Poverty Robs You

In conversations about poverty and welfare, you may have heard things like:

  • “People in poverty just need to work harder. Then they’ll get off welfare.”
  • “God helps those who help themselves.”
  • “The Bible says, ‘He who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat.'” (I hate this distorted application of 2 Thessalonians 3:10.)

You might have even said these things. I admit that I’ve at least thought them myself. It’s typical for a growth-minded culture, which is a mindset that places like Greenville can offer places like Allendale.

But we must be careful not to wave a calloused and dismissive hand over people in Allendale, a place where over 90% of children receive free lunch and most also have Medicaid as their primary insurance. 

Here are some words from A Framework for Understanding Poverty (Ruby Payne):

“Vulnerability for people in poverty is concrete. When the price of gas goes to $2.20 a gallon it can mean having to work half a day to fill the tank. When one’s attention is focused on the unfolding crisis of the day, people in poverty fall into what Paulo Freire calls the tyranny of the moment. Adds Peter Swartz: ‘The need to act overwhelms any willingness people have to learn.’ In this way poverty robs people of their future stories and the commitment to education. It requires them to use reactive skills, not true choice making, to survive. And finally, it robs them of power; the power to solve problems in such a way as to change the environment — or to make future stories come true.”

We know a family (husband, wife, 5 children) who lives in trailer off a main highway. They have only 2 window units for air conditioning, so in the summer, all 5 kids sleep in the living room. Their front door has no doorknob.

For most of 2011, the main breadwinner in the home was mom, who drove over 1 hour each way to work at a fast-food restaurant. Figuring that she earns minimum wage (or maybe a little more), it means that she probably uses one-third of her daily pay just for gas. And what happens when she has car trouble (which is common due to wear-and-tear)? No income.

The five kids are really talented:

  1. Oldest son is a three-sport star athlete.
  2. Another is a talented artist (sketching and drama).
  3. Another son is a peacemaker and has the best leadership potential.
  4. Daughter is a great athlete herself, and a scholarship may be her only chance for higher education.
  5. Youngest is full of energy, but conversely, struggles to control his enthusiasm (i.e., sit still).

Should we tell this family to “just work harder and you’ll grow out of your poverty”? As much as I’d like a simple answer to their problems, I know this isn’t true. This family — especially these kids — just need a shot. They don’t need a hand out as much as they need a helping hand.

And to give them a helping hand probably means our hands have to get dirty. Yes, it’s time to Just Do Something.

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**image courtesy of mikecogh via flickr


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One response to “Poverty Robs You”

  1. Darlena says :

    Very thoughtful post. I often hear the “poor people just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps” argument, and it drives me crazy! I will have to check that book out. Thanks.

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