Posts tagged ‘Poverty’

August 27, 2011

Where Poverty Comes From

by Vince

A very interesting story:

Seth Masket effectively exposed the logical fallacy of French’s argument, but I want to point out the harmful nature of the argument itself.

I worked hard and got a good education, yet I am poor. I have no money and haven’t worked in years, and if it weren’t for my parents letting me stay with them I would be homeless. The notion that poor people are just lazy isn’t new. People have been asserting that Randian trope for years. French adds a claim that religious attendance (if this were true, Nigeria should be an economic superpower) and moral depravity are also to blame.

The problem with this argument is that I believed it.

It may seem obvious to others that someone who completed an undergraduate double major in three years and graduated from a top ten law school can’t really be described as “lazy” but it took *years* of therapy before I could even contemplate the idea that it wasn’t my fault, I am not lazy or a bad person, but that I am suffering from depression. It is still sometimes difficult for me to accept that this isn’t my fault, but French seems to have no problem assigning that blame.

I wonder how this affects other people who are living in poverty. It seems like if you tell people that they are poor because they are lazy and immoral, the message that you’re sending is that there is no hope. Unless you believe that the poor have just decided that they would prefer to be lazy and depraved and they can wake up one day and simply choose to become virtuous hardworking citizens.

I started receiving food assistance last December after hearing about the program from a neighbor. My parents would be struggling financially even if they weren’t paying for my therapy and medication, so I figured it would help a lot if they didn’t have to feed me as well. I get $200 a month which can only be used to buy unprepared food. A few days after I started receiving this I happened to hear my state’s new House Speaker, Jase Bolger, talking about plans to limit the program I had just joined. He made it clear that he was doing this to *help* people on assistance:

“Michigan should help its citizens break the cycle of dependency, not create one for them,” Bolger said.

Really? $200 a month for food is going to create a cycle of dependency? People would go out and get a job but they just don’t want to give up that free six and a half dollars a day of food? The minimum wage in Michigan is $7.40/hr, and you think people are not working because you’re giving them less than that a day in food assistance? If there really are people with such an epic level of laziness I would suggest that the threat of starvation will not magically turn them into hardworking, moral citizens.

I like capitalism. I believe it is very effective and I value the freedom that it brings. But free markets are not bags of pixie dust that can be sprinkled on all of societies problems, and all of the failures of the market cannot be blamed on the moral failings of the less fortunate.

H/T: The Dish

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February 14, 2011

Poverty, Justice, Compassion, and our Politicians

by Vince

Dan at FIPL exposes the truly draconian measures in our proposed budget:

  • Chopping $1.3 billion from community health centers, which provide primary care for 20 million low- and middle-income Americans. This cut would take away health centers’ ability to serve 11 million people. By way of comparison, the tax cuts passed in December give individuals with annual incomes of over $1 million an average tax cut of $100,000.
  • Completely eliminating funding for Title X ($327 million), which ensures access to contraception for women who would otherwise not be able to afford it. Not only will this very likely result in massive increases in unintended pregnancies, that increase is very likely to lead to an increase in abortions, which the Republican party ostensibly opposes. By way of comparison, the estate tax cuts for multimillion-dollar inheritances passed in December will cost $23 billion.

This truly shows where too many of our leaders hearts are at. It unfortunately reflects many of the stereotypes our nation unreflectively digests. Think about these:

We take away the dirty Planned Parenthood and we will not only save money but be a more pro-life, Christian nation! We cut out community health and nutritional assistance to use that money in “better” places/ways. We give the breaks to our rich because they create our jobs (shown to be a sham here, here, and here). Anything else i’m missing?

February 14, 2011

Love For The Unloved

by Vince

It isn’t hard to notice those today who are disenchanted by love, Hallmark holidays, and relationships of yore.  I have been there myself, wondering if I would grow old and alone, wondering if there was a special one out there for me, wondering if I would feel this way forever.

What I have to offer today is a proposition to lend my heart out to those around me who are unloved. These words inspire me and change my heart:

One day I visited a house where our sisters shelter the aged. This is one of the nicest houses in England, filled with beautiful and precious things, yet there was not one smile on the faces of these people. All of them were looking toward the door.

I asked the sister in charge, “Why are they like that? Why can’t you see a smile on their faces?” (I am accustomed to seeing smiles on people’s faces. I think a smile generates a smile, just as love generates love.)

The sister answered, “The same thing happens every day. They are always waiting for someone to come and visit. Loneliness eats them up, and day after day they do not stop looking. Nobody comes.”

