The Poverty Police: Who Determines What 'Poor' Should Look Like?
Judging whether a person deserves help and their level of need based on their possessions is faulty and misguided.
So I have been seeing a photo of an old blurb from some unknown publication circulating around Facebook recently. The paragraph-long story reports on a woman’s stolen purse. The basics: The purse was valued at $400, her wallet was valued at $200 and she said there was $800 in cash in the purse. There were also food stamps cards amongst her belongings.
I am sure you can imagine the onslaught of angered, fist pounding protests. “How dare she walk around with such an expensive bag when she is living off the tax payers?” Yes, the poverty police have been out in full force on the comments sections of some Facebook pages.
I tried looking for the original article and can only seem to find mentions of it on right-wing blogs and message boards. I have no idea the validity of this story, the legitimacy of the original publication or what information may have been left out of the clearly well-researched story and its few sentences.
Regardless, we all know the tales of moochers taking advantage of the system and the fraud within these social programs. It’s there. It does exist. And there needs to be strict consequence and enforcement when it comes to the oversight of entitlements. I talked about that in a previous piece I wrote on Wisconsin’s FoodShare Program.
Some people speak as though liberals, progressives and other supporters of these programs accept and even embrace the fraud and manipulation of our system. I would dare to say that we may just hate it more than the other guys. There is nothing worse than when a few bad apples spoil it for those who are deserving, qualified and grateful. We cringe when we hear these stories and we want the system to work better so that there is a truly efficient way to help the people who need it most. The last thing we want to worry about is the baby being thrown out with the bath water simply because a few naughty babies pooped in the tub.
With all that being said, people need to stop thinking they can assess the nuances of an individual’s life by examining only their possessions. People need to understand that it is not our place to determine the proper etiquette for being poor. And people need to acknowledge that we have in this country a section of society considered the “new poor.”
There are thousands of people in this country whom merely a couple years ago were living large and enjoying the luxuries life in America has to offer. People with nice cars, big homes and handfuls of gadgets have suddenly been sucked out of their comfort zone to sit on the poverty line.
From 2007 to 2010, food stamp and welfare recipients who have PhD's have tripled. The same can be said for those with Master’s Degrees. People who were retired and living off their pensions and investments find themselves homeless. And across the country, 55% of the people considered to be poverty level live in the suburbs.
Poor doesn’t really look the same today as it once did. And when a person loses their job, has an investment that tanks or declares bankruptcy due to an illness – there isn’t a required protocol mandating they start wearing tattered clothing and sell all of their belongings.
Mitt Romney and his buds think that nearly half the population in need of some sort of entitlement is a result of them being irresponsible and lazy. Not only is this offensive but it is amazingly ignorant and out of line. These people can easily be your sister, mother or grandfather who has fallen on hard times just like a huge portion of our population. The reason more people are using food stamps is a simple - because more people need them.
Whether or not a woman has a $400 handbag is irrelevant. Personally, I gag every time I hear one of my friends talk about spending this kind of money on any one item. I won’t spend more than twenty bucks on a purse – ever. But if those friends were to lose their jobs and needed some help getting back on their feet, I would not think they are less deserving because they have some Gucci (is that even an admired brand anymore, I wouldn’t know) in their closet.
Do I ever have $800 in my purse? Hold on while I catch my breath from laughing. Hell, I am lucky if I have that much in my checking account. But how do we know that she wasn’t on her way to pay the rent. How do we know she didn’t just get back from selling a couple other purses to help pay the heat? How do we know her family didn’t just loan her some cash to help her out? Fact is, we don’t. And we should never presume to know the specifics of someone’s life obstacles or financial situation based on how they look on the outside.
It’s funny – the right is always saying how rich people are so persecuted because they have nice things. They say we begrudge them their deserved riches out of jealousy and our own lack of ambition. Romney should be able to have 12 cars and seven homes without the shame of simply being rich. It is no business of ours how someone spends their money, right?? Isn’t that what I always hear?? Well guess what, that same restraint of judgment should hold true regardless of class.