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Carol Baker is the co-host of "BROADSIDED" with th... Read more


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The Opinionated Bitch – On “Poverty Envy”
07/31/12

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Poverty ROCKS! (Because having a job, living indoors and eating 3 squares a day is for suckers...)

There’s an ever-increasing phenomenon sweeping the land that I’m calling “Poverty Envy”.  It’s where, the closer we get to the November election, the more you see people, who I can only assume are in the middle class, commenting across social media that the poor in this country not only aren’t poor, they’re actually living high on the hog – and they’re doing it all on your dime.  That’s right, the poor in this country have several things in common.  1.  They all own an iPhone.  2.  Everything the poor have acquired they have gotten for free.  3.  Poor people all drive nice cars.  4.  Poor people all have manicured nails.  5.  Women of color are the most abusive of “the system”.  5.  All poor people are unemployed.  6.  All poor people have a substance abuse problem.  6.  All poor people have huge flat screen televisions and satellite t.v.  7.  All poor people have tattoos.  8.  All poor people are on food stamps.  9.  All poor people get free health care.  10.  There’s no such thing as hunger in America. 11.  Poor people pay no taxes.  12.  The deficit in this county could be resolved if all entitlement programs were wiped out overnight.

Poverty envy resembles penis envy in that one is connected to an election and the other, an erection.  The other thing they have in common is that they’re both based on a false premise.  The final thing they have in common is that both are only accepted by dicks.

I watched Princess Bride again.  So many great parts, but I roar with laughter when the villain Vizzini, ignoring the obvious at every turn continues to exclaim, “Inconceivable!”  After the umpteenth such declaration, his minion, Inigo Montoya furls his brow and says to the dim-witted and deluded Vizzini, “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.” Those words echo each time the Right decries the ‘entitlement mentality’ of the poor in this country and how it has created ‘the Welfare State’.   Entitlement?  Permit me to quote Inigo Montoya when I say to my Conservative friends: “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”

When we speak of entitlement, what we’re really talking about is a guarantee of access, not that people are “entitled” to free money as a part of some subversive Socialist plot.  It’s about access, people.  It doesn’t mean a free ride – it means you have access to a way out of your circumstances.  My Conservative friends are trying to make certain the elderly, the indigent and the unfortunate never again have access to programs designed to lift them from homelessness, joblessness, under employment and hunger.  Because if you find yourself in any of those situations, you deserve your lot in life for the bad decisions you’ve made and welfare and food stamps lead to nothing but laziness and a life of largesse.  If cutting you off means you then die of hunger or disease, it’s your own fault, according to those with Poverty Envy.

But is this the reality of life on public assistance?  50 million Americans now live in poverty.  22 million families have been forced to “double-up”, or share living quarters with another family as a way of avoiding homelessness.  In 7 years, the median household income has declined by more than seven percent.  The average American has less buying power than they did almost 20 years ago, adjusting for inflation.  The news is very bad for women, who, even if they worked full time, year round earned 77 percent of that for men doing exactly the same job.  Poverty rates increased for children from 20 percent to 22 percent since 2007.  2 percent may not sound like much to you, but that number translates into millions of children. And EXACTLY what percentage of the American population is on welfare?  4.1 percent.  The average person who accepts assistance from AFDC (Aid to Families With Dependant Children) does so for less than 2 years – 20 percent for less than 7 months.  38.8 percent of those are white.  39.9 percent are black. Given the income and net worth disparity between blacks and whites, whites are far more likely to seek public assistance than African-American citizens.  (US Dept of Commerce)

So, how much are these welfare queens getting every month, that allows them to fund their high-living lifestyle anyway?  According to the GAO (General Accounting Office), Statistics show that average welfare benefits pay below the poverty line and less than a full-time job. Research overwhelmingly proves that welfare recipients prefer work to welfare. The GAO has reviewed over 100 studies on welfare and concluded that welfare does not significantly diminish the incentive to work.  Whaaaaat?

I went so far as to ask someone I know on welfare how much she gets for her and her 3 kids:  $526 per month in food stamps and $403 per month in welfare cash assistance. Hmmm… let’s do some math on that.  4 people eating 3 meals a day is 12 meals x 30 days in a month is 360 meals.  $526 divided by 360 meals comes to a luxurious $1.46 per person per meal.  I asked her how on earth she manages to provide nutritious meals on that and she replied:

“I can’t.  I have cut back and eat only 1 meal a day so the kids have more.  We had a family meeting and the kids agreed to skip lunch every day during the summer so they could have a better breakfast and a better dinner.”

I hope she couldn’t see the tears in my eyes as I looked away.  She has cut down from serving 360 meals a month to serving 210 meals a month to stretch their food dollars.  In other words, it allows her to spend a whopping $2.50 a meal.  They get meat once a week and fresh fruit and vegetables three times a week.  They eat a lot of rice and beans.  I asked my friend what it was like to use her card in the grocery store.  She’s told me people have actually said to her that she shouldn’t have had kids if she couldn’t afford to feed them.

“People assume I have three baby daddies for my three kids.  They don’t know I was in a committed relationship when I had them.  Of course, he left me because being a husband and father is too hard, so he left the state and I don’t know where he is.”

Interesting how the person left behind to do the heavy lifting of raising those kids is the one frowned upon and the person who abdicated his responsibilities is free, unfettered and lives with no such stigma.  It made me think of the words of modern philosopher, Eli Khamarov who said, “Poverty is like punishment for a crime you didn’t commit.”

But Conservative think tanks like the Koch Brother-funded Heritage Foundation work hard at dividing America by demonizing the poor.  Last year, they postulated there really isn’t any such thing as a poor person in this country because of the “things” they have.  So, I was wondering what ‘things’ the poor had that made them not poor.  Turns out it comes down to things like refrigerators, microwaves and coffee pots.  Uh huh.  Poor people aren’t poor because they can both store and cook the meager food stuffs they have.  It would seem that if poor people aren’t spooning cold beans from a can, they’re not poor enough.  And televisions.  A television is a luxury items.  I would think that lady raising three kids on her own is grateful for the presence of a television.  If she can’t afford to treat her kids to a night out occasionally, a movie or an amusement park, a few pennies of electricity hardly seems like excess.  Not to mention the “new poor” who purchased their televisions when they had jobs.  I gave away a television, a VCR and a DVR player to a family last Christmas.  Does that mean they are no longer living in poverty?  Hardly.  And possessing a coffee pot makes you not poor?  Did the Heritage Foundation phone that slur in from Starbuck’s?