Abandonment is an awful poverty. There are poor people everywhere, but the deepest poverty is not being loved.

The poor we seek may live near us or far away. They can be materially or spiritually poor. They may be hungry for bread or hungry for friendship. They may need clothing, or they may need the sense of wealth that God’s love for them represents. They may need the shelter of a house made of bricks and cement or the shelter of having a place in our hearts.” (pp.65-6, emphasis mine)

The second part of the last sentence really stood out to me. To whom can I open my heart to? To which friend can I truly have my heart reach out to, remaining a presence of compassion and companionship in their life? To whom can I stand by when no one may stand by them? These and other questions are for us all to ask. Mother Teresa volleys these thoughts beautifully back and forth between material and personal connections. I am going to use my free time tomorrow to make a vday goodie package for a good friend.

December 20, 2010

The Tea Party vs. The Methodist Church

by Vince

Judson Phillips, the founder of the Tea Party Nations, blasts the Methodist church for supporting the DREAM act, as well as other completely outrageous ideas such as supporting economic justice, opposing the unfunded war in Iraq, and fighting global poverty. This is when patriotism goes too hysterical?

November 16, 2010

Book Reviews: 3 Books by Jonathan Kozol

by Vince

I just finished reading a third straight book by Jonathan Kozol. I went in this order: Amazing Grace, Death at an Early Age, and Letters to a Young

Teacher.

I heard about Kozol from a friend of mine about two years ago. He is a numbers theorist at my alma matter who had first hand experience working with students in poverty stricken Appalachia. His students were white and contrast in skin color to Kozol’s students of color in the inner city. Regardless, I still see poverty as poverty. I will come back to this point in a bit.

I only started to read these books by Kozol because I had them around our room and I was meaning to read them. These books have turned out to be great gifts and have been excellent to have in this season of teaching.

First up, Amazing Grace. I had a hard time chugging through this book at times. I thought that out of the three I read, this one was the most depressing. A large chunk of the book relies on his first hand interviews with students, teachers, clergy, older community members, and families within the South Bronx. Seeing the gripping effects waste plants located in this community have on the respiratory systems of those who live near by is sickening. His stories and first hand encounters shows the dark side of de facto segregation in NYC.

In Death at an Early Age, this was Kozol’s first book, published in 1967. This

book originally was written out as notes on envelopes. He later wrote it all out and eventually made it into a book. This book documents his first year teaching in Roxbury, Massachusetts. His experience working in the de facto segregated Boston school system is eye opening. He was well aware of the corporal punishment used against students and much against it. Kozol brings to light the well guised racist feelings by some of his colleagues. Much of this guise is ultimately rooted in a separate but equal ideology. Kozol was ultimately fired for reading to his students a poem not on the approved curriculum list. This poem, however, was by a Negro who spoke in a “slang” very similar to those of the children in the city, which the school district wanted to “break”. The superintendent plainly told Kozol that he couldn’t read any literature by Negro authors who talked about suffering. Ironically, there was no issue when Kozol read to his students a poem by Robert Frost, who was not on the approved list and was even praised for presenting his students with such “cultural material”.

Finally, Letters to a Young Teacher was Kozol’s correspondence to a young teacher named Francesca. Kozol frequently stopped in to her class and observed. He then would follow up with lengthy letters. This book was neat for it is rather contemporary compared to the two previous. Letters deals with the issues of vouchers, high stakes testing, the lack of space for creativity in such classrooms, and the many differences in style and spending per student between urban and suburban/private white schools.

Across these books, Kozol approaches education as a universal good that is meant to be shared, provided for others, and valued both individually and collectively. He is Jewish and has a large respect for churches. He goes at Washington and corporate “experts” who overuse and abuse educational lingo laced with excessive syllables.

I found his books extra accessible for me because of my recent time subbing in the inner city. These books, the stories, their insights, and the general loving approach to teaching have all driven me to a new sense of feeling alive in the classroom. One issue I had with these books is that the notes in the far back are not cited in the chapters. I would of liked to of seen symbols to check a citation in the rear of the book.

“Visitors from outside these neighborhoods who witness confrontations often make the unkind observations that “these students act like animals.” But if you treat them like animals, herding them along for squalid feedings like so many cattle rather than providing them even minimal civility, its not surprising to me that they act accordingly.”

In the above quote, Kozol describes a mega-school in L.A. that houses 3,600 students but is meant only for 1,800. The school goes in shifts for lunch, starting at 9:30am until 2pm. He mentions that many of the students are not hungry yet at 9:30am and get rather rowdy come noon time. Some are known to even leave school to get food and not return.

