Poor By Character Flaw

This post is cross-published on the PBS Tavis Smiley Page http://www.pbs.org/wnet/tavissmiley/blogs/poor-by-character-flaw/

“Poverty is not a character flaw. It is a lack of money.”

Hearing this quote by Barbara Ehrenreich, while attending the “Remaking America” event at George Washington University, really struck a cord in my mind and heart. I immediately asked myself, how can we construct a proper policy prescription for attacking the multifaceted challenges of poverty when we approach the problem with a preconceived notion that there is something already wrong with the personhood of the poor?

Unwarranted assumptions about the quality of the character of the poor, or lack thereof, is part of the long-standing war on the poor. In general, society has created imagery to villainize the poor based on their character and many times this imagery is reinforced with overt racial themes and substantiated by more subtle undertones. Recently, there have been numerous attempts and several successes with drafting legislation to drug test welfare recipients. Legislation like this provides an example of how laws are enacted that support the widely misguided practice of making assumptions about the character of the poor.

From stereotypes of the Black “Welfare Queen” and stories of welfare recipients living high off the hog on their welfare payments. In 2011, the average Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipient received $133.70 a month. The average payment for a family of four was $496 a month. To be eligible for SNAP, a recipient must make no more than $24,100 a year to support a family of 3 and must be 130 percent below the poverty line. If making $24,100 a year and receiving an additional $496 a month is considered living the high life, then what do we consider a family who makes $100,000 per year? By our government’s standards, surely the $100,000 family shouldn’t be considered rich. Let’s face it, I don’t know too many people who would sign up for a $24,000 a year deal willingly and happily. Part of creating better policy for addressing the challenges of poverty is to get rid of the stereotypes associated with or reinforcing the notion that the poor are “getting over” on the rest of society.

After years of villainizing what seemed to be a fringe group of our society, we have now gotten to a point since our most recent recession that the ranks of poor have grown. We have all – the rich, the middle class, and the lower class – had to come to terms with how close we all are to becoming one of “the poor”.

”Remaking America” used At Risk: America’s Poor During and after the Recession, published by Indiana University, as the statistical backdrop for the panel discussion. According to the white paper, 46.2 Million (15.1%) people in America live in poverty. As a society, are we willing to believe that 15% percent of our population is poor based on flawed character? I am not. What has to be considered is how close all of us are to joining the ranks of the poor. Whether it is a lay-off, reduction of hours at work, a medical emergency, salary decrease due to budget cuts, or a car breakdown, many of us are closer to poverty than we acknowledge.

We must deal with the perception of the poor before we can make substantial strides in creating proper policy that addresses the plight of the poor. In order to create policy to help lift more Americans out of poverty, we must align our policy with objectives that sustain, elevate and educate the poor. Doing this may help our society identify the root causes of poverty. Anti-poverty policy must first be able to support the poor for the moment and, even further, extend into sustaining territory by helping the poor stay above water in regards to meeting their basic human needs. In order to increase their human capital value in the American economy, policy and funding must be created to further educate and train the poor. With future policy being made, these aims will be able to elevate the poor from poverty to prosperity and ultimately, as a whole, we will have a more prosperous society.

About seanbreeze

Political Junkie, Hip Hop Connoisseur, All-Around Fly Guy
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One Response to Poor By Character Flaw

  1. Dee Steele says:

    Sean there isn’t much more to say. You definitely hit the nail on the head. The thing is, I feel there are so many in the powers that be that benefit from the status quo. If real policy was put in place “with objectives that sustain, elevate and educate the poor,” the economic structure would fundamentally change and there would definitely be a shift in the distribution of wealth. This is something that those getting wealthy off of their reliance on keeping things the way they are don’t want to see. (i.e. the CEOs who have salaries 100%+ more than their minimum wage earning employees, the Koch brothers of the world, banks like BOA who is the bank that handles the Unemployment Insurance debit card accounts in CA…the more who are on UI the more money BOA get in fees…) So if I were to add to your bottom up approach of looking at this situation, I would say we also have to look at the top and change policy that takes the financial influence of who i like to call “super haves” out of the conversation (Lobbying reform, Campaign Finance reform, and all of the likes) so that the policy makers can do what is right for the people. As President Obama says, “create an atmosphere where everyone has an equal fair shot, and plays by the same rules.” No matter how much you have or don’t have.

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