Of course, there are those who believe that welfare recipients should be performing community service or out picking crops, taking those jobs away from “illegals” in exchange for their welfare check.  That’s all fine and well, but what is a single mother from Brooklyn to do with her three small children while the government ships her off to Georgia to pick onions in 100 degree heat for 12 hours a day?  And if she’s out picking onions for 12 hours in 100 degree heat, isn’t that a job?  Are they really saying that people who accept help should be forced into servitude, possibly having their children taken away from them?  Who cares for those kids and who pays for it?  Or do we ship them to Georgia to work alongside their mother in the fields?  Is it me, or does this smack of slavery?

Ultimately, the complaints against the poor never have to stand up to any factual analysis (I mean, besides here).  There was a time, that a compassionate America declared a war on poverty and believe me, we were winning it before Reaganomics.  Now, the far Right, comprised primarily of Fundamentalist Christians, have declared a war on the poor. And this is where the Christians and I must part ways…

I’m consistently told the Bible says: “God helps those who help themselves”.  No, it doesn’t. But it doesn’t tell us we are our brothers’ keepers either.  It asks the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, never answered by Jesus.  Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” And I’m a huge fan of Psalm 82 – A Psalm of Asaph. God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

Well, the wicked in this country decry class envy and proclaim themselves the victims and would have us believe that the people on welfare are the sole problem with America today.  Sadly, too many of those just a pink slip and paycheck away from poverty themselves are the ones repeating the lie.

I’ve been told I have civility issues when it comes to social justice.  It’s one thing to ignore the poor, but quite another to kick them when they’re down.  I was raised to defend the defenseless because it is the way we honor humanity.  So when I hear the poor being demonized for having to live with the hand they’ve been dealt from a very stacked deck, I tend to get a little pissy, but I’ve been working on it.  I have, however, made acquaintance with an individual on Facebook who tends to rip thoughts directly from my subconscious and commit them to the ether.  That someone goes under the moniker of “Duchess St. Rollins”.  Her highness had a few choice words for a Bagger the other night and I shall share my guilty pleasure of her response:

See, I was just going to suggest that the original poster not hate what they clearly don’t understand, but The Duchess decided to help me out on this one.  *curtsey to Her Royal Highness*

“I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil.” – Bobby Kennedy


Carol Baker is a political writer, satirist, and co-host with Vicki Childs of our Here Women Talk weekly internet talk radio show called BROADSIDED. You can hear their show every Thursday at 11 am Eastern/10 Central/8 Pacific


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62 Responses to this article

Kate September 26, 2013 Reply

I know this is an older article, but thank you for this. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to finish college and fortunate that neither my mom or dad has been laid off. (Though, the job market is still really tough and I’m probably going to have to go to grad school if I want a job.)

However, many of my friends are worse than me and it pisses me off when people run their mouths about things they know nothing about. I really would like to see them live in a failing-apart trailer with poor insulation and a barely working cooling system in Southern Arizona like my best friend. Because being poor and only receiving minimal government assistance is soooo much fun!

I think this poverty envy BS is a strategy used to trick dumb middle class folks into blaming the poor for the recession when the real problem is that the most wealthy people in the country want all of the money and want everyone to be poor.

People who abuse government assistant programs are so insignificant compared to the money that the government wastes on bailing out corporations who fire their employees anyway and give the CEOs undeserved bonus checks. And what about the banks that were bailed out that still continue the same shady practices that contributed to the recession in the first place? And what about the military industrial complex? And what about the fact that we continue to give giant tax breaks to corporations who just outsource American jobs overseas.

That is the problem, not poor people. And considering that all the statistics about people allegedly “abusing government aid” come from either hearsay or anecdotes or biased sources like the Heritage Foundation, I think for the most part it’s just there to stigmatize the poor.

carolbaker September 26, 2013 Reply

Kate, given that the Congress is voting on legislation to cut $40 billion dollars from the SNAP Program, it’s more timely than ever. And thanks for your comments. Those who came here to poor shame the most vulnerable members of our society enraged me at the time and does so even more now.

April October 6, 2012 Reply

Amen to it ALL, Sista! That is the best blog I’ve read lately. Right ON.

Brian Anderson September 3, 2012 Reply

Is it possible to limit comments to 150 words? I’m just sayin’…
There’s a lot of heartless hating on the poor from people who don’t know from poor. My nephew just espoused the idea that people who get welfare should have to pass a drug test to qualify. I asked him, “Did you get financial aid for that college degree you just got?” Yes. “How would you feel about having to pass a whiz quiz to keep getting it,” I asked. I suspect he’d have failed. I would have. Would he have begrudged me my GI Bill home loan, or his grandparents their social security? Think. Get outside your bubble. Think again. I hope that says what needs saying.

carolbaker September 3, 2012 Reply

Remember, Brian, it’s only a handout when someone else us getting it – according to some of these posters. Thank you for an exercise in intellectual honesty. Wish that was contagious.

LC Hathorn August 19, 2012 Reply

I am not so ignorant as to say there aren’t problems with the rich getting away with crimes and that they shouldn’t pay taxes, etc etc etc. …and all the usual class warfare , Occupy _____ arguments. I realize that seeing rich people who seemingly are oblivious to the problems of the world does indeed make many poorer people very angry and envious. However, you are being very dishonest when you fail to acknowledge the damage that entitlement programs have done to the people of this once-proud nation. People who, 40 + years ago, would not have dreamed of taking any sort of handout from anyone – well, they are hooked on handouts. The problem is not just that they are receiving benefits from the hundreds of alphabet soup gov’t agencies. It is that they have NO, ABSOLUTELY NO intention of ever trying to get themselves off these programs and getting into a situation in which they do not have to rely on welfare to live. I know all your “women” are going to cuss and fuss at anyone who says it, but I don’t want to get rid of all the “safety nets”, I just want some endpoint at which these folks are expected to be responsible for their own care. Disability, SSI, Medicaid, food stamps, free phones, subsidized housing, WIC, free child care, unemployment, and on and on, are endless and bottomless pits in many(more than your single digit %) cases. There are millions of people who have private insurance, own homes, have iPhones, have perfect hair, clothing, nails, a newer car than me, have PLENTY of disposable income- and yet draw government checks Medicaid benefits, SSI, food stamps, and on and on ad nauseum. Just try to suggest that they cannot get something free for a while. You will be cursed up one side and down the other. Try it. You’ll see I am right.
You are a “satirist and columnist”. I would venture to say that you have never worked with the public and dealt with the entitlement mentality or you would have a clue that you are wrong on so many accounts.

