>> Tuesday, April 6, 2010
As he frequently does, Darell Nelson hit the key point was trying to make (but just missed) in the midst of my soapbox.
The problem isn't that most people don't care about poor people. No one wants children to suffer or be needlessly ill or go hungry. No one wants single mothers to work themselves into an early grave or have to give their children up for adoption. No one wants hardworking people to lose their homes or not be able to pay their bills because someone got cancer.
My concern was the one he pointed out: that, though no one wants this, they're so concerned with what they perceive as rampant misuse of the social systems, they're concerned about committing to more social programs.
And that is exactly what I'm complaining about. It is comforting to believe that most of the people who need help could do better if they just tried harder, that they're lazy or milking the system. Because, if you think that, it's a great deal less frightening than the actual extent of the problem: that even the educated and people with good jobs can face financial ruin if they catch the wrong disease (even with insurance) - I've seen someone on federal health insurance go bankrupt and all their children lose the chance for college because the father had and beat cancer - both were professionals but they were forced to work jobs 200 miles away to recover. That hardworking people who have toiled honestly their whole lives can lose everything with a single pink slip. That mothers can lose their children entirely because they just can't afford to pay for child care while they are working minimum wage. Seen it. I know it happens.
And it happens far more than we like to think it does. Nearly 30% of households in the US make less than $30K/year. Not personal incomes, households.
What does that mean? That means nearly a third of families in this country who wonder how they will buy groceries week to week. That means a third of families where "owning" their own home is a distant dream. That means a third of families where college is unlikely to be considered an option. That means a third of families that likely live in close proximity to crime, who fight and scrimp to go to the doctor or buy clothes or shoes.
And that's in this nation.
It's easier to think that it's just a little unseen portion of society, that they were too lazy to take school seriously or aren't willing to work, that they're actually making out like bandits with cardboard signs on the side of the road or working the system. It's so much easier to think that, so much less painful than the realization that, even in this wealthy nation, many of our citizenry are suffering, not because they deserve to, but, at least in part, because they're too ashamed to ask for much...
And because we don't want to see they need it, to know good people are suffering, to acknowledge how many are suffering...and remind ourselves that it is frequently fickle fate alone that stands between our fate and theirs.
In the end, which is the greater tragedy? That some get money they really don't need and didn't deserve because they could work the system? Or that people fall through the cracks, children die, families suffer, because no one wants to acknowledge the real size of the problem?
I know on which side I would rather err.