by Michael Webb

They seem to be everywhere. There is the corporate elite compensated far beyond his/her worth, lawsuit leeches seeking to profit from imagined slights or fake injuries, etc. Deadbeats. If you're a hardworking, law-abiding citizen, you probably fume every time you read about them or see them on TV (or in person as the case may be). America is supposed to be the Land of Opportunity, you think. But it's looking more like the Land of Opportunists.

Each man, woman, and child in the United States pays almost $10,000 per year in higher product costs, higher costs for services, higher insurance costs, higher taxes, and higher fees at financial institutions, all because of deadbeats. A family of four decent, hardworking, honest people pays $38,000 for deadbeat activities. No wonder we have a tough time saving money!

Too many deadbeats are riding the coattails of the men and women who make our country go, and we are letting them. It's time to put our collective foot down. "Deadbeats" cross all political party lines and professions (or lack thereof). All deadbeat activism (like all politics) is local.

Take "consumer action" against deadbeats. When you encounter slothful servers, slacker salesclerks, or tenure-train-riding teachers, report them to their supervisors. Complain verbally, then follow up with a letter. Remember, you're helping out your fellow consumers and probably putting a spring in the step of some of the deadbeats' coworkers, too. The first step to ending this kind of deadbeat behavior is forcing their supervisors to take notice and act on their employees' behavior.

Refuse to participate in frivolous lawsuits. Frivolous cases that are not immediately dismissed can really hit an organization's and/or individual's wallet. Attorneys often drag out depositions and other parts of the process to fatten their bills. They also include every possible person, product, and corporation "involved" in a tragic event in hopes of getting a big settlement from one, some, or all those named.

Our nation's flood of litigation is starting to affect the way we live. Common Good ( and The Public Interest magazine report that fear of litigation is curtailing many beloved American activities. Nonprofit organizations are having a harder time getting volunteers because people don't want to expose themselves to the risk of a lawsuit. Community ball teams can't get coaches because they are the first to be sued by disgruntled parents.

Protect your credit and debit cards. The best way to head off deadbeats is to protect yourself from ever being affected by them. Guard your personal information carefully. Shred old bills and credit card applications. If you're making purchases online, make sure you are using a secure site. Every time you lose sight of a card, you're susceptible to becoming a victim of fraud or identity theft.

Volunteer with at-risk kids. Young people from rough neighborhoods and those who have a parent in prison may not have the necessary mentors to encourage them to make positive choices and stick with getting an education. By letting them know that someone cares, and by showing them another, better path in life, you can help reduce the chances that they will become involved in crime and start going down the path of a deadbeat.

Vote! Voting is the best way to get rid of the politicians in our system that aren't following the rules. Whether they're engaging in pork barrel spending, not attending legislative sessions or other meetings, or enjoying behind the scenes illegal deals involving fraud, bribery, or other criminal acts, the best way to show them you don't approve is by voting them out of office.

Don't support exorbitant CEO salaries. Before you invest in a company, do some research. Look to see how much the CEO is being paid. Is it significantly more than his employees? Recent studies have shown that in 1980 a CEO made 40 times the wage of the average worker. Today, on average, CEOs make 282 times what their employees are making! You can help stop perpetuating this phenomenon by not investing in companies whose pay scales are so unbalanced.

Blow the whistle on fraudulent filers and welfare wasters. Fraudulent filers are those people who file fraudulent claims, and welfare wasters are those who are abusing the public assistance system. If you know that someone is taking part in either of these practices, avoid the temptation to look the other way. Fraudulent filers don't affect only the companies they're cheating. We all pay the price for their misbehavior. In fact, according to Conning & Company, an asset management service, the average household paid more than $5,000 a year in higher premiums and product costs to compensate for fraud.

Report deadbeat parents. Refusing to pay child support not only costs taxpayers big money, it inflicts hardship (both financial and emotional) on the most innocent people of all. It is a serious offense. Don't let them get away with it. If you need a little encouragement to spur you on to turning in deadbeat parents, consider this. Taxpayers often pay twice for deadbeat parents, once to incarcerate them and another to pay their welfare checks.

When someone is truly struggling, lend a helping hand. Sometimes people have the right intentions and work very hard, but circumstances beyond their control, such as a serious illness or loss of a job, prevent them from paying their bills. Help someone get out of a rut, and maybe when they are back on their feet, they will lend a helping hand to someone else in need.

Work to improve schools. Confront bad teachers. Run for school board and effect change from within. Campaign for school reform on a local, state, or national level. If your child is in a substandard school, do whatever it takes to get him or her into a better learning environment. Education is one of the key factors in preventing our children from becoming the future deadbeats of America. Make sure you are doing your part to stop the cycle.

Deadbeats have worn us down by their behavior, and if we don't take a stand, it will only get worse. Tolerance breeds acceptance. We must stop tolerating. If we can mobilize the responsible, hardworking people who are paying the lion's share of the bills and get them to stand up to deadbeats in all their insidious forms and shout, "Enough!," we can halt the spreading deadbeat plague that threatens the very fabric of our nation.

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