-From a man who knows

CarolBaker August 19, 2012 Reply

You venture wrong, hot shot. For seven years I was the Deputy Director of a private social services agency that subcontracted through the Department of Social Services and the Department of Mental Health. So you “know”, hmmm? Thanks again for making my case splendidly. I have never EVER denied there were abuses to the system. I have never EVER said the system was perfect. I will never EVER agree with you that the abuses are so systematic, so widespread and so egregious that children should be permitted to go hungry and women are to blame for the failure of the system. You seem pretty quick to “out” the demons of this system and, by association make the logic leap that if a person collects any form of assistance, they’re collecting ALL forms of assistance. It just isn’t so. It’s been my experience, as a social service assistance worker, that most people aren’t even aware of most of the programs out there to help them. Most of the people with whom I dealt were in the system because they’d gotten cross-ways with the law. Most of these people have no disposable income and don’t draw government checks.

Once again, thanks for making my case and thanks so much for that assumption that I don’t know JACK about poverty. You were dead wrong about that too.

Allegra August 19, 2012

Thanks again, Carol! :-)

Dom August 15, 2012 Reply

Too many people abuse the system, not all of them – but too many. When hard workers are giving money so that others can take a benefit which increases with the more poor choices (read children) they make, that isn’t a fair system. Welfare would be more equitable if it had a lifetime cap. And yes, people who can’t afford their poor choices, or children, should suffer the consequences of losing them.

carolbaker August 15, 2012 Reply

You don’t say how many is too many. You don’t describe how they’re cheating or abusing the system or how many there are. You want to take children away from mothers and who wants them? Who pays to raise them? You want to punish the women and the children for your perceived “abuse of the system” yet, no one talks about the responsibility of the men who father these kids. The women are left to clean up the mess, and you want to punish them and take their kids away because they can’t do it on their own? When is this country ever going to address the responsibility of the FATHERS in all of this? You’ll punish the women. You’ll punish the kids. You make no mention of the fathers. Dom, thanks for making my case splendidly. Just one question? If you’re suggesting a time limit on food stamps, what should that time limit be? 6 months? And what do we tell the kids where there’s no food and no assistance? “You’ve eaten enough.”? I have a better idea, when you’ve decided these kids have eaten enough, YOU look into their face and YOU tell them. YOU tell them their father didn’t give a damn about them and left, but their mom, who stuck around to do the heavy lifting, who tried really hard to hold things together is a bad mother and you, child, are being taken away by the state. Because we all know, putting kids in the permanent care of the state is far less expensive than food assistance. If we follow your lead, state orphanages make a comeback – because we all know how well kids got treated in orphanages. Christ on a CRUTCH!

Dom August 21, 2012

Any person exploiting hard working people by being part of this system for longer than two years is too many. And by exploiting I just mean using the system – if the system allows people to be on public assistance longer than two years, the system is broken and should be entirely dismantled to let people, children and all, fend for themselves just like Most Americans (the hard working ones) are doing all the time.

carolbaker August 21, 2012

And please, don’t talk to me about poor people exploiting hard working ‘Mericans. The wealthy elite you kneel to have done plenty to exploit a system they have created and have the power to further manipulate. Telling children who are loved by their mother she’s a bad person who is no longer entitled to keep them while never holding the sperm donors responsible just makes you an asshole. Don’t bother to respond, because while your withering criticism of the poor may give you a giant erection and make you feel superior, this is my blog. You’ve had your say – three times. You’ve had three chances to offer something other than total condemnation of women and children and you’re done. I don’t care if you like it and I don’t care if you think it’s fair. I’ll delete any further bullshit you post here. Sucks when someone else has all the power… doesn’t it?

Dom August 21, 2012

If you feed poor people, they make more poor people in the future – you only increase the suffering. When people know a safety net exists to feed and care for them if they are without the means, they will make choices that exploit this system. And those choices don’t exist in a vacuum. The very real threat of hunger might very well deter people from making children they can’t afford to have. I also think people don’t have a right to reproduce, but that this is a priviledge that should be earned (through education, service, etc) or at least be revocable when people abuse it by having more than two children, or any when they can’t afford them.

carolbaker August 21, 2012

You assume that the people in the system didn’t have children while in the confines of a committed relationship. Well, she was committed anyway.

And in your fantasy world where the “privilege” of having children belongs only to the educated and wealthy elite, what do we do with poor people? Sterilize them all? Middle class people would have no “right” to have children because they couldn’t be assured of continued employment. No woman could safely chance having a child because she couldn’t be assured the man in her life who has systematically received higher wages by virtue of his penis may one day walk out on her.

You previously stated you were someone “who knew”. Here’s what I know: What you are suggesting is unbelievably misogynistic and inhumane on so many levels you have reduced yourself to “flaming douchebag” status.

Kate August 10, 2012 Reply

“When the rich wage war it’s the poor who die” – A song lyric from “Hands Held High” by Linkin Park. Though the song is talking about actual combat war, it serves as a good metaphor for the “war on poverty” as well.

My fiance and I have technically been living in poverty for many years, and we might just now begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We both have Bachelor’s degrees and expensive student loan payments to go with them. Currently, they are almost $1000 per month in total (both of our payments together).

While we were attending school, my fiance worked two jobs and I had my job. It was barely enough to make ends meet. We applied for food stamps but were denied because we have no children and we “made too much money”. Any “extra luxuries” we bought, like our TV, my laptop, or road trips were payed for with our tax returns or money gifted to us (birthdays, Christmas, etc). Most went to bills and what we had left went into our very small savings.

