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Thursday, May 14, 2015
Poverty and Myth
I was shocked this week to be confronted with someone who insisted that some giant majority of welfare recipients are deliberately having babies in order to “get a bigger check”.
She could provide no evidence for this assertion, other than unverifiable anecdotal “friend of a friend told me so”.
Another pervasive Myth has also reared it's head this week, that “poor=lazy”.
And yet another, that Poverty is the result of low morals and single-parenthood.
None of the people making these assertions could provide hard evidence to support them....nor could they prove the Causal Relationships contained in such assertions.
And none of them made any mention of the 35 year experiment in Wage Stagnation, other than to deny it's relevance and even it's existence.
Race is sublimated into these discussions, frequently...often unconsciously.
A job is a job is a job...and the Myth persists that if one would merely get off the porch, get a job(any job) and work hard, everything would be fine.
As I've been hammering away at for years, the water we swim in is never considered.
The Fish are to be blamed for their poor health....water quality be damned.
It doesn't seem to matter when giant piles of data are brought to bear against this system of Myth.
One hears about the “Dignifying Power of Work”....as if working, itself is it's own reward, no matter that you're working for peanuts, in a job with a horrible boss who thinks that a 10 cent raise is cause for rejoice.
One also hears that the various Welfare Programs are , somehow, a “Disincentive” to get out there and get a job.
This last is particularly odious...it relies on the Assumption that Welfare is, somehow, living High on the Hog....that relying on Foodstamps to supplement one's meager wages in order to be able to “put food on your family” means lobster and caviar.
In my life, to throw anecdotes of my own, I have indeed met a vanishingly small minority of folks who “Game the System”....but it never lasts for long. There are checks that are quite effective in weeding those people out.
And at any rate, such perfidy is very hard to do.
The System is so concerned that someone may get something that they do not deserve, that it errs on the side of dysfunction. A great number of folks who are perfectly entitled and deserving of such help, do not get it...because of the time consuming and byzantine gauntlet one must run in order to qualify.
Many are left out because of the pervasive stigma, itself....that Mythology that paints a big red L on anyone who uses an EBT card.(L is for “Lazy”, but there are other words that are flung at Poor Folks who deign to seek a helping hand)
A little anecdotal digression: all but one of the folks I have known who willfully attempt to “Game the System” were White and Hard Core Republican.
And all but two of them ended up either in jail, or on probation.
Another variety of dissent and denial that there is a problem, are those Free Market Fundamentalists who see a Living Wage as a travesty.
Who think that Minimum Wage actually causes Poverty, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.
“The Market will take care of it, if we would just kill government and let the Market work.”
I have even less patience for these folks,lol.
Where do you even begin, when the very Foundations of their argument are so very flawed?
Having been low wage(food service) for my adult life, I know perfectly well that if any of my bosses had been allowed to pay their cooks less, they would have been quick to do so.
The Free Marketers then say, “well...go look for another job”...forgetting the relative scarcity of jobs out there, as well as the problem that all those other hypothetical jobs pay just as little, and are operating under the same assumptions...and overlooking the hard fact that when jobs are scarce, the prospective employee has no bargaining power.
There is a Food Bank on the corner. It's run by a collection of local churches, with a little shaky support from various government programs...that often come with some rather crazy strings attached, again...rooted in the Unexamined Assumptions.
I support this Food Bank, when I can. We give them our surplus eggs(which is illegal, it turns out...just more systemic roadblocks, based on assumptions, that prevent us from actually tackling the problems)
But I take issue with some of the methods employed there.
Desperately poor people, who often work like the dickens, but still cannot adequately feed themselves, are given a sermon before they are given access to the donated food.
It is an opportunity to evangelise. One must run a sort of gauntlet of well meaning lay preachers who will tell you that if you would only accept Jesus into your heart, everything would be fine.
If you, dear reader, are an Evangelical Christian, you likely do not see the problem, there....which is, in itself, a large part of the overall Problem:
failure to put yourself into the shoes of those you are trying to help.
This is probably the biggest problem of all, in getting to the Roots of Poverty.
The Free Marketer, the Unconscious Racist, the well meaning Christian...all of them share a reliance on Unexamined Assumptions about the Causes of,and Remedies for, Poverty...and they all reliably fail to even attempt to put themselves into the shoes of the Poor.
It is so much easier to say ”lack of morals”,”Lazy”,and all the rest, than to dig into the roots...because then you might have to change your opinion, not only about Poverty, but about economics, politics, and all the social and cultural things that we often take for granted, when we, ourselves, are not Poor.
It's easy for the well off to say,”get a job” and wash their hands of the issue.
Their Assumptions....and the world view that is based on them...are made safe that way.
It is hard to look at those Assumptions, and then abandon those that do not comport with Objective Reality....let alone Reality as Perceived by someone standing in a very different life-space from you.
This is a good way to spend an hour and a half, if you're really interested in finding solutions to the problem of Poverty in the USA.(which, of course, is predicated on acknowledging that there IS a problem)