Monday, November 19, 2012

Poverty isn't what you think

My dad's log cabin. Copyright (c) 2012 Wendee Nicole

"If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs. Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, 'The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,' and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the Lord against you, and it become sin among you. You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, “You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.” Deuteronomy 15: 7-11

During election season, there was a lot of stereotyping of Democrats as people who - in the hilarious sardonic humor of The Daily Show's Jon Stewart - are "thing stuff takers." He was making fun of how Bill O'Reilly had posited, post-election, that Obama won because people on the left wanted things, and stuff. It was a thinly veiled insult of people of color, morphing them with people of poverty without really saying that. It's a sentiment echoed by the likes of Mitt Romney a couple days later, when he came out of hiding, and said Obama won the election because of the "gifts" he gave to specific interest groups. During all the immediate post-election Facebook rambling, a friend of mine posted something that led me to post the following, which I'll post below almost verbatim.

But poverty isn't always what you think it is. I am someone who has directly benefitted from the use of food stamps and welfare. Let me tell you the story of my childhood. I am the first in my extended family to ever go to college. EVER. Neither my parents or grandparents had more than a high school education. My dad didn't graduate from h.s. (but got a GED), yet he is the most intelligent, articulate, and intellectual man I know. After his divorce from my mom he moved to Oregon and built a very simple log cabin on 24 acres, grew his food, totally back to the land. It was an awesome pioneer way to live, and to grow up that way was extremely influential to who I became as an adult.

Dad had a biz making log cabins for others and at one point his partner took off with the businesses money, leaving him a heavy burden financially. So during a period of my youth we had food stamps and at one point he was on welfare. He overcame that, and went on to work for many years for the Oregon food bank, doing social work and giving back. He was and is an incredibly hard working man - both when he was on welfare and after - and at his retirement last year was granted the very award that he established for those at the Oregon Food Bank who had a lifetime of service. (I am getting tears in my eyes writing this - I love and am so proud of my dad!). I also, as mentioned in my recent blog post "freelancing does not suck" that I had applied for food stamps during ~09 when times were incredibly hard for me, and I thought I might have to sell my house.

I'm a single mom and I work incredibly hard, and I sure as hell was not getting an "entitlement" or a handout. I never ended up getting on food stamps - long story - but I would have gladly taken them, and I have no qualms or shame about it. It's damn hard to be a single mom and support oneself, even when you get some child support (I got - and still get - a fraction of what I'm legally entitled to). Anyway... social welfare is there to help people when times get tough. I hope that you never have to know what it is to be poor and genuinely need help. There are people who really do need help, and who use it and get off of it, and are not just "lazy" as the Right often characterizes people on welfare. My dear precious daughter, a brilliant young woman who is a National Merit Scholar Semifinalist and in the Top 10 of a class of more than 700, and an amazing human being is a product of welfare. As am I - I earned a M.S. and am a PhD candidate (on leave of absence...) and have built an incredibly successful freelance writing career. So there you go. That's what welfare gets you.


Jane Boursaw said...

I wonder if there's still much stigma attached to welfare recipients, just because our country has been in a spiral for a while now and like you said, it's darn tough out there.

There's no simple answer. I, too, have benefited from certain welfare programs, having endured several years of my husband's medical trauma and all the financial fallout from that. We - and our 2 kids - would have been homeless and hungry without it.

Because of his ongoing chronic medical issues, resulting in him being disabled and me being the sole breadwinner for our family of four, we'll likely always be on some type of welfare program. I'm ok with it. We could never afford the medical expenses we'll have to deal with for the rest of his life.

Matthew Lee Adams said...

Moving piece and the perspective is what so many people don't really see when they're trying to picture stereotypes.

Unknown said...

Thanks Jane and Matthew for your comments! Jane, I think there is even more stigma than ever, because of the negative views perpetrated by Fox news and certain right-wing pundits about the "handouts" and "emtitlements" and "gifts" which just shows some of these people who have never struggled financially - REALLY struggled - have NO CLUE what they are talking about! You know what I mean? Because I can make just enough to not be eligible for food stamps etc but have an incredibly hard time staying afloat. And there are tons more like me...

Kim Tracy Prince said...

Wendee, it's for the reason you just stated - punditry - that I keep my head buried in the sand through most of the political season. I don't want to learn news and issues through the lens of what someone else thinks about them. For every huge issue there are actual people who are living the benefits or the ramifications of it. I love hearing stories like yours. Thank you for sharing it.

Jenny Neill said...

Wendee, thanks for sharing your perspective on what poverty means. I've not yet needed that social safety net, but as a small business owner who isn't getting any younger with each passing year, I'm quite aware that it would take one serious illness or injury to bring financial ruin. Or, heck, one really terrible storm like what's happened on the east coast.

Some things just can't be saved up for by most of us. I'm grateful for the generosity I see all around me despite the punditry. In my community and around the world, people have rallied to help a bartender who needs surgery. I'm doing what I can to bring the seed of an idea for a Sandy relief fundraiser to fruition next month.

The social safety net and volunteering do make such a difference. Congrats to your dad for his award and to you for recognizing what a gift you have in having a happy, healthy family.