Eventually, after we graduated, our student loans passed the “grace period” and our payments increased to the $1000 a month they are now, our debts exceeded our combined incomes and we had to leave our apartment and move back in with his parents for about 8 months. We both got “McJobs”, as you call them, to make our loan payments and credit card payments while we lived there. They were gracious enough not to charge us any rent.

Finally, a year and a half after he graduated, my fiance landed a job in his field of study and we moved back into our own apartment again. It pays well and has good benefits, but was not quite enough to live comfortably. And by that I mean not paycheck to paycheck. Even though I have my own degree, I lack on-the-job experience so it is basically useless… I cannot get a job in my field without experience and no one will give me the experience I need to get the better job. Classic Catch-22.

Since we had to move to a new city for my fiance to take his new job, I had to leave the part-time McJob I had while I lived with his parents, and figured I could obtain unemployment to help us while I looked for a job. Nope. My former employer denied me.

We were back where we started. As of right now, we have $20 in the bank and I’ve lost about 5 pounds over the past 2 weeks or so because I have been limiting myself to one meal a day to stretch our $50 a week food budget as far as it can go.

Finally though… things are looking up. It’s been almost 2 months since we’ve moved and I finally started a new job yesterday. It’s another McJob in terms of pay ($7.50 an hour), but thankfully it is full-time with a few benefits like paid sick days and paid vacation days, and a Christmas bonus. I’ll also become eligible for their health insurance (another thing neither of us have) after 90 days. I hope I can afford it.

I’ll probably make around $1000 a month which will be enough to off-set our student loan payments, and hopefully enable us to start managing and maintaining a decent savings account, and finally crawl out of the poverty hole. We’ve been engaged for 2 years; maybe we can finally set a date for our wedding. :)

We’ll still be teetering on the edge, however, and all it will take is one emergency to send us back over. It’s so sad that those higher-ups assume that all of us living in poverty are abusing the system. I wish they could live a month in my shoes. Then maybe they might understand.

CarolBaker August 10, 2012 Reply

Kate, been there, done that. Never got a penny in food stamps because I have no kids. No free health care either. Thank you for demonstrating so eloquently that poverty has many faces. I wish you and your fiance the very best and hope there are brighter days ahead for you both. You deserve it.

Kate August 11, 2012

Thank you. :)

Teresa Johnson August 10, 2012 Reply

I have spent my entire life hovering at the poverty level. Sometimes I have sunk to horrifying depths and occasionally I have seen the end of the tunnel. But I always had a job. As a single mom I worked three jobs. Leaving poverty requires a lot more than hard work. After financial aid and maxed out student loans, I am about to start my second year as an elementary school teacher. I am no longer considered impoverished but if you look at my loan re-payment you will see differently.
Just saying.

Jerryl Smith August 9, 2012 Reply

What is left out in this article, is all the other “freebies”, in addition to food stamps and welfare cash assistance. Recipients also usually qualify for HUD housing assistance, free cell phones, if they live in subsidized housing, they get utility assistance, free medical care via Medicaid or in the case of my state, TennCare. And in my area, this is a generational way of life. I don’t mind a bit giving people a temporary “hand-up.” But many of these people are able-bodied and work under the table. They’ve made living off the government a way of life. Stigma—not around here! It’s worn like a badge of honor.

CarolBaker August 10, 2012 Reply

Jerryl, are you suggesting that all of those accepting assistance get or have universal access to all of those things? In my rural area, HUD housing is almost non-existent. Free cell phones aren’t part of ANY program we have in my state (I know, I’ve called all of the state Social Service agencies and made a list of what you can get and cell phones ain’t one of ‘em). Utility assistance was cut by 75 percent in my state last year and is only good from November through March to assist with heating bills. Food Stamps have been cut and the threshold for those who quality has been raised and many people lost them. Medicaid is fine if you have children, but if you’re a single poor person, you get shit in my state. As for the able-bodied accepting handouts… the unemployment rate in my state is still over 10 percent and it’s 12.7 percent in my county. There are no jobs, except for the “McJobs”. Instead of scolding people who can’t pay the rent, the utilities and clothe their kids for taking a few bucks under the table, why aren’t we advocating for jobs and by jobs, I mean that pay a living wage? This idea that people are getting $75 a month rent, cash, phones, all they can eat and free health care, along with paid utilities is a myth – certainly around here.
Again, thanks for making my point. These free-loaders are grinding your gears, but you don’t mention the obscene profit-taking by corporations at the expense of labor. You don’t mention the ever-increasing wealth gap. You don’t mention corporate welfare. You don’t mention the wealthy sheltering their money off-shore. You don’t mention the wealthy whining about paying taxes when in reality, Mitt Romney paid half of what I do. I won’t deny there are abuses within the system. What I also won’t deny is there are people out there willing to be pissed at poor people for accepting help and remaining silent about the rape of the poor and the middle class.

Tim August 10, 2012 Reply

I believe most “free” cell phones are given out by phone companies so they can remove pay phones.

More importantly cell phones are actually the most economical way for a family to both have access to a phone and be able to surf the web (where one can find such “luxury” information as what their kids are doing in school and how to file their taxes).

Having an inexpensive pay as you go cell phone with a data plan is fiscally responsible and a necessity in our digital age.

Hannah August 9, 2012 Reply

everything about this article is perfect. everything. everything.

judith faye August 6, 2012 Reply

very interesting

earlinep August 6, 2012 Reply

Carol this is such a well written and relevant article, while I do not live in your country it seems the problem is universal.

CarolBaker August 6, 2012 Reply

Thank you, my sister.

Bron August 3, 2012 Reply

A friend sent me a link to this article. Thanks so much! I grow so weary of the endless drivel in our media these days. So nice to read a good article like this. Gives one hope.

And, yes, Jesus did say you should care for the poor (and everyone). I am paraphrasing, but he said something like “as you do for the least of these (i.e. the poor), so you do unto me” and it specifically stated that those who do not care for the poor will be condemned (for their lack of love and compassion). And, of course, his entire message was one of love and compassion for your fellow human beings on this earth. Much like the Buddha and many other religious prophets and teachers. Jesus was about as “left” as you can get. But I digress (I’m not a practicing Christian per se, but I was raised Christian and have read the New Testament.)

