Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What's poverty got to do with it?

Today is Blog Action Day, and the theme this year is Poverty.

I grew up in a family that flirted with poverty on occasion, my father had several periods of unemployment with four kids to support and my mother really had no choice about going to work.

For long periods of my childhood our grandmother contributed substantial financial support to our family. Thanks to her, we avoided the worst effects of poverty.

We were poor but not poverty-stricken.

When my kids were little we alternated between being on welfare and being part of the so-called Working Poor, for over fifteen years. I spent twenty years as a single parent, either going to school or working full-time as well as raising two boys by myself.

Again, we were poor but not poverty-stricken, and we got a little help from the kids' grandmother. There was always a roof over our heads and food on the table, and the real possibility of a better future ahead.

The thing about being poor is that there is no margin for error. You are tiptoeing on the brink of disaster all of the time, and it takes its toll in stress, physical weariness, and ill-health.

It's also depressing, there you are with your hands full all of the time while you look around and see other folks apparently enjoying the fruits of their labour, buying nifty electronic toys and wearing cool clothes and enjoying happy vacations in pleasant environments away from the work-a-day world.

I have always been aware that what I experienced was not fun, but it wasn't grinding poverty. I didn't watch my children die for lack of adequate food or medical care, I didn't live in the midst of a war, I didn't live with rats and cockroaches. Well, once I did but that was avoidable.

Being poor is workable, being poverty-stricken is not.

When we face a downturn in the economy, we all get nervous about our future, but the poor just get poorer and watch their flimsy house of cards collapse around their ears. It's very hard. Becoming homeless is a real possibility.

I get impatient with folks who believe that the poor bring it on themselves through laziness and poor decisions, not to mention drugs and alcohol. Yes, it's true that some poor folks are there because of those things, but they are not even close to being the majority.

The thing is, when times are good we as a society can afford poverty. We can afford to have some folks living with stress and ill-health and no money because we can at least keep them housed and fed.

But when times are not so good none of us can afford poverty. We can trace much drug abuse and the crime it engenders to poverty. We can trace poor education to poverty and vice versa, in an incredibly unfortunate vicious circle. And ultimately, we can trace violent uprisings and political instability and even wars to the disparities of poverty and wealth.

Poverty kills and it goes to war and it reduces freedom to ashes. We all need to care about this. The signs are on the wall, we are not headed toward good times for all anytime soon. We cannot afford poverty.

Charity helps, but fairness is far more effective. Vote for fairness, shop for fairness, promote fairness any way you can. Like it or not we are all in this together and trying to climb over each other to grasp diminishing resources is counter-productive.


Barbara Anne said...

Amen, Anne!

We are all in this together and it's high time everyone, everywhere realized that.

As I read in a shop in Kentucky 20 years ago, "The world can no longer afford the rich."

Hugs to you!

Gretel said...

Thanks for this.