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How is it my Fault?: The Stinging Slap of American Poverty

August 25, 2013

Did you know that you can use a mobile phone to find an application for Welfare faster than it can be processed?

 “Why did you have a baby if you knew that you could not financially take care of it?”


The question, no matter how it is delivered by a welfare case manager, stabs at the parental heart. The parent, whether male or female, must struggle with the flood of emotions that question elicits.


What does that question even mean? Is it an extension of personal judgment by the case manager or germane to the process of determining eligibility? Either way, a “real” answer requires more time than is allotted for the appointment; all of them are defensive.


1) Who plans for a baby? Sex is passionate, or we like to think of the act as “spontaneous rapture” when it is done right. The nature of the act is intended to produce an exchange of genetic material. It doesn’t matter how protected you think you are. Condoms break. Pills don’t kick in. IUDs fail. Biology finds a way to reproduce life and a baby happens.


2) Some people aren’t meant to be together. I tried. I tried real hard. It didn’t work out. Now, he or she is not in the picture. Are you trying to push me into a dysfunctional relationship? What good would that do me and the child made from such a sour union?


3) Are you aware that there is a Recession going on? I mean, you work for the government. Congress is fighting the President and talking about cutting food stamps. Can you even do that?


Somewhere in their being, the parent must rationalize the sting of that experience – having to hear the slap of judgment in that question – as another form of sacrifice, another act of parenthood requiring more internal strength than they thought that they possessed.


In that moment, he or she must act as a parent does, to the best of their ability. The quality of his or her performance determines the quantity of resources made available.


The absence of any serious voice of poverty in the national dialogue poses an intriguing set of questions. Policy makers know that they exist because they are an entire economic class. Governmental resources are devoted to measuring them. On May 29, 2013 poverty expert, Greg Kaufman, published the latest numbers on American poverty via Bill Moyer’s website.


U.S. poverty (less than $17,916 for a family of three): 46.2 million people, 15.1 percent


Deep poverty (less than $11,510 for a family of four): 20.4 million people, 1 in 15 Americans, including more than 15 million women and children


Jobs in the U.S. paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent


Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers


Percentage of individuals and family members in poverty who either worked or lived with a working family member, 2011: 57 percent


“People are working and they’re not getting paid enough to feed their families, pay their utilities, pay for their housing, pay for the healthcare… if you’re not paying people enough to pay for the basics, they’re going to need help getting food,” Kaufmann told Bill Moyers on June 28, 2013.


Per the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, recipients have to search for work or secure employment of 20 hours a week. Isn’t it a “catch 22” to be forced to search for jobs that either do not exist or will maintain you in poverty?  Some “jobs” like Wal-Mart build the benefits of the social safety net into their busines model. Even fast food workers at entry-level jobs like McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King are fighting back against low wages and planning a strike before Labor Day.


The pressures to provide food, clothing and shelter for Self and Family in a capitalistic system of exchange creates frustration, especially when the Corporations are not choosing to share the wealth generated by their employees.


This frustration arises from the fact that one can imagine for Self more material comfort than one can easily attain. The sheer effort needed to acquire what you can imagine is prohibitive. There is literally not enough time available in the week to adequately care for yourself and generate the currency necessary, so you lower your expectations.


When you see someone attaining that which you imagined for Self, against odds that you know are real, there is an internal judgment. You seem to say to yourself, “If given the appropriate resources, I could have done the same. I want these resources? Where are they?”


Those who seek services desire the already stressed situation of having to ask for assistance mitigated. This request is nothing new. It has echoed through the last 40 years.


What is new are the circumstances which demand such interviews. Is it really the citizen’s fault? Yes, they have a part to play in the course of their lives. Their choices make their lives good or bad.  The Great Recession has forced people into poverty. They do not feel their choices made them poor. Many feel those choices were forced upon them.


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