Anyway, thanks for a great article and keep on keeping on!

Bron August 3, 2012 Reply

Here’s the passage I referred to (one version): Matthew 25: 35-40 “‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ ” … and it goes on to condemn those who do not show compassion for the less fortunate.

Craig August 3, 2012 Reply

“I was raised to defend the defenseless because it is the way we honor humanity.” This is noble, and commendable, and an all but lost virtue. Thanks for being one of the stalwart few who practice it, and for a well written and passionate article that screams the truth. There are more of us than of them, and someday, the majority will indeed rule.

Jeannette Holton August 1, 2012 Reply

Ms. Baker, Thank your for succinctly stating many things I wish more people knew. My request is that you please not feel you must “part ways” with Christians over this issue. There are many Christians–I hope I can include myself among them–who take very seriously Christ’s admonitions and the Bible’s commands to care for the poor. Some right-wing “Christians” rationalize this mandate away, but most Christians I know would do nothing but applaud your essay and live out their lives proving they believe you.

carolbaker August 1, 2012 Reply

Fair enough. Certainly the Christians with whom I associate would agree with you. Unfortunately, your voice isn’t being heard. Your beliefs aren’t being heard. What we get is the vitriol of the Fundies who choose to cherry-pick scripture to suit their politics. There really are compassionate conservatives out there, but who can hear them over the din of the very loud Far Right?

Hayley August 2, 2012

Welllll, speaking as another Christian who tries to follow Jesus and is also disgusted by those who call themselves Christian and then (IMO) defile the very name, I point out that there’s a Commandment that warns against using the name of the Lord in vain, and I think that includes mistreating “the least of His children”. There will be a reckoning. I just fear it will not be in this life. :(

Peter Eng August 1, 2012 Reply

Incidentally, the line about God helping those who help themselves is a misquote – the original saying is from a fable, “The gods help those that help themselves.” Hercules gets this line – and it’s oddly out of character for the Hercules of the Greek myths, if only because it’s a bit more intellectual than I’d expect from him.

CarolBaker August 1, 2012 Reply

Yes – I know it’s a misquote – but it’s the favorite Biblical meme of Christians who think it absolves them of their responsibility to follow the teachings of Christ that are patently inconvenient for them.

Daniel August 1, 2012 Reply

According to the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU WIDER), the top 1% wealthiest human beings control over 50% of all the wealth in existence world-wide. Here in the good ol’ USA they only control 42%. However, the top 10% here control 93% of the wealth. Let that sink in for a moment. Top 10%….possess 93% of wealth. That leaves the other 90% to split the remaining 7%. Now that you have had the opportunity to do the math let me tell you that the trend that got us to this point is imitating the universe. In other words, where as we used to think the universe’s expansion was slowing….we have found the opposite to be true. It’s expansion is accelerating and so is the diverting of shared wealth to the top 1% with no end in sight!

For those of us who are counted among the “Baby Boomers” we can recall a more optimistic youth when opportunity seemed to exist around every corner. Anyone feel that way today? The top 1% do. In their minds they see themselves as the owners of this world….and rightfully so. They do own every part of this world that is worth owning. Think about it. Let’s start with land. Land is valuable for what grows on it, what is contained in it, and what is buried deep below it and ALL of that land is owned by corporations….which are, of course, owned by the 1%. They own the mineral rights, drilling rights, even the water rights. Water rights, did you know that? Fresh water sources are becoming more and more scarce as the climate changes take effect in the most populated areas. Think bottled water is expensive now? Wait until you’re dying of thirst. By the way, they also pretty much own the air as well. They own all the airlines of any significance, and whether you choose to believe it or not, they also control the highly technological military air forces….at least the one that counts. Don’t think so? Well, I guess we should have listened to President Eisenhower when he gave his farewell speech upon leaving the oval office. He warned us to keep an eye on the US Military Industrial Complex, to insure they did not become all powerful and able to act with impunity. We should have listened….but we didn’t. So….that covers the land, sea, and air.

What else is there? Well for starters there is the media, the place we all get our information about what’s happening in the world. Over the past 3 decades media outlets and sources have been bought up and consolidated into fewer and fewer corporations. With the exception of the internet, there are few sources of information that are not heavily censored and edited prior to public release. Even the internet is under assault from the 1% because it is still somewhat resistant to their control. Think about it. Do you watch the national network news? How about their local affiliates? Do you believe what they tell you is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Are they even reporting the events of the day that truly matter to your daily life and your future? I see little news in the news being reported these days.

Next is the banking industry which includes the credit, mortgage, and insurance companies that control the flow of all wealth around the planet. The banking industry enables the 1% to keep the 99% enslaved through debt. You will always owe someone for something because life….is expensive. The 1% has seen to that. You cannot buy, sell, trade, or own anything without paying the 1% for the privilege. Think about that. You are even charged for the privilege of accessing your own money! The 1% has legislated laws to keep funneling the little wealth you have into their pockets. One word…..taxes!

Let us move on to the political arena. Do you vote? Do you think your vote has the power to change the world? If so I have some bad news for you, it does not. You may think you are voting to elect a public servant who has your interests at heart….they do not. You get to choose from a very limited selection, one that has been chosen for you by the 1%. Do you really believe that the ultra-wealthy would leave the political process to chance? That they would stand by and allow anyone to be elected who might get legislation passed that would wrest wealth and power from them and give it to the 99%? Let’s be real. You get to choose from the 1% candidate A, B, C, or D and that is all. It’s like trying to break the house in Vegas, their game….their rules. You may win a game here and there, but in the end…..the house keeps the lions share. Same with politics.

Now to the most serious ownership problem we face. It was mentioned above briefly. The military Industrial Complex. Do you know what that means? It is the sum total of all individuals and organizations, corporations, and government agencies involved in the development, distribution, and deployment of all military forces, technology, and weaponry on the planet. Who do you suppose is in control of this juggernaut? If you said the Commander-in-Chief you would be, of course, WRONG! As we have already established that the Commander-in-Chief was bought and paid for by the 1% before he got there (that’s how they got there), the correct answer is the 1%. If there is anything the 1% fears, and I doubt they fear anything, but if there were it would be the “R” word. Revolution. Now, how does one stop a revolt in its tracks? Hmmmmm……..I would have to say by unleashing a highly sophisticated technologically advanced military force, that has neither a conscience nor the ability to feel remorse, on a poorly armed populous. Remember the first Gulf war…shock and awe? That is how they would take down our population.

