Are the Poor Really Lazy?
Only 5% of Americans find poverty to be an important issue while 12% of Americans are so poor they don’t have enough to eat.
So why don’t we see poverty as an issue?
For this ‘hubby’ I’m going to stick with only one of the many pesky issues keeping us blindfolded to poverty, a rather ideological thing called meritocracy. In America the idea has been paved in gold, if you work hard you will be rewarded. If you do not work hard, you will pay the consequences. Perhaps this is how we speed past homeless people, our fingers clicking down on the locks. They deserve their poverty because they didn’t work hard enough. And zoom, our car has speed on by, left them in the dust… where they will remain as if unseen.
The largest issue with poverty is its tendency to reproduce across generations. The majority of people who are poor will give birth to the future of poverty. Not because being in poverty is a jolly good time but because of the culture of poverty. We only know what we grow up with, if one is born into a family who has nothing, in a town full of nothing, this is all they will know. Food stamps, hungry nights, and hot summers, they often grow up putting school on the backburner to do what is functional for their family’s situation- get a menial wage job. This is actually an admirable characteristic, putting one's own future aside for the well being of the family but because this is not a middle-class value it is demoralized and used in the future as blame for one's economic struggles.
Despite the statistics that show poor people do not have more children than middle-class woman; the stereotypes prevail, as do comments like, the poor shouldn’t have children at all. When one’s family is a victim of generational poverty, meaning two or more generations have lived below the poverty line, the chances of climbing out becomes extremely slim. If someone knows they will never have money what should one do? Lie down and die, not have the children they always wanted to love? When people have nothing, a blooming family is something to look forward to. To expect the poor to not have children is only devaluing them as people.
Back to the hypocrisy of meritocracy; it’s those in poverty that are often working the hardest! Barbara Ehrenreich, a highly educated and successful author, poised as a part of the working poor in three separate states, chronicling her hellish adventures in “Nickel and Dimed.” Along the way she works as a waitress, a housemaid, a hotel maid, and a Wal-Mart worker; all of which pay very little and treat her with even less respect. Her overall findings: she couldn’t live- monetarily or with her intact health- under the oppressive conditions minimum wage workers live a lifetime of.
In the eye opening PBS documentary, “People like Us,” we meet Tammy. Determined to support her two sons and self in the modest trailer they own on the edge of a Waverly Ohio, Tammy walks 10 miles (5 each way) to her job at Burger King nearly everyday. With no money to buy a car or pay for insurance, Tammy has to walk, keeping happy by thinking of her long-time dream to become a schoolteacher. Getting an education is far out of Tammy’s reach, although an education is her only way out of poverty and into the middle class.
By blaming the poor we will never address the real issues that keep poverty systematically in place, its cold grasp tight on many members of our collective society. Start assessing the homeless people you see not as lazy or unworthy but as truly unlucky, receiving the worst sanctions of capitalism with little aid from capitalist profiteers. Although there are always members in any group- rich or poor- truly undeserving of help, there are far more people who do deserve a leg up, a first chance. I argue it’s worth weeding through the few disappointments in order to seek out and assist the potential prospects this country too often ignores.