I found this blog post today, via CNN, regarding what it feels like to live in poverty. The author, John Scalzi, grew up in a poor, single parent household. I feel enraged sometimes during this election--and I'm not going to get on a political soapbox right now. Everyone who knows me, knows I'm a Democrat. That's not the point--politicians are just, as cliched as the phrase goes, out of touch. Really, I don't know how you can live the life of a politician without being out of touch. It just goes with the territory.
The blog post made me think of several things. First, though I know that Josh and I have been "poor" for awhile now, we don't feel truly poor. You want to know the difference between temporary poverty and generational, relentless poverty? Choice. We grew up with choices. And everything we've been pushed to accomplish since birth has just given us the ability to make different and better choices as we go along.
Anyway, the post by John Scalzi from his blog, "Whatever" paints the reality of those living on the other end of the spectrum:
Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.
Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.
Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they’re what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there’s not an $800 car in America that’s worth a damn.
Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.
Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends’ houses but never has friends over to yours.
Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t hear you say “I get free lunch” when you get to the cashier.
Being poor is living next to the freeway.
Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last.
Being poor is wondering if your well-off sibling is lying when he says he doesn’t mind when you ask for help.
Being poor is off-brand toys.
Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.
Being poor is knowing you can’t leave $5 on the coffee table when your friends are around.
Being poor is hoping your kids don’t have a growth spurt.
Being poor is stealing meat from the store, frying it up before your mom gets home and then telling her she doesn’t have make dinner tonight because you’re not hungry anyway.
Being poor is Goodwill underwear.
Being poor is not enough space for everyone who lives with you.
Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your supermarket shoes when you run around the playground.
Being poor is your kid’s school being the one with the 15-year-old textbooks and no air conditioning.
Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.
Being poor is relying on people who don’t give a damn about you.
Being poor is an overnight shift under florescent lights.
Being poor is finding the letter your mom wrote to your dad, begging him for the child support.
Being poor is a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet.
Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger’s trash.
Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.
Being poor is believing a GED actually makes a goddamned difference.
Being poor is people angry at you just for walking around in the mall.
Being poor is not taking the job because you can’t find someone you trust to watch your kids.
Being poor is the police busting into the apartment right next to yours.
Being poor is not talking to that girl because she’ll probably just laugh at your clothes.
Being poor is hoping you’ll be invited for dinner.
Being poor is a sidewalk with lots of brown glass on it.
Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.
Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.
Being poor is your kid’s teacher assuming you don’t have any books in your home.
Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.
Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.
Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere.
Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually stupid.
Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually lazy.
Being poor is a six-hour wait in an emergency room with a sick child asleep on your lap.
Being poor is never buying anything someone else hasn’t bought first.
Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that’s two extra packages for every dollar.
Being poor is having to live with choices you didn’t know you made when you were 14 years old.
Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.
Being poor is knowing you’re being judged.
Being poor is a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book from a community center Santa.
Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every soda machine you go by.
Being poor is deciding that it’s all right to base a relationship on shelter.
Being poor is knowing you really shouldn’t spend that buck on a Lotto ticket.
Being poor is hoping the register lady will spot you the dime.
Being poor is feeling helpless when your child makes the same mistakes you did, and won’t listen to you beg them against doing so.
Being poor is a cough that doesn’t go away.
Being poor is making sure you don’t spill on the couch, just in case you have to give it back before the lease is up.
Being poor is a $200 paycheck advance from a company that takes $250 when the paycheck comes in.
Being poor is four years of night classes for an Associates of Art degree.
Being poor is a lumpy futon bed.
Being poor is knowing where the shelter is.
Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.
Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.
Being poor is seeing how few options you have.
Being poor is running in place.
Being poor is people wondering why you didn’t leave.
I forgive you if you didn't read the whole list. I didn't even relate to these until I worked 6 years in low-income housing and then had my mini-taste of poverty. But if I have one message it's that true poverty is not a choice. Because people living in true poverty have few, if any choices. They can't just "get it together" and go "fix" themselves. I can't tell you how many people actually think that this is how it works. It is a hard, slow, sloggy, uphill journey to leave poverty and it requires many caring hands, many caring individuals, lots of bravery, and yes, even some government assistance.
And I will tell you something else--even people who don't work, who live solely off of government assistance, who are addicted to substances, who rely on men (b/c we're mostly talking about single mothers here) who abuse them, who trade sex for milk money, diapers, or shelter, who are the lowest of the low--poverty is not a badge of honor for them. They don't wish to be in that position. They don't wish for that sort of life for their children as poverty gets passed from one generation to the next. I've met enough of these women to know this to be true.
Now--I'm going to switch to my religious side (I'm warning I don't have much of one), but, if we, who call ourselves Christians, buy into what our leaders tell us--that poor people are lazy, that they don't deserve our love and compassion, that they are sucking away our taxes, our futures, our hard earned money, then we are not living the example Jesus set for us. I'm not a scripture quoter, I don't get to church every Sunday, I certainly don't talk to people about my Christianity, tepid though it is. But I know, with every fiber of my being, through every experience I've had, and through every scholarly Biblical lecture I've sat through, Jesus would not have turned his back on the poor. He would not have been proud of a Christian movement condemning and demonizing people in poverty.
I hope that if you were lucky enough to grow up outside of poverty, or even had very little but had parents who sheltered you, protected you, and taught you how to move up in the world, you remember that.