Bootless Straps – Tom Petty, Furman Intern

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” That is a common phrase meant to define American ingenuity and perseverance in the face of challenges. To better yourself, you’ve got to toughen up and work for it. This is the prevailing philosophy amongst a lot of Americans when it comes to wealth. We look fondly on those who have built business empires from scratch and less so on those who seem not to work as hard. This hard work that pays off in a good life is essential to the so-called American Dream that exists in the psyche of our nation. But in reality, for some, being able to pull off this feat of rising to the top is impossible.

Many factors play into the decreased rates of economic mobility in the country, but I’d like to focus on the barriers to getting a job. A lot of people think that if you just get a degree or certification of some kind,  high-paying good work falls into a person’s lap if they ask for it. While those certifications and degrees definitely help people get to better situations, there are major factors that bar some from even achieving those basic steps which may help them out of their current situation. Many people may need reliable childcare while they are in class or at work. They need reliable transportation to classes or to their job. In our society, these things do not come cheap, and to someone who is already struggling with finances, these are additional costs that can greatly hinder one’s ability to complete classes or to work. We are coming along when it comes to public transportation, but even that has a long way to go. Our social system is  simply not sufficient enough to support those who need it most.  Our society takes as much or more than it gives to people at the lower end of our economic system.

Unfortunately, society doesn’t usually see it that way. We tend to look at people who are stuck at the bottom as not taking the necessary steps to better themselves. All the time, we encourage people to work harder and things will work out, but that is just not the case. Some of the hardest-working people in our society are the ones at the bottom who are trying to get to a better place for themselves and their families. You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you do not have any boots to begin with. So, why doesn’t society first help them to get a pair? To that question, I have no answer.