Relevant magazine linked to an article from the Heritage Foundation on Understanding Poverty in America. The article questions how “poor” the poor really are, and it really confuses me. I’m mainly confused as to why Relevant linked to it. Sometimes they link to stuff that’s ridiculous or funny, and sometimes they link to stuff that’s straight-up serious. I’m not sure which way they’re taking this. But I guess how they take it doesn’t matter.
Frankly, the article pisses me off. It’s basically saying that those who live in poverty in the U.S. are actually pretty well off. They basically examined the government’s standards of poverty and took a look at those who meet those standards to see how bad life in poverty really is. Their conclusion is that it’s not too bad. It doesn’t say it explicitly in the article, but it’s pretty clear from the context on the site that it’s an effort to shoot down welfare.
Now I’ll admit that looking at poverty in America is a bit ridiculous. Compared to the rest of the world, the poor in our country are pretty well off. However, that doesn’t mean we can justify ignoring the problem, which is exactly what this article seems to be saying to me.
The article looks at a number of material considerations, like whether or not most poor people have a phone, a TV or a car, if they own a home and what condition it’s in, and whether not their children are eating properly. On all of these counts the “poor” come out pretty good.
I guess I’m just a bit miffed about the article. Most poor people I know have many of these things becase it’s a way to alleviate feelings of poverty (if we have a TV, we’re just like everyone else) or it’s a neccesity (try living without a car in an area with no public transit or getting a job without a phone). But just because the have a TV doesn’t mean they’re living it up. Many poor families would probably do better without a TV.
The article also argues that many poor families get by on what amounts to 16 hours of work per week, essentially accusing the poor of laziness.
I guess what really miffs me is everything I know about the poor through my wife. She works at a daycare center serving low-income families in what amounts to inner-city St. Paul. We live a few miles from the center on what you could call the edge of the ghetto. I see poverty all the time, and my wife interacts with it on a regular basis. While many of the families at the daycare center may have a TV or a car, that doesn’t mean they’re doing OK. And in many senses those families will do “OK,” meaning they’ll survive, but they’re often stuck in a continuing cycle of poverty. It breeds crime, gangs, and drugs. Even if they do have a TV, that doesn’t justify ignoring the poverty and allowing these problems to fester.
Her center opened a food shelf last year because government cuts made it hard for families to keep food on the table. Some kids will devour every meal they’re given at school because they don’t get enough at home. For many of these families poverty is a pride issue. They’d much rather suck it up and go hungry than admit they need help.
What’s really difficult is the welfare system. Many parents rely on goverment assistance to put their children in daycare. Without daycare, they can’t work. With recent goverment cuts, that daycare assistance was cut back and the center lost many families. What happens now? Rather than trying to get a job and get back on their feet, these families are forced to stay home because they can’t afford daycare. As a result, they’re back on welfare without a chance of moving on. At least with daycare assistance they had a job.
This article also ignored other ways poverty manifests itself. For the sake of pride a poor family might have a car, a TV, a cell phone, and own their own home and keep it in reasonable condition. But they might have no savings or any funds to turn to in an emergency. They probably have no life insurance or investments of any kind. If you look around their home they may have mattresses but no frames, a stereo but no paper to do homework on, or a TV but no books to speak of. I’m just making stuff up, but there are ways of cutting back and living on a minimal income that still inable you to enjoy some of the amenities of modern life.
I guess it just makes me mad when we try to write off poverty. Try talking to a poor man. Try living in a poor neighborhood. Try going hungry — not malnourished hungry, but skimping on a meal hungry. As minimal as those sacrifices may seem in the scope of things, they’re monumental comapred with how most of us live in America.