somebody can tell me about a guy they know who just loves sitting on his backside, collecting money for doing nothing or the welfare mother who has been buying filet mignon with food stamps.

But it stands to reason that an awful lot of people who qualify for government assistance are not unemployed because they want to put one over on ''the system.''

They are unemployed because they cannot find a job they know how to do. So part of welfare reform is going to be training. And some of them cannot find a job that pays enough so that they can pay somebody else to watch their kids while they're at work. So part of welfare reform is going to be subsidized day care.

(Maybe someone will even be able to convince Gov. Voinovich that getting the children of the poor into day care centers where they'll be fed and taught and protected might be the first step in breaking the cycle of poverty.)

Both of these things are expensive, but surely not as expensive as asking our children to support a whole new generation of people who cannot support themselves.

Getting people to work

Then there's the third thing: transportation.

That third thing is just as simple as noticing how many jobs are in the suburbs instead of the inner city where poor people live. The hotels in Sharonville. Quantum Chemical in Sycamore Township. Matrixx Marketing in Norwood.

And it's just as simple as noticing how much it costs you to operate your car.

Think about what it would mean to somebody making $7 an hour to suddenly discover she needs new tires. Think about how often you see an old clunker pulled to the side of the highway. I always wonder whether that person's boss is saying, ''See, you give a person a chance, and they don't even show up for work.''

Here's a real-life example. And, even better, a solution.

Early next year, the Jewish Orthodox Home is moving from Bond Hill to Mason. Many of the 100 employees have been relying on public transportation to get to work. So, at Wednesday's Cincinnati City Council meeting, Mayor Roxanne Qualls proposed a reverse commute program for these employees.

It's not the first one.

Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) already operates 13 reverse commute routes moving about 1,500 passengers a week from the inner city to suburban jobs. Fares are cheap, ranging from 50 cents to $1.50 one way. It is subsidized by you and me, of course, through public money.

It doesn't cost us as much as it would if these people could not get to work and went on welfare.

If you are still reading - and I hope you are - I'm thinking that maybe you feel as I do. I work hard and pay my taxes. I contribute. I think every adult who is able should do the same thing. And I think we should do everything we can to make everybody able - the people who are looking for a job and the people who are looking for an excuse.

If we do everything we can to help people work, we should be able to tell the difference.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.