Poverty: Let's Give the Poor a Break
Al Capone Offers Free Coffee, donuts at Big Al's -- 1930
Famous Depression Era Photo
Poor people are always getting short-changed.
But, if you listen to the rantings of the wealthy and the so-called middle class, you'd never believe it!
The rich and middle class are always blaming everything on the poor -- and they get away with it because poor people have no one to speak in their behalf; they have no lobby, no money for advertising campaigns, no newspapers or magazines to take their point of view, no influence with politicians.
Put the Blame on . . . the Poor?
Worse, there's little or no reason for the economically privileged to want to associate with poor people! The wealthy see them as ne'er-do-wells who could be just as rich as they are if they weren't so lazy and shiftless; the middle class -- which prefers to distance itself from the poor while vicariously rubbing elbows with the country-club set -- like to keep the poor at arms length, always crying that the poor live a life of ease on welfare and other social programs while they are forced to pay the bills.
It's bad enough that the poor are the constant target of the most powerful in our society (the combination of the rich and middle class is a formidable foe, indeed), but the worst cut of all is that the poor are least equipped to defend themselves.
You don't need an extensive sociological study by a prestigious university to know that most poor people emanate from, you guessed it, poor people! It's easy to deduce that the children of poor people, with few exceptions, are likely to be poor. And being poor means you're lucky if you graduate from high school much less from a great university.
Poor People Are Very Generous
One of the things I like best about poor people runs to the heart of why they are, and remain, poor; they are very generous! By definition poor people don't have a lot of money; but, if you ever need a half dollar for a cup of coffee or a bowl of soup, I suggest that you ask someone who is poor.
A poor man will give you his last dollar, gladly, if he possibly can -- and, often, even if he can't; a middle class man will more likely tell you to go ask the Salvation Army; a rich man will tend to rationalize and, more often than not, tell you how he had to struggle to get his money and then advise you to go get a job!
No holier-than-thou Advice
A poor man will give you no lecture, nor any holier-than-thou advice; he won't even ask you how much money you make or how much you have in the bank. No, a poor man won't look for excuses, won't rationalize to find a way to say no; chances are he'll give you that dollar, even if it is his last.
Maybe we should pass a law that's designed to teach poor people how not to be poor, how to become middle class, even wealthy. Maybe we should bring into the schools some of society's most successful and wealthy people to teach poor people how to make, and hold onto, every penny they get.
It shouldn't be too difficult to show the poor how foolish it is to give away one's money to someone in need, unless of course one gets a generous tax cut; that generosity is for fools; that one has to be hard-nosed if one wants to get what's coming to him in this world; that we can't be expected to be our brothers' keeper.
Personally, I hope -- and expect -- that the poor will never change.
Said Letitia Elizabeth Landon, 1802-1838: "Few, save the poor, feel for the poor."
I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on May 28, 1994.