There were 2 boys in 2 very different countries. Both grew up poor, yet had the aspirations to attend college.
Tom is from Rich-land. His dad died young and left his mother with 6 children to feed. The government gave his mother a large sum of money to provide for the family. After a few years of excessive spending and lack of planning, the money was gone. His mother couldn’t feed him and Tom was hungry, so he went to the local government office to collect food stamps, which allowed him to be fully-nourished. When he entered school, he got similar treatment through a free lunch program provided by the local government.
A few years later, Tom looked for a job. He was unsuccessful, so he went to the government office to apply for unemployment benefits. He wanted a car but got around by public transportation fine. Best yet, the Transportation Authority gave his family monthly vouchers for free transportation.
When Tom turned 18, he decided to go to college. A local organization provided him with need-based scholarships and grants. He applied for several more student loans to cover his cost of living while in school so that he didn’t have to work. The Rich-land government even paid for his room and board.
Tom struggled through school but eventually graduated. His resume wasn’t too impressive since he didn’t work during school. He had a hard time finding a job. Back to the government office he went to collect unemployment benefits and food stamps.
The benefits weren’t enough to pay for the housing he wanted, so he went to the housing authority office, where they approved him for heavily reduced rent. Now he had enough to provide food for his belly and a roof over his head. Because times were tough, the government sent him a $500 check in the mail. He bought the flat-screen TV he always wanted. He still can’t find a job. “I will get around to it,” he says.
Don is from Poor-jikistan. His dad died young too and left his mother with 6 young children to feed. Don’s mom had no choice but to start a small business to feed the family. Luckily they had a small plot of land, where she grew fruits and vegetables to sell at the local market. She still struggled to put food on the table, and Don was hungry. How could he make enough money to get something to eat and help out his family? With an absence of fruitful benefactors, he had to depend on himself to improve his family’s situation.
In his neighborhood the local newspaper cost 50p, but in the business district, newspapers cost 100p at the newsstand. He told his mom that he planned to buy newspapers in their area and sell them to the rich folks on the other side of town. To compete with the newsstands, he decided to sell the newspapers for 75p. He would also take the newspapers to his clients rather than them needing to stop at the newsstand.
His mom said if he had to skip school to run his business, she wouldn’t allow it. So, he woke up at 5 AM to finish morning sales and returned before the 10 AM starting bell.
Don found himself with a steady income from the start, finding that he could sell a lot of newspapers just by walking through a traffic jam and selling directly to people in their cars. It wasn’t the safest way to do business, but Don felt it was a well-calculated risk. His clients enjoyed being able to buy their newspaper on the go—a new idea that Don developed.
Refusing to indulge himself with the extra cash, Don instead decided to expand his business. There were too many lucrative intersections in the business district for him to cover alone, so he interviewed and hired 10 kids from his neighborhood to help out.
Don gave them training, proper walking shoes and uniform, and a percentage of every newspaper they sold. After a few years of managing this small fleet of workers, Don decided to go to college. He had learned basic accounting, management, and leadership skills through running his small business but yearned to learn more about how to build his business.
However, school wasn’t cheap, and the government was too burdened with other issues to provide grants and scholarships for education. Don took on another job at a restaurant to cover costs, running his business in the morning, studying going to class during the day, and waiting tables at night.
Life was not easy for him; worked for every penny. By this time, his near 30 employees covered nearly every lucrative intersection in the business district. Rather than go out of business, some newsstands partnered with him to provide additional products to the clients. He wasn’t getting enough sleep, but he was getting by. If he wanted to finish school, he had no other option but to keep doing what he was doing.
One client in particular, who was a manager at an accounting firm, had observed Don’s knack for business. He always said that Don could intern for him after a few years of business courses in college. After a few years in college, Don accepted the challenge. Because it was during the day, Don shifted his classes and study time to night, and delegated the day-to-day activities of the newspaper business to one of his trusted employees. Don still retained the right to make the big decisions.
This situation worked out for a few years until Don graduated. The workload had taken a toll on Don, whose hair was thinning and graying. However, he finished school with satisfactory grades and the experience portion of his résumé was fairly impressive.
A life full of struggle shouldn’t be anyone’s fate. However, part of the reason for older Americans’ success was because life wasn’t easy for them; success was directly linked to how hard they wanted to work. The struggle forced them to start businesses or work their way up in a company with the hope for a better life.
As parents, many of them didn’t want us to struggle like had to—it seems our government isn’t willing to let us struggle either. Life is much easier for us. If we fail, there are safety nets. If our parents/grandparents failed, they hit the concrete and broke their legs (without government provided insurance, by the way).
Though the older generation of Americans may not have noticed it at the time, the struggle in their life combined with the lack of options or assistance from other parties helped them to develop valuable behavioral traits useful in life and business. Our government (and parents) try to do everything they can to help lessen the blow of this economic downturn, but by laying out the safety net and depriving us from struggle, it will be much more difficult for us young ones to develop skills needed to survive in a capitalist society.