“When wealth is passed off as merit, bad luck is seen as bad character. This is how ideologues justify punishing the sick and the poor. But poverty is neither a crime nor a character flaw. Stigmatise those who let people die, not those who struggle to live.” —Sarah Kendzior
When you begin discussing food stamps or unemployment benefits or even minimum wage it seems to me that you begin wandering into the poverty discussion.
And then it suddenly becomes this slightly odd, and slightly disturbing, discussion swinging back & forth between basic sustenance to survive versus the ability to prosper type stuff … as well as … incentive to work or ‘do better’ in life stuff.
I imagine the issue is that discussing food stamps and any unemployment budget cuts crosses both ideological and the practical.
As well as opinion versus practical.
I keep using practical because while we invest a lot of energy debating theory <desire to work versus ‘sucking the system dry’> … practically … what we are discussing is a proverbial doom loop.
I recently heard someone said something like: “… food stamps <and unemployment benefits> drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives if America didn’t make cuts to food stamps <or slow the support system in some way>.”
The idea that actually having food could possibly drain the will of someone <in any way> is slightly absurd.
How about hunger motivating ambition?
That seems almost as absurd.
I would like to point out that something like 40% of households on food stamps have at least one person working.
I would also like to point out some basic truths about people.
In general … the majority want to work <or do something worthwhile in terms of productivity>. People like to ‘do.’
In general <if you do not agree with the first statement> I could suggest that America has a ‘shirking segment’ at both the top and bottom …. shirking work <yet … we seem to focus on the bottom>.
In general … an even larger majority are willing to do what it takes to not have to worry about how they can afford next week … let alone next day .
In general it is only a sliver of the population who takes advantage of the system <which implies they don’t want to really work>. It is foolish to believe one person <or a smaller minority> which may actually feel this way … or behave this way … defines the behavior of the entire group.
I admit I find it slightly shocking that this level of ignorance <or cynicism> is so common in America.
I would also like to point out that the highest food stamp amount a single person receives is something like $200 a month <you try living on that>.
Take a minute.
Divide 200 by 30. This is $6.66 a day.
Yet if I receive one more email touting that the poor were dining on prime filet steaks and lobster … or that all the unemployed were lazy unincentived-to-work couch potatoes … my head will explode.
I think I am surprised at how simplistically we address this issue <among others>.
We can take food stamps away … but in the end … someone has to pay for the food.
Me <being me> I will use children as an example.
According to census and government data from 2012, 22% of American children live in poverty and 16 million live in households that are food insecure which means one in five children do not have regular access to enough food.
In 2012, the No Kid Hungry Campaign surveyed more than 1000 K-8 public school teachers across the country with results that should give everyone pause.
– Three out of five teachers reported regularly seeing children in their classrooms who come to school hungry because they are not getting enough to eat at home.
– 56% of teachers said that “a lot” or “most” of their students rely on school meals as their primary source of nutrition.
– More than half of the teachers surveyed said they frequently purchase food out of their own money for hungry kids, spending on average $26 a month.
Around 30.6m lunches and 13.15 million breakfasts are served to kids on a daily basis.
And think about this.
Although the meals are heavily subsidized, with some kids qualifying for free meals and a smaller proportion for reduced price meals <40cents for lunch and 30cents for breakfast>, parents are still struggling to pay and defaults are on the rise.
A February 2012 survey carried out by the School Nutrition Association (SNA) found that among their members 53% of school districts were experiencing an increase in unpaid meals.
According to Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokesperson for the SNA “it seems to be a lot of the families that are hovering around the threshold of poverty <that is families not poor enough to qualify for free meals but still too poor to pay the reduced rate> are the ones who can’t pay.”
Suffice it to say that a food stamp program isn’t a crutch but rather plays an integral role in basic sustenance for a shitload of people.
But … you know what?
We have a bigger issue.
We have an attitude issue.
Now, don’t get me wrong, poverty is a real issue.