“Many of these kids cannot constructively participate in class discussions because they have never learned in elementary school to ask dissecting questions or to analyze or criticize complex ideas.”

Kozol attacks here the standardized test craze that is so common in urban schools. Sure, suburban schools prep for these tests but so much of this craze gets embedded in urban schools to the point of wondering if this all would fly and be acceptable for suburban parents of students.

I am on now to Shame of a Nation by Kozol. These books remind me that as a teacher who cares for kids, and by kids I mean kids of all colors, even sometimes more so for kids of color (because racism twists poverty differently for blacks than whites, in my opinion), I am not alone in my passions. I care for hearing students stories, hearing about their families, asking how they came to America, their views on their school, their neighborhood, and life. Generally speaking, I am the white guy who grew up in the suburbs who really doesn’t know anything about inner city living or school. I am mostly there to listen.

The kicker is that I can level with these kids. Kozol mentions this, either explicitily or implicitly in these three books, that the majority of urban students are not “animals”. I have taught dozens of students who are great kids and well behaved. Sure, there are poorly behaved kids and even those who are disrespectful, but that is surely there in the white suburban schools I have been at.

August 15, 2010

Out of Hell

by Vince

“I have grown to love the kind of Christianity that is about loving people out of the hells of this world, not just trying to get them into heaven.” -Shane Claiborne, in the Forward of Making Poverty Personal: Taking the Poor as Seriously as the Bible does.

July 9, 2010

Poverty, Not Conflict, Divides a Country

by Vince

Marcus Bleasdale provides some photos of Djibouti where poverty, not conflict divides the African country.

July 8, 2010

More Analysis on Unemployment

by Vince

The Daily Dish provides some links and analysis on the subject of the unemployed receiving benefits and the pro’s/con’s of extending them. This article confronts the idea of wanting to cut unemployment benefits now but being fine with tax cuts over the last eight years:

I’d be more sympathetic with these new converts to fiscal responsibility if they were as enthusiastic about paying for extending $32 billion worth of special interest tax breaks as they are about funding the unemployment extension. If I understand correctly, these lawmakers insist that Congress fund every dime of added jobless aid, which nearly all analysts agree will help boost the economy. But they feel no need to pay for continuing these special interest tax breaks, which will not. They fret about unemployed workers who allegedly game the system to get jobless benefits but seem undisturbed by those businesses and individuals who do the same to maximize their tax subsidies. Politics is indeed a funny business.

More reading here.

July 6, 2010

Tackling Homelessness

by Vince

Barack Obama’s new plan, Opening Doors, confronts many issues:

In the long run, officials say, ending homelessness will save taxpayers money. It actually costs more to place people in shelters and hospitals than it does to help them find permanent housing.

Shaun Donovan, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary, called homelessness “a preventable tragedy.” That is especially true in such a wealthy nation.

The latest homeless statistics in a government report show the need for more funding: 1.6 million people spent time in shelters last year. There are about 3,000 homeless people in Philadelphia.

Those numbers will likely only rise as more veterans return from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The numbers are already going up as a result of the recession, high unemployment, and mounting foreclosures. Families have been especially hard-hit, with the number of homeless jumping by 30 percent from 2007 to 2009.

July 4, 2010

Poverty: Poor and Rich Mindsets

by Vince

Mindhack’s has a great read on poverty in the eyes of a poor person, not looking at the poor from a rich person’s perspective:

Social liberals have countered by blaming racial prejudice and the crippling conditions of the ghetto for denying the poor any choice in their fate. Neoconservatives have argued that antipoverty programs themselves are to blame for essentially bribing people to stay poor.

Karelis, a professor at George Washington University, has a simpler but far more radical argument to make: traditional economics just doesn’t apply to the poor. When we’re poor, Karelis argues, our economic worldview is shaped by deprivation, and we see the world around us not in terms of goods to be consumed but as problems to be alleviated. This is where the bee stings come in: A person with one bee sting is highly motivated to get it treated. But a person with multiple bee stings does not have much incentive to get one sting treated, because the others will still throb.

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July 4, 2010

Homelessness: A Poem

by Vince


Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan
Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty
Poem by Sean Spence

If homelessness were genetic,
Institutes would be constructed
With tall white walls,
And ‘driven’ people (with thick glasses)
Would congregate
In libraries

And mumble.

If homelessness were genetic
Bright young things
Would draft manifestos
‘To crack the problem’,

Girls with braces on their teeth
Would stoop to kiss
Boys with dandruff
At Unit discos

While dancing (slowly)
To ‘Careless Whisper’.

