DISCRIMINATION AGAINST THE POOR: STILL ALIVE AND WELL
Valerie Belew holds a Masters Degree in the Social Services Field, at one time worked five jobs at once, and lived below poverty level.
POVERTY & CHRISTIANS
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Jesus specifically addressed abuse and discrimination against the poor, according to the writings of the New Testament, and while many do not believe the writings to be trustworthy, one certainly cannot argue with the fairness or anti-discriminatory nature of the approach represented there. If you choose to believe that Jesus was God incarnate, as many do, perhaps you also believe that as God, he could see into many aspects of life with insight many of us lack. I certainly want to believe that Jesus was God, because I like his basic attitude, although I have not found it demonstrated in the lives or politics of most so called Christians. I believe it was Mahatna Gandhi who is quoted as saying that the only problem with Christianity is Christians, and perhaps the major problem with all major religions, including Gandhi's own, Hinduism, is the people who practice them.
HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF
Whether or not you accept Jesus as God, you cannot deny that the presence of scripture specifically addressing abuse and discrimination against the poor, verifies that the problem is as old as any other form of discrimination, and was around long before either the democratic, republican or Tea Party political groups existed in the United States.
Most of the religious spokesmen today, prefer to quote the Apostle Paul, who was somewhat less empathetic towards poverty, being a blue blood of his own time, a Roman citizen who was also educated in the most respected of Jewish Schools (Ivy League, if you will), at the feet of Gamaliel. Paul was the son of a Pharisee, and became one himself. The Pharisees were a powerful religious order of high social class and standing, in fact, one of the ones that was also responsible for putting Jesus to death, if scripture is accurate.
Jesus, on the other hand, was of humble beginnings, and very likely experienced discrimination first hand. Scripture states that many in his own town questioned him as a prophet based on knowledge of his family background. Many today still question whether or not he was the son of God, or the illegitimate son of a poor woman, questions that were also asked in his own time, I suspect.
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST THE POOR TODAY
Discrimination for reason of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or religion were less accepted by almost all people, at least publicly, until the rise of the Tea Party movement politically, though it certainly continued to exist behind closed doors, as our president addressed concerning the Reverend Wright controversy, during his initial election campaign.
Certain forms of discrimination still exists towards specific groups, as most people of color, LGBT individuals and women will agree, though such discrimination is usually thinly disguised as something other than what it is. Only the poor are openly discriminated against, shamed and ridiculed by the far right of our society, before nationwide audiences, and shamelessly by the press, without serious consequences to anyone doing so.
The N word is so unacceptable that I will not even write it in this article, and no news commentator in his right mind, would refer to a lesbian using the D word, or a gay male using the F word. I respect those public boundaries as being in our best interest as human beings. Why then, do conservative news broadcasters and other republicans still speak blatantly of those who accept "hand outs?" Is it any different to make such assumptions of those who live in poor areas, or require public assistance in order to survive, than it is to make negative judgments of any other group? It appears to be okay to be whomever you happen to be these days, at least publicly, as long as you are not poor. Poverty does not appear to be a protected class. Many types of discrimination and unfair treatment exist for all poor people regardless of sex, race or sexual preference, yet they are simply taken for granted as being okay, and part of the general economic system.
THE POOR PAY MORE:
In utility and other bills
While we all know it costs more to buy on time, generally that is a choice we make. I wonder how often we think of the other financial consequences of poverty. Those who can not pay their bills on time, have late charges added to their debt, making their bills more difficult to pay. Credit card companies are especially notorious for this, but all businesses do it, as if people pay bills late because they choose to do so. This is especially punishing when the bills in question are basic utility bills for services necessary to live normally in our society. Electric bills, propane gas bills, and water bills all charge late fees when your payment does not arrive on time, and these are not services most of us feel we can live without.
In Legal fee Expense
If you are poor, you will pay more money out to the legal court system than a wealthier person will be required to do, for the same crime committed, simply because you are not able to pay your fine on the day of court. Twice I have gone to court over seemingly non-criminal violations of the law, one that included running a stop sign while confused about the location of a substitute teaching work opportunity, and the other, an unexpected breaking of a dog leash on public property. Neither of these problems were premeditated, or the result of poor planning on my part; however, today's society has little tolerance for what would have once been considered an accident. It has even less tolerance for those of us who do not have the money to pay our fines on the day of court.