But the perception of poverty <to middle class> has become a reality in many people’s minds. This is an attitudinal issue. By the way … this is as ‘real’ to people as the actual thing <scary but true>.
So this perception, while only a perception, makes it a real issue.
Government figures show one in seven Americans is food insecure.
According to Gallup, in August, one in five said they have, at times during the last year, lacked money <i.e., did not have> to buy food that they or their families needed. I do not need a Gallup poll to know that an even larger percentage feel they lack the money <i.e., believed they did not have> to meet the needs of their family <that is the attitudinal part>
By the way … just to get some politics out of the way … both figures are roughly the same as when Obama was elected.
This is not an administrative issue but a cultural issue.
However you want to discuss the topic of cuts or benefits … the question is not whether the vulnerable will be hammered … but rather by how much.
And poverty reaches into the heads of everyone at all income levels as a perception issue.
Middle class people feel like they could become poverty stricken at any moment.
Therefore. They are feeling like they are getting hammered too.
<so how sympathetic can you actually be to someone else getting hammered if your own head is getting bashed in>
In the past five years or so the middle class and the poor people have been getting slammed.
Slammed in terms of having less.
Less , in the case of middle class, may not be actual poverty but it FEELS like poverty to them because it is ‘less than I had.’
Overall the problem is the gnawing away of average living standards and specifically how the effects hammer you even moreso the lower your income.
So maybe while real poverty is important to discuss and think about … in order to get everyone aligned attitudinally we should be thinking about a poverty attitude at all income levels <albeit the highest income ‘less than’ is ludicrous to anyone in another income class>.
What we seem to be ignoring is that this group … a large group … has simply fallen into a coping strategy.
In fact … I could argue that all of America has simply fallen into a coping strategy.
And as noted in a variety of business opinion papers I have written … coping is stagnant seeking and not growth seeking.
To make my point that coping is not effective attitudinally.
– in Michigan black male life expectancy is lower than male life expectancy in Uzbekistan;
– in Detroit black infant mortality is on a par with Syria (before the war).
– over a period of 18 years, America’s white working class – particularly women – have started dying younger.
I shared that to suggest there are tangible outcomes to simply coping and we need to address the coping strategy as the issue.
Is this about equality or inequality? Or even the ‘haves versus the have nots’?
This is attitudinal.
Attitudinal with real world behavioral repercussions.
It makes it simpler to focus it on poverty … and that is okay … as long as we recognize that poverty is a combination of reality <people focused on surviving life> and perception <people worried about surviving lifestyle>.
I also imagine it all harkens back to President Lyndon Johnson in a way.
He used lots of great words to express some insightful thoughts on this issue.
In attempting to help people out of poverty, Johnson realized that he was making American society more egalitarian by lessening the gap between rich and poor, but he did not see the action he was taking as detrimental to the wealthy.
His thoughts on solving the poverty issue were not a zero sum game … in which one group’s gains promised another group’s losses.
“Our history has proved that each time we broaden the base of abundance we create new industry, higher production, increased earnings, and better income for all.” – L. Johnson
We should all have this attitude.
But it is difficult to do so in the USA because we have a slightly warped view on poverty.
<and I do not share this to not suggest poverty is real … just that we have a skewed perspective in the USofA>.
Poverty for a United States household of 4 is defined as annual income of $23,492.
This is $2,000 MORE THAN the median household income for a family of 4 in … well <insert a big ‘gulp’ sound here> … uhm … Great Britain.
It is fact that the amount of true poverty in the US is considerably less than in the EU. US is a prosperous nation.
However … the definition of poverty in the USA is far more generous than in the EU and grows annually.
I imagine I am asking that we should not confuse the definition of poverty with its reality.
Timbro <a Swedish economics research institution> published “eu vs us” showing how the various EU countries would rank in terms of prosperity if they were US states.
Pretty nearly the entire EU would rank about 45th to beyond 51st in terms of prosperity.
UK would rank 48th <along with Arkansas and Mississippi> and 55% of the British would be defined as living in poverty.