So now you may be asking yourself why? Why would the 1% do this, what would be the point? Let us examine a few well known facts about humanity and the planet earth. Our world is a place of finite resources. There is only so much tillable land to grow food on. There are only so many sources of fresh water. There is only so much oil, coal, and natural gas to be had. Now, eventually, these resources will be exhausted. It may take a few hundred years, but at some point in the future, if our population continues to grow as expected, 7 billion very soon, we will run out of all of these things. Did a light bulb light up above your head? You now know the reason the 1% is doing what it’s doing. They plan to extend, not only the finite resources of the planet for generations, but their ownership of said planet.

The 1% live in a very different world from the one you and I share. In their world there is no strife, no fear, nor heartache. They do not get up in the morning and cook breakfast. They do not drive themselves to work nor do they greet their boss and fellow workers with a hearty “Good Morning”. They do not “grab” some lunch at the local diner or gossip about the newbie at the water cooler. They do not come home and cook dinner while looking forward to their favorite tv show, and they do not tuck their children in for the night and read them a bedtime story. They pay other people to do all those things so they can do the one thing they enjoy……the gathering of wealth and power unto themselves. That’s it. All day, all night, 24-7-365! That’s why they are the 1%.

For those of you who choose not to believe any of what I have stated here I commend you! For you will live out your days in blissful ignorance unto the end of days. Though that may become much more difficult as the days and weeks pass, it is one of the few choices you have left. For the rest of you I will give you this. Our minds are free to think what we will and that is a comforting thought. Keep your mind open, your eyes and ears as well, and remember to cherish each day of your life as the uncommon gift it is. Who knows, I may be completely wrong about everything…..I certainly hope so! The human spirit is strong, it has overcome much throughout our violent history.

carolbaker August 1, 2012 Reply

I believe you.

Desiree Jordan August 1, 2012 Reply

Thank you so much for this extremely HONEST article Carole! The absence of humanity is evident in the comments that express “dissent” to your truth telling. I’m a woman of color, daughter a veteran, activist, community organizer, graduate school educated professional, married to the same man for 30 years with 2 daughters & USED TO BE MIDDLE CLASS TILL BUSH HAPPENED….and in the past 3.5 years since the election of the first POTUS of COLOR…..I have never in all my life seen such a “schizopherinic white privileged” self induced collective state of deep psychosis in my entire life. FACT: people of color are 13% of the US POPULATION- yet more than 50% of ALL AMERICAN CHILDREN GO TO BED HUNGRY EVERY NIGHT: Y’all do the MATH! There are a whole lot more POOR HUNGRY WHITE CHILDREN ON WELFARE THAN THE ENTIRE POPULATION OF ALL PEOPLE OF COLOR in America. Yet people would rather cling to their delusions that “black” poverty is what “ails” them….I actually marvel at the lengths people will go- (psychologically) to feel “superior” over those among us who are less fortunate. Poor people do not want to be poor….especially in a land of plenty….they are poor because they are LOCKED into generational structures of oppression….”To be poor in a land of plenty is EVIL” Bobby Kennedy

carolbaker August 1, 2012 Reply

Bush happened to me too. The idea that I should pawn my worldly goods and live in a cardboard box instead of asking for help so I don’t lose what I worked my entire life for seemed pretty dumb. I didn’t dare think I should eat so I didn’t ask for food stamps. I took enough grief for using the unemployment to pay the mortgage. I’m 70 pounds lighter and a whole lot angrier about the idea that any form of public assistance is wrong. I refer my previous caller back to The Duchess…

And thanks so much for sharing your story. I appreciate you.

Samantha August 1, 2012 Reply

I’m sorry… but apparently the tree you are hugging has gotten in the way of your view of reality. I am one of those low middle class Americans that is DAMN tired of footing the bill for sloth. 2 cases… you go from there. #1. A family of 3, single mother and 2 children, in San Bernardino County, CA are getting almost $800 in food stamps every month. She has a full time job and receives $500 a month in child support. Why exactly does she get any help from the government? She is netting about 5k a month between her job, food stamps, child support, free health care, and yes… cash aid of $400 monthly. That is more than double her median income before her divorce…
#2 Another single mother I know is going to college full time, getting a free ride because after 5 previous children she decided to keep the two she has now, ditch her abusive husband, and go back to school on the states dime. She gets every assistance known to man and gets to go to school for free. She got a free computer, a car, books, internet, food money, and clothes for free from the government. Oh yeah… and low income housing that costs less than $100 a month all because she wants to go to school instead of getting off her lazy ass and getting a job.

I would like to go to school. I would like to spend more than $300 a month on groceries every month. Our family income is $43,000 a year. We don’t qualify for any assistance, get no discounts anywhere, and have no insurance because we can’t afford it. You want to go to the dr, you pay cash. It’s called budgeting. Now, explain to me… why exactly am I working so hard to pay for other people to get ahead?

CarolBaker August 1, 2012 Reply

All I’m going to ask you to do is get your pejoratives straight – a “tree hugger” refers to an environmentalist who actually wants clear air for your kids to breathe and clean water for them to drink… those bastards, those TREE HUGGERS! Samantha, what I heard from you was a rant because you believe somebody else got something you tried to get and couldn’t and now you’re mad about it. I have no idea what the mitigating circumstances are in either her finances or yours but I was waiting for a comment just like this one.

