Poor in America

7 thoughts on “Poor in America”

  1. My wife told me this story about her mother, HM. It must have happened around the time of WW II. Her father was a clerk in the water department and her mother a secretary at city hall in a large Virginia city. (She eventually rose to become the mayor’s secretary.) They lived with her mother’s parents and three of my wife’s uncles in a large house downtown, coal heat, one bathroom. The whole family had been brought low financially by the depression, the grandfather now working as a clerk in the hotel he once owned. HM walked some blocks to catch a bus to work, whatever the weather, and she had only one dress she considered suitable for work.

    After a long period she was finally able to afford a new dress, and as she was riding up to her city hall office the elevator operator, a black woman, commented, “Why Mrs. M—-, what a lovely dress!”.

    Now to put this into proper context you must understand that this was segregated America, and this was Dixie. HM was devastated and on reaching her office wept uncontrollably.

    I tell this story to illustrate a couple of points, and they are basically the same points made by Scalzi’s post. First, almost anyone can be brought low by circumstances, whether it be by financial troubles or health problems. Secondly, a proper modern civilization ought to provide its citizens with enough safety net that human respect is preserved. We have made progress with that, through SNAP, unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Some want to begin to turn the clock back to the old days in that regard, and that is at the heart of the current political battle now raging.

    1. It must be incredibly difficult to carry on when you feel embarrassed and humiliated, when your pride and self-respect have been wounded or obliterated. I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to be truly poor, to wonder where the next meal is coming from, or not have decent clothes to wear to work. However, I remember how humiliated I felt having to apply for unemployment after I lost a job. I’d gone as long as I could on savings and my last paycheck, but I finally hit the wall and I was extremely grateful to have that safety net when I needed it.

  2. Being poor is having an outdoor bathroom,
    Being poor is seeing the outdoors through the cracks in the walls while you lay in bed – and seeing the mice and rats scurry in and out.
    Being poor is being glad your child can go play with a friend after school where it will be warm.
    Being rich is having heat in any room.
    Being rich is having clothes-new-to-you from a cousin across town who outgrew them
    Being rich is having a bike to ride to work.

    This is a good piece to read – very emotional.
    It could have been written during the Great Depression(only some of these “poor” items would have felt “rich” to people like my parents) – or in the more recent recession during the 80’s.

    Good people have been poor and gone on to be successful.
    Being poor is not a crime.

    The people that handle applications for food stamps and unemployment should be carefully selected and trained to be professional – not snotty or enabling – just neutral. It’s humiliating enough to have to go to food banks and such. Dignity and encouragement is as important as food. A hand up shouldn’t be a slap in the face with a sneer – and it often is from these petty employees.

    I’d like to see this piece edited for true poverty: Some of it isn’t really poor – but that may be a matter of perspective from one who’s seen it.
    We live in a very spoiled society.
    Be thankful for opportunities and kindness of strangers

    1. I did some editing, aware that I probably should have done more. Frankly, I reached a point where I was just too emotionally spent to keep reading. Yes, perspective does matter. Fear, desperation, and despair are no respecters of income. And just as I would wish on every doctor a stay in the hospital (to learn some humility and understanding), I would wish on those government employees a few months on unemployment or food stamps.

      1. Everyone looks at things through their own experiences.
        We never thought we were poor. There were those worse off than us.
        Most docs make terrible patients: they know how bad the care can get – and all the mistakes that can be made.
        (I wish all the insurance companies, hospital corporations, and medical management groups would stop telling docs exactly how many minutes each patient gets and what test/treatments Docs are to recommend. It’s going to get worse.)
        I’ve heard horror tales about gov. employees people have had to deal with for unemployment/food stamps – arrogance and insults. Simply not in the spirit the assistance workers are supposed to have. Gov bullies are so typical.
        People are stressed and angry – for good reason.

... and that's my two cents