(More) On Poverty

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Darrell is a nice conservative guy who got tired of the anger and hate surrounding the 2012 election, the fury of rhetoric from both sides. He decided to do what few of us are willing to do: walk a year in the mindset of his opponents. So he’s blogging “My Obama Year” and his attempt to understand the progressive point of view.

But none of that is germane to this post, really.

Darrell reviews the book: Nickel And Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America by Barbara Ehrenreich. You can find his entire review on his blog. I’d like to use some of his points as a jumping-off platform.

In fact, take 5 minutes and go read his review right now…. it’s succinct and clear and crisp writing, and it won’t take you more than 5-10 minutes.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.


Done? Good.

So, Darrell makes three major points based on Ehrenreich’s attempt to step into the shoes of the working poor and understand just how hard it is to “make it” in America these days.  She worked a series of minimum wage jobs and survived to write a book about it.

His observations afterward are simple:

1) the upper classes don’t understand the poor. 
The people making the laws literally cannot understand the mindset of someone who has no social capital, no solid education, no mentors for career advancement, no aspirations to become anything better. To be poor is to live in a world the not-poor cannot understand. The book’s author didn’t. And so she tended to blame the poor for their failures, when her own successes and abilities are built on the shoulders of factors beyond her control — social status, family wealth, parental involvement, access to education, etc.

2) being poor is expensive. 
Ever try to dig yourself out of a financial hole? It’s tough. Unless you’re making enough money to save a chunk each month, you can NEVER ever get ahead.  As Darrell writes, the startup costs of being poor are very high.

3) being poor in America still sucks.
We collectively love the mythology of the American Dream — if we simply work hard enough, we can achieve success. People who are poor are being catered to by the government. They have no excuse, the story goes, for failure.

[points come from Darrell’s post; examples partially mine]

Truth is …. poverty strips people of their humanity.  It robs whole families and ensuing generations of the ability to launch themselves or their kids into a more stable position.

I didn’t really understand this until recently. I think the American Dream mythology is so strong in our rhetoric, especially during election years, that any of us who made it into college or into a stable job feel pretty good about our success … and assume that everyone else has the same chances.

But many people are beginning to recognize this isn’t the case.

Now the crux of the argument is this: what are we supposed to DO about poverty? More on that when I have something to say. 🙂


Great stuff to read:

A better definition of poverty from the Chalmers’ Center at Covenant College, dedicated to “helping without hurting” (development for poor communities in the US and abroad, rather than simply relief)

Don’t say there’s nothing we can do to make a difference. The Church is vast, and our Gospel mission extends to making the structures and systems of this world better for the people around us.

In fact, the Bible has a lot to say about the poor, and how working for more just and humane systems/institutions is absolutely a biblical theme. [This site comes from a definitely point of view rather than an objective list, but the verses can speak for themselves.]

It’s not just about personal work ethic, though making good decisions and working hard IS the major avenue to a stable situation. But the system itself is broken. People who WANT jobs can’t get one….. and our economic system struggles to match workers to open jobs.


This discussion is just so huge.  As I do my own chewing, I will keep writing. Living a Gospel life *must* mean something in the lives of people I contact, and that will always include the poor.

food table in the Dominican Republic
A table to beautiful students I met in 2008 in the Dominican Republic, where the average annual income is barely $2000/yr


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