You’re blaming someone for accessing services that will get them out of poverty and homelessness. Education is the way out. You’re angry because a woman didn’t stay with her abusive husband, take a minimum wage McJob and when he finally left her for greener pastures, she should… go take up residence behind the McDumpster? You’re pissed at the wrong people, Samantha and making a blanket indictment of everyone who accepts assistance. I have a newsflash for you: In my little midwest rural community, no such under a $100 a month government housing exists and with no public transportation, these folks MUST have a car and the government doesn’t provide those here either. So, I’m not certain about all the programs in California – but the Midwestern “sloth” you so revile, gets $7.25 an hour minimum wage while she pays $3.89 per gallon of gas to go to her McJob that’s 50 miles round trip in her 1985 van with 250,000 miles on it and 13 miles to the gallon in mileage. She pays $500 a month in rent. Another $300 in utilities so she and her kids can sleep on the floor in a one room apartment. There’s no money for daycare. The 10 year-old is responsible for watching the younger 2. She knows if something happens while she’s gone, she’ll be blamed for leaving them alone, but she has to work and they can’t afford daycare. She can’t afford clothes, she can’t afford a doctor and she can’t feed them. But according to you, she’s one lazy ass broad if she applied for food stamps because you make too much money out there in California to be eligible. Of course, her husband left her for another woman but if she applied for food stamps to feed the kids he won’t – you blame her.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case. I give you a classic case of “Poverty Envy”. Brought to you by the 1% who has convinced you, the women you described are to blame because YOU don’t have a better life.

Reesa Graham August 6, 2012

I would like to say two things here.
1) Carol, I love you.
2) My other irritation about this argument is what Samantha just did. Samantha, I am not attacking when I say this, but here it is. It is a logical fallacy to attack an entire system based on the result of the minority of it. It works like this. I’m not stupid, I know that there are people who abuse the system EXCEPT study after study, time after time, the people who abuse it are found in the vast minority of the people who use it. The majority of people who use these services are like Carol has already described. And they use it for the short term

So, to me, what it feels like your saying, is that because 1 of 100 people use badly, we should take it away from the 99 people (and how many of those are children?) that use it correctly?

I’m sorry, this is something I feel pretty passionately about. I live and work in a pretty poor end of NYC. And I’ve seen first hand what the cycle of poverty is and how it actually works, not how on or two cases works. I always applaud those who can get out of it, and I wish the system allowed for more help for more people to do so. (And I should end now before I start ranting on the economy and its problems as a whole – tied to this, but not the same thing)

Reesa Graham August 6, 2012

Nope, two more quick things.

I actually refuse to believe that either of these two woman are abusing the system without seeing a full finical work up of what they have versus what they’re getting. Heresy isn’t proof, that’s why they won’t take it in a court of law. The kind of abuses I’m talking about are clear violations, like “Ol’ Dirty Bastard”. (Google him and welfare if you don’t know what that means).

I think the truth of the matter is that unless you have walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, you don’t know what they actually have, what they are actually given, or what they are actually living off of.

Grace Ahmed August 1, 2012 Reply

I would love the woman who said her family had decided to give up lunch for the summer, and others like her, to know that the USDA gives out free lunch to kids under 18 during the summer months. National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE to find a site nearby.

carolbaker August 1, 2012 Reply

Thank you, Grace. She is an acquaintance of mine and I will absolutely let her know.

Aurelia Blue August 2, 2012 Reply

In my midwestern town, the free lunches are all 15 miles away from our house. Our school corporation is centralized and the towns feeding into range in a 25 mi radius. There are no buses in the summer. This would require a car and gas. At the very least.

Steven R Vogel August 1, 2012 Reply

I read your and the Duchess’ comments and fell right flat on my ass in love.

Erinys August 1, 2012 Reply

Ms. Baker,
Thank you. It does my, I dunno, soul good to read someone else genuinely care about and investigate this. Ever since my freshman year at Oberlin and seeing video from early 1960s when footage of the tremendous poverty white middle-class people covered their eyes to was broadcast, this subject has obsessed me. I never expected to be among the poor. I didn’t expect to become disabled. I didn’t expect my once sweet former husband would hit me (ladies, please look into the effects of toxoplasmosis exposure on men before you try to combine them in a household with cats, and your odds could be better than mine were). Usually I am alone in bursting the Facebook fantasy bubbles of right-wingers. It is a great relief to see I’m not alone, it just feels that way. That inspires me to go burst some more bubbles. Thanks!

David July 31, 2012 Reply

good read. Couple of thoughts. The first being that it seems like the people on the top rungs of society are trying to convince those in the middle that their problem is with the people below them. Telling them that they have to keep an eye on them, because they want to climb up and take what they have. The whole time those in the middle are so preoccupied that they don’t realize those on top stomping on their fingers trying to push them to the bottom as well.

As far as sending the poor into the fields, I really can’t see growers liking this idea. I can’t see them wanting people who have never picked crops anywhere near their fields. They would be afraid of damaged crops. People not working fast enough and leaving food to rot on the vein. The poor would probably want breaks, lunch, and to go to the bathroom when they want. Not to suggest that the poor would be lazy, it’s that they don’t have the experience.

carolbaker August 1, 2012 Reply

David, I think you’ve pretty well captured the strategy of the wealthy in turning the middle class against the poor. Nicely put. As for replacing migrant workers with welfare recipients? Let me reiterate that was never my idea, but some of the idiocy put out by those who would see the poor suffer for deigning to ask for assistance. We have a good number of migrant workers in our area. Anyone who has never observed them work has no appreciation for the fact they are SKILLED workers, doing hot, filthy, backbreaking work for next to no money. They’re incredibly good at what they do and are perhaps some of the most underappreciated members of our society. But there’s only one thing the Right-wingers hate worse than poor people and that’s “illegals” – because they tend to characterize anyone not having lily white skin, a common American surname and no accent (southern is acceptable), an illegal. I’m frankly a little sick of the “otherism” that is something for which America should hang her head in shame.

David August 1, 2012

Along these same lines. Whenever strawberry season rolls around here there are those that suggest instead of having migrant workers pick them we need to send teenagers in to do it. They like to mention the fond memories they had doing it as kids. I like to suggest that they go to the Mall or fast food place and they will see that teenagers are already working. These teenagers are not going to want to leave these jobs to pick strawberries for a couple of weeks.

It’s a value judgement that people are putting on teens as being lazy and needing a good lesson in work ethics.

