Some Clarification on my Soapbox

>> 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.


  • The Mother

    You may be right.


  • Roy


  • Project Savior

    I remember back in the late 80s a study was done on the effectiveness of programs to find "welfare cheats" it turned out the government was spending roughly $100,000 for every person caught getting their $12,500 unfairly. In other words it would be cheaper to have 7 times as many people cheat than to fund a witch hunt for them.
    In business this considered a loss leader, the people who take advantage of replacement programs to swap out things that aren't broken to get a free upgrade or the people that make a beeline from the checkout to the return desk so their credit card shows payment. In business this is tolerated because trying to stop it would cost more than the fraud costs.
    With social services people seem happy to pay the higher costs of catching the stray person abusing the system than letting one person slide so they can help 7 others.

  • Shakespeare

    Hear hear!

  • Jeff King

    I think it could be corrected, with effort and the right plan... then the people who need it get it.

    I just hate when safe guards aren’t better and follow up isn’t more concise.

    I could go into further detail but time is short, maybe later.

  • Relax Max

    I'm sorry I put my comment on the wrong post. I hope you don't mind if I repeat it here on the right one.

    I don't know anyone who thinks like you describe. I hope there aren't really as many people who think that way about the poor as you say you've found. Everyone I work with or am friends with have great compassion for the poor and needy; we don't ridicule them. Most of us have been poor or needy ourselves. The general attitude I see with people I talk to is, "There but for the grace of God go I." It is a mixture of compassion and empathy for those in need, and a frustration - even hatred - at a government that would enslave it's poor like that; who would make it difficult for them to even make $30,000 a year; who would take away the opportunities for people to excel and thrive, to be independent of the yoke of oppressive government and once again pursue the American dream of prosperity. Throwing the needy a few dollars of paltry welfare is a far cry from allowing them to achieve the financial freedom they deserve to have, don't you think? I pray the poor you speak of will soon get their chance to taste a better life. Change is in the wind.

  • Stephanie Barr

    I wish I didn't, RM, or that the people I've seen talk that way were callous unfeeling creeps. They're not, but I had read two articles, and actually seen a "funny" on the bulletin board at work all espousing this type of thinking. It upset me.

    "Welfare" is certainly not the answer (though I'm not sure it's never a good idea), but there are many things that can really help. Many are being tried, but the resentment many feel toward providing any help (not just welfare) bleeds down to the people who are already hurting.

    And that makes me very sad.

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