On the American Poor

Sometimes I get so pissed off at how people tend to stereotype the poor of this country by labeling them as a bunch of drug addicted freeloaders who don’t wish to do any work and live off government assistance. Sure there may be some poor people who are lazy bums just like anyone else, but there are plenty of rich people whose greed can cause economic destruction at all levels which may outweigh their economic contributions. I may not hate the rich man or his money, I just hate his greed, his unsatisfied appetite for power, and his unwillingness to sacrifice some of his profit for his employees. Not to mention, they also receive government subsidies for their businesses and get tax exemptions which I think is ridiculous. Yet, though I may not always like poor people living off my taxpayer money, I understand they are no threat to me as far as my wallet is concerned. A poor man can’t take my job, my home, or advocate for legislative action against my interests. Besides, even with government assistance, a poor man is still poor but there’s no way to determine whether he’s a lazy bum who won’t find work or whether he just a guy who has no other means of reliable support. And there are more wasteful government spending than on welfare recipients whether they deserve it or not. Poverty doesn’t always equal laziness or joblessness but I always wonder whether Americans bash people on welfare out of ignorance, out of scorn for not being as successful, out of political ideology, to avoid guilt, or because they just simply don’t want to acknowledge their responsibility for the others’ plight. Still, poor people shouldn’t be negatively stereotyped since they’re human beings just trying to survive like everyone else.

The truth is that the poor consists of a diverse bunch who can’t provide enough for themselves for one reason or another. Sure there are many who may not want to find a job but could if they wanted one. However, many or if not the majority of people below the poverty line just don’t fall in to that demographic. Many of them live in areas where a legitimate job may be very difficult to find or the best jobs available are criminal occupations like drug dealing. Then what about people who are ex-cons whose past crimes make them ineligible for employment in most places? What about people who are physically or mentally disabled or infirm? I suppose their conditions aren’t going to help them find any work. What about those chronically ill who can’t leave their homes? What about those who are mentally ill or the homeless documented or otherwise? What about veterans, the elderly, children, or those working a job or two but still can’t pay the rent? What about immigrants? Then there are people who don’t want to find work because a job might prevent them from fulfilling familial responsibilities like rearing kids or tending for a sick relative. Some might even be going to school in order to make themselves more employable. Should they be shamed for wanting government assistance just to make their lives easier? After all, it’s not just the poor who want government money and I don’t tend to think the rich even deserve it yet they have it whether as a result of working hard or otherwise.

As a progressive Catholic, I grew up with that we should look after those most vulnerable and those below the poverty line certainly are. The poor are more likely to die earlier, develop long term health problems at an early age, lose their homes, be victims of crimes as well as perpetrators, grow up in a dysfunctional family, have drug addictions, and land in jail as well as be screwed from the system. Poor children are more likely to grow up without at least one parent or be wards of the state as well as attend an underfunded school. Poor teenagers are more likely to drop out of school, never attend college, and even have kids at an early age. Poor women are especially prone to rape, domestic abuse, and single motherhood with little support. Relationships in poverty stricken areas don’t last while the risk of STDs is high. Poor people very likely tend to live in places where crime and environmental pollution are rampant and jobs are scarce. And even if employed, poor people are more likely to have jobs that don’t pay the rent, run a high risk of injury, don’t offer much advancement, don’t have much job security, and poor working conditions. Not to mention, poor people who work could forget about joining a union because the company may fire them if they did so. And those born in poverty will not be likely to escape from it at least without any kind of assistance.

Yet, who is to blame for poverty? We’d like to think it’s the poor individual themselves but it’s difficult to say. It’s one thing to be a failure due to one’s personal faults despite opportunities available. However, trying to escape from the powerless situation with very few resources and opportunities available is a very daunting challenge. Those in poverty have to work harder and have to take more risks to survive let alone succeed. And though many of them try to make the best decisions or do what they can, whatever they do doesn’t always pay off. Not to mention, plenty of poor people can have a lot of obstacles that aren’t just limited to lack of resources and many of them are difficult to overcome, if not impossible. And even if poor people do work hard, doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods yet. But we also have the rich with their insatiable lust for money and power who are all to willing to fire their own workers in the name of profit, a for-profit healthcare system that excludes those who can’t pay, rising college tuition and a college finance system that may not be adequate, a great income gap between rich and poor, gas well as a public education system funded by property taxes. Also, the notion of a well-paying job is fast becoming a thing of the past for many and many of these business are supported by the notion of low prices on consumer products to satisfy Americans’ love for things.