TruthOut July 31, 2012 Reply

Greetings and THANK YOU for counteracting so much misinformaton that allow the willfully ignorant to intellectually and structurally oppress so many families. I was raised on Welfare and rental assistance programs. My mom had several jobs, always getting laid off by corporate customer service positions that outsource low-skilled labor. My mom had to choose me or school. She chose me. I would think Christian conservatives would appreciate the decision, but growing up with stigma and around conservative co-workers disgracing the ‘welfare state’ has only led to the internalization of inferiority, along with social agitation living in a conservative city surrounded by ‘caring Christians’ who condescend the poor they so graciously serve. As the first to graduate from college and go on to graduate school, I would like to thank what’s left of the social system in this country for helping to get food on the table, and to what’s left of public education for offering Calgrants to low-income families so that someone like me could achieve a 4.0 and excel remarkably in grad school. I would like to thank people who question the propaganda, and publicly shame willful ignorance when it occurs. That said, I will never give thanks to my Christian ‘saviors’ who so claim to be helping the downtrodden through charity while promoting the slashing of social programs. I will never say ‘Thank You’ to arrogant women and men who think they know better than a poor person living the experience, telling them what they are and how they should be. I have yet to find the blessing in disguise from having to face so much mental oppression, besides it giving me more determination to excel and support like families through progressive taxation. And thus, as the collective unconsciousness gets more ridiculous in this country, I fear the only thing I am likely to offer to my oppressive saviors is a roundhouse kick to the face in gratitude of the pollution they spread with their mouths.

carolbaker July 31, 2012 Reply

I keep encouraging those who wish to perpetuate this misinformation to give up all their worldy good and life a life of poverty, living only “on the dole”. Not one taker. I’ve double-dog dared them. Still no takers. I came up poor. Really poor. Nearly lost everything in The Great Recession. No one talks smack about poor people to me without getting a verbal roundhouse kick. Thank you for writing. You absolutely put an exclamation point on this weeks column. Just… thank you.

Jann July 31, 2012 Reply

Wow – you and the Duchess are both just awesome. I’m sharing.

kay July 31, 2012 Reply

Very sad. I don’t know the answer, but I do know lots of people need our help, and we can’t ignore them. Especially not the children. Last night I watched a recent 60 Minutes episode I had recorded. I was heart broken to see the thousands of families — yes whole FAMILIES — living in cars. Mothers, fathers, aunts, children, even dogs and cats using their cards to sleep in at night. In one case, the the mother and kids slept in the car at night while the dad sat on a cooler outside the car all night so no one would steal it. What a tough life. Thank you, Carol, for this wake-up call.

carolbaker July 31, 2012 Reply

I’ve got an answer. End wars that were started for the sole purpose of making rich people richer while the poor kids died and the middle class paid. End the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich. End corporate welfare. Fix the tax code that has been rigged in favor of corporate personhood and profit over country. Punish corporations who send their profits overseas so they can dodge taxes.

Taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society. There will always be poverty, but we shouldn’t make sure that the game is rigged so there are a lot more of them. The increase in poverty and “doubling up” are staggering, Kay. The poor didn’t cause this. Unions and teachers and nurses didn’t cause this. Wall Street, the “Too Big to Fail” banks that are now even bigger are more dangerous and dirty money in politics caused this. It’s time to stop demonizing the poor.

kay August 6, 2012

thank you.

AllegraL July 31, 2012 Reply

May I just say, THANK YOU! You have clearly done your research.
For now, my son and I are among the 4.1%. When I first applied for AFDC, it was a 5 year program, so I made an education plan, a 5 year plan that included community college and 2 years at a state university to earn a bachelor’s degree so that I would have the education necessary to obtain a position where I could actually rise out of poverty. The Arizona governor then cut the program to a 2 year program. Only because of a successful appeal was I able to collect an additional year until I graduated at the top of my class from the community college. So now I move forward to the state university with no income and no child support so that I can fulfill my end of the obligation, yet still I manage to feed and clothe my child, by the Grace of God. WE are the fortunate ones!~ We have lived in poverty. We know love, commitment and tolerance, we know the hard work that it takes to rise out of poverty and WE will make it!
Reading this article has made my day, I look forward to reading more of your stuff!~

carolbaker July 31, 2012 Reply

No, Allegra, thank YOU. You have just proven my point that the poor have no desire to remain in poverty, want a hand up, not a hand out, desire to make it on their own and live hand to mouth – not in the lap of luxury. I know that you will give back more than you have been given. I wish you the very best of luck. Hang tough and keep in touch. We want to know how you’re doing. Graduation photos are always welcome. ;-)

AllegraL July 31, 2012

Thank you for the support! Did I mention I am a social work major? Everyone needs a compassionate hand sometimes and I am working hard to be worthy of providing that hand for others!
Keep up the great work, Carol!

rjwalker July 31, 2012 Reply

Well written.

Re “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In Genesis, when God is “looking” for the slain Abel, Cain, the killer asks him that question. God doesn’t answer.

I always just assumed everyone would say that if God had answered, the answer would be “Yes.”

I was wrong. I’ve been asking people that question for about a year. Most moderates and liberals answer that way. Most conservatives either answer “No” or, more typically, avoid answering at all – apparently aware that the answer should be “Yes” but they simply can’t seem to bring themselves to say it.

carolbaker July 31, 2012 Reply

Of course, the answer should be “Yes”.

fawnda July 31, 2012 Reply

As always, you are spot on with your research and delivery of said research. What we now have is the poor (you know, those sponging the system), and the new poor (you know, those sponging the system and keeping the electronics instead of pawning them to buy food), maybe that would be easier for them to understand. I know someone that is the new poor-they had no healthcare even though both worked 2 part-time jobs each. He never got screened, died of cancer, she has lost their house, medical debt out the wazoo, continues to work the 2 part-time jobs with no benefits, and REFUSES to go on any assistance because of the stigma that goes along with it. Hence, she pays what she can, goes without food, though some of us make “way too much food” for dinner and she accepts our explanation that no one in the family likes leftovers, so please take this off my hands comment. I know she knows. This is unacceptable in this country, yet it’s widely accepted. As for the Duchess, oh, you need to have her on.

carolbaker July 31, 2012 Reply

I know several people, victims of The Great Recession who wouldn’t take anything beyond unemployment… and they were called lazy for taking it. I understand their trepidation in taking anything else, no matter their desperation. So many people visit food pantries in neighboring communities because they fear being recognized at the local food drop. How many Americans are humiliated into starvation? Many. Too many.

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