Think your job is tough?
Try somebody else’s.
Think you’re not making enough money?
Try getting by on even lower wages than you make — or no wages at all.
And regardless of your lot in life, put yourself in other folks’ place to better understand their plights.
Tim Scott said he took that fair-play test to better understand the challenges facing low-wage Americans — and to craft a better “opportunity agenda.”
Our state’s junior U.S. senator told reporters during a conference call this week that he went “undercover” to gain such insights by waiting tables, bagging groceries, sweeping the floor at a fast-food restaurant and riding a public bus in Charleston.
Lots of readers quickly dismissed Scott’s venture onto low-income turf as a political stunt.
Yes, politicians do have powerful political motives.
And a temporary tenure in a fast-food joint can’t convey the daily pressures felt by people who need to keep such jobs.
Unlike Scott, they don’t have a $174,000 senator’s salary to fall back on.
Still, Scott did grow up in humble circumstances, raised by a single mom in North Charleston.
He did, by his own account, almost flunk the ninth grade at Stall High School.
And in a guest column on our Commentary page last Saturday, Scott cited his family’s ongoing saga as an inspiring example of “the power of opportunity in America.”
He wrote of his 93-year-old grandfather: “The circumstances of life forced him out of a segregated classroom in the third grade to a cotton field so he could help support his family.”
Yet his grandfather, Scott added, “has now lived long enough to see a grandson elected to Congress, and a great-grandson graduate from Georgia Tech and start graduate school at Duke.”
And Scott has seen enough of current economic conditions to know that “people are hurting.”
He wrote: “I consistently hear deeply personal and unique stories of struggle as I travel our state. People want to work, they want to get ahead and they want a better life for their children and grandchildren.”
Scott, in that column, also touted his “opportunity agenda” as “targeting micro-financing and tax reform to increase economic freedom, expanding school choice so every child has a chance at a quality education, and providing alternatives for single parents to work their 40 hours a week by allowing for wider use of comp time.”
And he aims to “help young offenders and those aging out of the foster care system to receive the vital opportunity for education, and ensure our kids who want to attend college can do so without incurring debilitating debt.”
Maybe you think Scott and other conservatives don’t actually feel the poor’s pain.
Maybe you think our calls to cut government anti-poverty spending cruelly target the poor.
Maybe you’ve forgotten that a half century after President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the costly war on poverty, as Scott wrote, “government-centric efforts to alleviate poverty simply are not working.”
Maybe the poor will always be with us — even if Scott pulls a political miracle by getting approval of his agenda from both chambers of Congress and President Barack Obama.
After all, the poor have been with us through FDR’s “New Deal,” LBJ’s “Great Society,” Bill Clinton’s “New Covenant,” George W. Bush’s “Compassionate Conservatism” and Obama’s “Yes We Can.”
OK, so Ronald Reagan’s rising tide of trickle-down economics didn’t really lift all boats, either.
And not everybody can grow up to make more than $30 million a year pitching for the L.A. Dodgers like Clayton Kershaw, $5.6 million playing outfield for the New York Yankees like former College of Charleston Cougar Brett Gardner, $4 million coaching the South Carolina Gamecocks like Steve Spurrier or nearly $3.4 million coaching the Clemson Tigers like Dabo Swinney.
Very few can even grow up to make more than $250,000 a year as the Charleston County Aviation Authority’s chief legal counsel like Arnold Goodstein.
But we can all advance our own opportunity agendas by doing our best at what we do.
Sharing the ordeal
So regardless of how you think we can best help the poor, help enlighten yourself by trying — like Scott — to put yourself in other people’s shoes (figuratively; doing so literally would be unsanitary).
For instance, Scott, by penning that guest column, surely gained a new appreciation for the grueling grind of opinion writing.
And by reading all the way to the end of this column, perhaps you have already felt at least a twinge of my occupational pain.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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