Walk a Mile in the Shoes of the Poor
If you ever want to start a debate, ask for people’s opinion on what the poor ought to be allowed to buy with food stamps. Generalizing about the poor seems to be almost a national pastime.
People who don’t make much money are called entitled, lazy, greedy (and worse), and the things they buy and own are scrutinized and commented on.
I’m sure there are lazy, no-good, poor people out to work “the system” and “live like kings” (in dangerous, drug infested neighborhoods without access to even basics like grocery stores and banks, let alone good health care.) I have no doubt of that.
Just like I’m sure there are lazy, no-good, middle class and rich people out to work (a slightly different) system. (And the things they do and own are commented on too, but in a little bit of a different way.)
That said, do I seem like a poor person to you?
I make plenty of money, and I appreciate every dime of it. I love going to the grocery store and being able to buy anything I want to eat.
That ought to tell you something right there.
My social security earnings record shows that I made $2,375 during 2003 ($9,745 below the federal poverty guidelines at the time for a family of two — and definitely in the 10% bracket that the Bush tax cuts created.) I also received a total of $2,400 in child support.
In 2004 I did a little better, earning $2,966 + receiving the child support. Now I also had $10,000 in savings that I used to tide me over. I’d saved that up in 2002, the year I made $19,144.
How would you do with a total of about $20,000 for you and your child to live on for two years? What would you cut from your budget? (Having a roommate helps.) Would you sell your computer and TV?
Me, I never felt poor, and I wasn’t. To me poor means you have nowhere to go take a shower. I had a house to live in, food to eat, and a car to drive.
But I guarantee you if I’d pulled up to apply for food stamps in my little red convertible people would have talked. Why should I use food stamps when I can afford an expensive (looking) car? Why the heck didn’t I just get a job?
What’s interesting is that the same kind of reasoning could be applied to many people. How would you feel if you heard comments like these:
- Why don’t you just quit spending so much money if you’re in debt?
- Why didn’t get off your butt and work while in high school, so you could pay cash for college instead of mooching off the government? Those government-guaranteed/subsidized loans and grants are our hard-earned tax dollars, you know!
- What are you doing buying meat when you (and the planet) are better off if you eat beans? You’re probably too lazy to even stick some beans in a crock-pot.
Ok, I’m getting a little ridiculous with the crock-pot thing. But I hope you get my point. There’s always more to things than meets the eye. Not everyone has the same advantages (or disadvantages). Not everyone is like you, or me. Unless you’ve been there, you don’t really know what it’s like.
Sometimes it pays to walk a mile in the shoes of the poor. Not only will we gain a little compassion and get to know some very nice people, but we can learn a lot about frugality, having fun, and hard work.