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*