Nevertheless, regardless of who’s to blame for poverty, it’s a burden for all Americans and society does pay for what ails them. Taxpayers pay the monetary price for many of the problems experienced by people in poverty not just limited to welfare or government assistance. When businesses fail to treat their workers fairly, many low wage workers turn to public assistance. When a poor person is seriously injured or ill in the emergency room, then it’s the insured who foot the bill and rising healthcare costs since many poor people in America can’t afford insurance (at least before the ACA). Furthermore, a sick uninsured poor person in the ER helps contribute to rising healthcare costs and makes healthcare more unaffordable to everyone, at least before Obamacare (and I don’t want to live in a Pre-Obamacare world again which was much worse especially for people in poverty). Whenever a poor area falls prey to environmental disaster, it’ll be the taxpayers who pay for the cleanup, the medical treatment, and the aftermath. And whenever a poor person gets shot or becomes a victim of a crime, you can bet the American taxpayer will pay for not just the medical treatment, but also the legal proceedings, and the prison time. You see, poverty isn’t just bad for the poor, it’s terrible for everyone. Still, though we may think that helping the poor may be a waste of taxpayer money, that’s not always the case since I believe government should help the poor to some degree though can only do so much. Of course, what could be wasting taxpayer money is Americans’ failure to hold accountable those who may be responsible for keeping the poor in the desperate system they’re in.

Of course, I usually reserve the venom for the rich business leaders since I think having workers living under the poverty line in the US is inexcusable and I know many are responsible for it. Also, many business leaders are also responsible for much of the problems in the healthcare system as well as for environmental disasters. I also reserve some blame for the government since they put a lot of poor people in prison since many of them can’t afford a good defense, especially when it comes to drug related crimes. In fact, many state governments devote most of their budgets on incarceration and I’m not sure if I believe in prison any more at least in regards to rehabilitation. Not to mention, I think the government can do a better job with handling poverty if it wasn’t such a highly political issue. Yet, I’d have to say that no one in America is absolutely blameless for creating poverty despite that many of us do give to charity. As consumers, we always want stuff and want it cheap and we may not always by from the company most fair to their workers (like Wal Mart). We’d like to think we owe nothing to our success but we forget how life was like for many Americans before FDR, labor unions, civil rights movements, and the Great Society or how many of us would still be in poverty if it wasn’t for any of them. And let me say, political and social action has helped plenty of people out of poverty in the 20th century. Even still, we don’t even try to do anything for those who make and sell the consumer products we hold most dear and many of them don’t even enter into our thoughts. Yet, it should be apparent that many of these people do live in poverty and do work hard but are treated like crap nonetheless. And if there’s any reason why our taxpayers should help the poor, then it’s them, especially if there are veterans among their ranks. So I ask you all this Thanksgiving, to say a prayer for thanks not just to your loved ones but to those who make your comfortable lifestyle possible such as the migrant farm workers, the low wage earning Asian factory workers, as well as the retail workers who do their jobs on weekends so you can shop all you like. Perhaps it’s time to lend them a helping hand.

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4 responses to “On the American Poor

  1. You are so right about so many things. We don’t admit that our situations are mostly due to luck- not just our own efforts. Who are we to judge who “deserves” help. Everyone is doing the best they can to survive, even if we don’t always approve of their choices. Nobody is totally self made and we all pay a price for poverty. When we help others, we are helping ourselves too.

  2. Pingback: End Poverty Now! | THE SCARECROW

  3. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but
    I thought this post was great. I don’t know who you are but definitely you are
    going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!

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