In both cases, I was placed on probation, basically for not having enough money to pay the fine on the day of court, and saddled with monthly payments that added up to five times, or more, the amount of the original fine. Those who could pay the original fine walked out with a fifth of the expense of those of us who did not have the means to do so, and it goes without saying, that even if I had been able to pay the original amount of either fine on the court date, it would not be relatively the same, or an equal amount of money for me, as it would have been for Paris Hilton, or Donald Trump. As in Jesus' day, the powerful make the laws, the poor accept the consequences of their social class.
SOME LEGAL REQUIREMENTS MAKE CRIMINALS OF THOSE WHO LACK THE FUNDS TO OBEY THEM
Auto Insurance is required in order to drive a car, an action that is necessary in order for most of us to work. You may drive the same old car for over ten years, as I have done, in order to avoid the cost of monthly car payments, but you cannot escape the legal requirement to pay at least the minimal amount of liability insurance necessary in order to protect others in case of an accident.
I was not able to protect myself through health insurance for over five years (we'll discuss that next), yet I was forced to either protect others against a possible automobile accident that may never occur, or face criminal charges under the law. I was much more likely, given my family history and driving record, to develop breast cancer than I was to injure anyone else in an automobile accident, since none of my minor traffic accidents have caused injuries to anyone. Even though they may serve a worthy purpose, I suspect those laws were put in place for the financial benefit of insurance companies, rather than to protect the public.
This is a hot issue, so I will only ask one question. Why am I required to pay school taxes to support the education of other people's children, when I had none? Certainly, I covered the cost of my own public education years ago, through payment of my own income tax. why is it any different for the government to provide taxpaying citizens with health insurance, than it is to provide them with public education, police protection, military protection, or any other personal need? Why is it any more socialistic to provide taxpayers with health-care protection, than it is to provide them with any of the other needs listed above? Again, insurance companies have a lot of power, just as the pharisees did in the days of the New Testament, and those who have power tend to use it in order to keep it. No one fought implementation of The Affordable Health-care Act harder than insurance companies, yet no group has benefited from it more, save the poor and previously uninsured middle class. If you can't help me stay alive through appropriate medical care, I should not have to use my tax money to educate your children. Case closed. My point here is that as a society we take care of one another; it is not only about what is best for me.
ONE MORE MYTH DEBUNKED
It is a myth that poor people are those who are not willing to help themselves. I completed seven years of formal education, then three more years of supervised Internship towards my International Substance Abuse Certification through the IC&RC. While I have never been wealthy, it has not been because I am not well educated, or did not work. I have held many management and supervisory positions within the human services field, most paying below $35,000 annually, while requiring that I work 50 to 60 hour work weeks, just to get the work done.
After the loss of my business I was advised by many to accept a job outside of my field in order to work. At one time I had five such jobs, all outside of my field. Together, they still did not make up for the loss of the income provided through my former counseling Assessment business, a business that flourished, then failed, due to Georgia's then republican Governor's budget cuts to substance abuse services in the state of Georgia in the year 2008. Since this article was originally published, I once again worked within my field, but the pay was lower than it had been even before I was self employed, and required a three hour daily commute to work and back. The work load was heavier than I had experienced in the past, I received no cost of living raise in my almost three years of employment, was denied annual leave in spite of having over five weeks available on the books, finally retiring early to avoid mandatory overtime in spite of my extremely long daily commute. With the loss of workers rights and negotiation rights of labor in the workplace, discrimination against the working poor has only increased since the big bank bail out of 2008. Without the benefit of Affordable Healthcare, I would have found myself once again without health insurance at 63 years of age. Since Georgia rejected Medicaid expansion, I only qualify because I work close to full time as a substitute teacher. People with less money than I have in Georgia still cannot have the benefit of health insurance, in spite of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
MORE DEBUNKED GENERAL ASSUMPTIONS
All poor people are not black, and those who are black are often working full time, or as I once was, working more than full time. Many food stamp "hand out" takers work at McDonald's or Burger King on a full time basis, or accept as many hours as they are allowed to do for minimum wage or little more. It is often difficult for the educated poor to find employment in such establishments, as was the case with me; however, I was able to find five low paying jobs that assisted with my survival, while not covering all of my needs. Today I draw social security benefits and work as a substitute teacher for minimal pay when school is open. Social Security does not sustain me, and substitute teaching is not available two months of the year. I hope to again work in my field on a contract basis, but making that happen is proving to be difficult in today's employer favored economic climate.
Next time you consider referring to someone who is financially challenged as "a taker," or claim they want "something for nothing and are too lazy to work," please think twice, and consider how much work republican congressmen have done recently. Whether or not you choose to believe it, it happens to the best of us, is happening to educated and hard working people today and could happen to you.
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