Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Poverty in the USA

Originally posted by Jeff December 21st, 2008

Category: News and Politics

Isn't that a great title? Sounds like a news report. Did I rip that off of something else?

I was thinking about poverty, and being poor. I've never considered myself poor, but an average annual income of $ 12,000 over the last seven years is pretty much rock bottom, or even further, for a lot of people.

So I am the face of poverty. But not really. I have never been without a roof over my head, unless I wanted tent flaps instead. I have never been hungry for lack of being able to get food. I have never been without clothes. I've had a car for all but... nope, I've had a functional car since I got my first after my mission eight years ago. I eat out with my family. More than I would like to admit. I have a phone, high speed internet, comcast cable. We see movies. I think there are a lot of people that the government considers poor, that are not really poor, by my definition.

My definition of poverty is someone that goes hungry sometimes. Someone that may not always have a roof over their head. Someone that doesn't have enough clothing to stay warm. There are people like that around us. I think that they legitimately need help! While it is true that many of them are addicted to drugs or alcohol, have significant cognitive impairments, and often have significant difficulties with behavior, I don't think that these are reasons for us not to help them. It is not for us to judge them. I don't think that we should say "he could get help if he really needed it," or "did you know that begging on the corner gets you $80,000 a year?" or "There's all kinds of help out there, he shouldn't be here." One of my favorites is "We shouldn't give them fish, we have to teach them how to fish, and then they can feed themselves." While I agree with this to some extent, Christ didn't teach people how to fish, but he did give them fish. In any case none of us take our own advice and actually 'teach them how to fish.' But this isn't the main them of my blog.

The definition of poverty that I've heard is anyone that is below 2/3 of the average annual income. So if the average income is 36,000 then anyone making under 24,000 is poor. Or if the average income was 900,000 a year, anyone making below 600,000 would be poor. Or if the average income was 6 dollars a year, anyone making under 4 dollars a year would be poor. I don't like this definition of poverty. The effect of this definition is that when the difference between the highest income earners and the lowest income earners increases, there is more poverty. When the difference decreases, there is less poverty. This is regardless of how much the lowest income earners are actually making. They may have gone from 6 dollars an hour to 18 dollars an hour, but if the rich increased by more than triple their annual income, then poverty increased. Or if the very rich start getting much reduced income, but the poor's income stays the same, they may get kicked out of the poverty bracket anyway.

I think that this is why such a majority of the 'poor' consider themselves to be middle class. In reality, the differences between the majority of them and the middle class are not huge. Maybe more debt problems, less healthcare coverage, little or no savings, and (possibly) not owning a home. The lifestyle other than this is pretty much the same. These may be significant, but the difference is nothing compared to the guy on the street begging for a place to stay the night.

Unfortunately, this view that we are considered poor not according to our needs, but according to how well we stack up with others in the community, has been internalized by many in our culture. I knew a guy that was making between 300,000 and 500,000 each year, and someone commented to him about how he was so much richer (for you rich people, read "wealthier") than the rest of us, and he said, "Oh, there are a whole lot of people that make more money than I do! I'm really not that wealthy." Regardless of how much money anyone makes, they can always look at someone else and say that they are not very rich.

My problem with this is that it is very pessimistic. I've read news article about how the poor are getting poorer in the last few decades. That's wrong! So poor we have cell phones, internet, computers, and multiple cars? This country has never been so prosperous! (pretend I wrote this two years ago:)

The other problem is that when we feel like we aren't doing so well as others, we really aren't going to be thinking about the people that are starving to death in other countries. If I consider myself poor, then I'm not going to send money down to needy people in Colombia. I need the money. Thirty bucks a month can feed one child. Is there anyone that can't afford that? On $10.00 a month can help feed one child. Thirty bucks can feed three.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Being poor has little to do with absolutes, and should always be more regarded as a relative term. by you're definition we in the 21st century are all 'rich'. 5000 years ago the richest man in the world had to live in a cave or something like that. Now the poorest people have nice shelters and decent food. That's a crap way to look at it. Taking the availability of material comforts and 'cash money' as the core definition of being rich or poor is a fallacy. Wealth and poverty have much more to do with power. The power to effect one's self, especially regarding destiny and promise, as well as freedom of movement and lastly and possibly most importantly the power to affect others. That rich man 5000 years had to live in a cave like most others, as there was not much material hierarchy, as in luxury, to be had in those days. BUT he probably had 1000 slaves.

The poorest among us, despite having a smartphone or 40" tv, have little to none of those powers, and the richest have obscene amounts of power, buying entire political campaigns and justice systems right in front of out very eyes.