Meanwhile, upstairs, in the offices
Secretaries in long white coats
And horn-rimmed spectacles,
Carrying clipboards,
Would cross their legs
And take dictation:

‘Miss Brown, a memo please,
To the eminent Professor Levchenko,
“Many thanks indeed
For all those sachets you sent to me,
Of homeless toddlers’ teeth.”’

If homelessness were genetic
Rats from broken homes
Would sleep in cardboard shoeboxes
Evading violent fathers,
Who broke their bones,
While small white mice
With cocaine habits
Would huddle in fear,
Sleeping in doorways,
Receiving calibrated kicks from gangs of passers-by

(A ‘geneenvironment interaction’).

If homelessness were genetic
Then the limping man, with swollen feet,
A fever,
And the voices crying out within his brain
Would not traipse
Between surgery and casualty
Being turned away
For being roofless

Because, of course,
Homelessness would be genetic

And, therefore,
‘Interesting’.

July 2, 2010

Addressing the Stigma of Gov. Handouts

by Vince

The new Citizen Cohn blog puts out a great piece addressing the myth that government handouts make people lazy:

In fact, a 1990 study of unemployment benefits by Lawrence Katz and David Meyer suggested as much: They found a significant link between how long people could receive payments and how long people stayed unemployed. (For each five to six weeks of extra benefits, people would stay unemployed one additional week.) Katz and Meyer also noticed that people stopped being unemployed at the same time as their benefits ran out—proof, it would seem, the more generous benefits encourage people to stay jobless.

But subsequent research showed otherwise. A 2007 study from David Card, Raj Chetty, and Andrea Weber took a closer look at what happens to people when their unemployment benefits run out. They don’t magically find jobs, it turns out. Rather, they simply stop submitting the information that would cause the government to count them as unemployed.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, there are about five job-seekers for every job opening right now. In December 2007, when the recession officially began, there were only two job-seekers per opening.

I don’t have a full belief on this yet beyond knowing that it is not a cut and dry situation. No ones case is black and white and in each case we need to reflect on the stigmas WE BRING to each into the discussion (e.g.- every person on welfare sits around and is lazy, every person on welfare buys luxuries they don’t need, every person on welfare needs to be shunned and not trusted, and the list goes on).
I was able to attend a Poverty Simulation almost 2 weeks ago in my area. We were given a name, a family, and a life situation. Many of us had little to no education, typically 1 of us had a job for the whole family, lines were long to pay bills, transportation and food costs were high,  stress was heavy, and we didn’t think one bit about stopping to care for each other; we were focused on how we could pay our bills or steal from each other to make that happen (others found it ordinary to skip work to go take care of other things).

June 28, 2010

Living standards and Government handouts

by Vince

*I would like this post to serve as the beginning of a wide series on poverty, the government, and how it affects our personal lives.

Jonah Goldberg wrote a piece the other day questioning the liberal policies of Barack Obama. It centered on Obama and his liberal ilk’s tendencies to see government help America’s citizens.

Indeed, the Democratic party in recent years has become obsessed in looking at the economy only in that one negative way to justify its avocation: giving more stuff to the poor and middle class because they are “falling behind.”

Throughout this non-screed editorial, Goldberg doesn’t clarify what he means by “stuff” that the government gives to the poor and middle class. From the multiple citations of electronics and other non-necessities, you would assume that all most people who collect “handouts” from the government quickly cash them in for TiVo or other contemporary luxuries.

A money quote from Goldberg amidst his piece:

The wealth of nations, according to Adam Smith, the founding father of the market economy, is not measured in GDP or cash reserves. Rather, it “consists in the cheapness of provision and all other necessaries and conveniences of life.”

Today, there are estimates to being $2.5-2.7 trillion worth of consumer debt. This, surprisingly, has even lowered over the past decade, but not because of less spending: many credit card agencies have cancelled some debts or interest payments.
Furthermore, a lifestyle of simpleness and thrift is always a plus and accommodating to others, no matter the economic climate.

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June 27, 2010

Lifestyles of the Rich and Tyrannical

by Vince

Foreign Policy follows up on 5 world leaders who live in luxurious straits while their countries denizens live in deep poverty:

At Kim Jong Il’s Pyongyang residences, he’s known for throwing lavish, all-night drinking parties for his top officials, usually including a bevy of scantily clad young women. Just how trashed do North Korea’s best and brightest get at these events? According to the Hennessy company, the hard-partying leader ordered more than half a million dollars worth of cognac during the 1990s.

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