The analysis includes measures of material prosperity for “Americans living in poverty” and for ALL Europeans.
By most measures the average poor American has a higher standard of living than the average non poor European.
The US poor are more likely to own their own homes, have more rooms and living space, have more property, are more likely to own 2 or more cars, have an attached garage and have more household appliances, TV’s, computers, cell phones, etc. than the average “non poor” European.
That doesn’t necessarily refer to ‘poverty’ but I am attempting to give some perspective on what ‘poor’ is in reality.
I don’t believe it is important that we argue whether we feel impoverished or not but instead we discuss increasing abundance for all.
Things like food stamps … fighting poverty … using LBJ words … come down to a moral basis:
“Because it is right, because it is wise.”
To me, attitudinally, we need to create a mindset of an America ‘in which every citizen shares all the opportunities of his society.’
I use these words in comparison to ‘citizens simply coping.’
There is a term called ‘soulless wealth.’
‘Soulless wealth’ is abundant wealth that remains inaccessible to all but a relative few.
Soulless wealth typifies a society divided between haves and have-nots.
I would suggest that soulless wealth is not just a tangible economic concept but one that resides in the minds of people … at all class levels and income levels.
Whoa … how can that be?
– Those at the lower incomes who use <or abuse> the system to attain whatever wealth level they achieve is soulless.
– Those at the higher levels who abuse the system to create abundant wealth is soulless.
– Those in the middle class who, out of fear of poverty, use the system by whatever means to avoid the fear is soulless.
Soulless wealth, the issue, is attitudinal. And attitudinal at all income levels.
I say that because we talk about welfare and food stamps and unemployment benefits as if they are dollars and cents like decisions … and as we say those things we are avoiding the overall attitude of America.
The few talking heads who blather away on TV have lost touch.
They use soaring words of hope … and bow their heads when speaking of the despair of poverty … and then move into working hard and earning … and … well … they have lost touch.
People are simply coping.
And coping means that all this other talk is irrelevant.
Here is the real deal.
For all the talk about ‘getting a free pass in life’ through handouts … most people know that Life is hard.
And they are okay with that.
It reminds me of a great scene in West Wing:
I never imagined at $55,000 a year, I’d have trouble making ends meet. And my wife brings in another 25. My son’s in public school. It’s no good. I mean, there’s 37 kids in the class, uh, no art and music, no advanced placement classes. Other kids, their mother has to make them practice the piano. You can’t pull my son away from the piano. He needs teachers. I spend half the day thinking about what happens if I slip and fall down on my own front porch, you know? It should be hard. I like that it’s hard. Putting your daughter through college, that’s-that’s a man’s job. A man’s accomplishment. But it should be a little easier. Just a little easier. ‘Cause in that difference is… everything.
People are willing to work hard.
They just ask for two things:
– I don’t want to cope … I want hope.
– I am willing to work hard … but could you just make it a little easier.
Unfortunately … there are some dollars and cents attached to this.
People are willing to work hard if they think they are getting a fair deal in return.
People are willing to work hard if they get a little help now and then to give them a breather.
By the way.
This isn’t about ‘getting something for free’ … this is about fairness and being the best you can be.
Coping isn’t fair.
Coping isn’t being your best.
Coping doesn’t lead to greatness.
But we have a coping economy and population.
That’s the issue.
That’s why people are so angry about perceived handouts and the so called ‘welfare state’ and things like that.
We all need to remember … poverty is neither a crime nor a character flaw. We should be less angry … be interested in refinding our soul <as we continue to seek some wealth – which is a good thing by the way> … and our leaders need to figure out how to get people to stop coping and start thinking bigger.
Before you get angry <on this topic>.
I do not begrudge anyone who is feeling like they are coping … but it would be nice if most of us kept coping in perspective. Using myself to begin the perspective … I discuss poverty … and I certainly understand financial stress … but I doubt I, and many others, do not truly grasp poverty.
I have never been in a situation where I was afraid I would starve to death while I worked to death.
Just think about that before you get too angry.