Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Not really poor

Linda Tirado of Washington DC, who had known a period of grinding poverty, wrote a piece for a website about what it's like being poor. The piece went viral and as usually happens, people started attacking her left right and centre.

And what were they attacking her for? For explaining poverty to people who were well-off and had no idea what it was really like. For telling people that poverty was real and not something invented by scrounging layabouts, journalists and lefties.

Of course they didn't say that. They just claimed she was never really poor because she came from a middle-class family. Or she wasn't really poor because it was only for a few years. Or she wasn't really poor because her wages were enough to live on.

They simply couldn't accept that someone can be genuinely poor, genuinely struggling to make ends meet, genuinely unable to get her rotten teeth or her clapped-out car fixed. They were convinced she was making it all up or wildly exaggerating.

As she puts it herself: "In America we have this myth that if you deserve it, you will have it. We're afraid to look at our downtrodden because it undercuts that myth. There is a fear of the poor that is uniquely American. It's especially hard to look at someone who could be one of their kids - someone like me who's white and intelligent - and see them as poor."

People lucky enough to have a good income and a comfortable life don't want to think about those who have neither. It makes them feel guilty, anxious, scared, vulnerable. They shy away from the possibility that a run of bad luck or some personal misfortune could see them sinking into poverty themselves.

The irony of Linda Tirado's story is that because of the huge readership her internet piece attracted she was able to raise over $60,000 to turn it into a book and quit her job as a night cook. She hasn't had her teeth fixed yet but she's using a better brand of shampoo.

Pic: Linda Tirado

16 comments:

Wisewebwoman said...

I see poverty in many homes near where I live.

I am always conscious of it. I try and help where I can.

So many are so distant from it and don't want to believe it exists IN SPITE of one's best efforts to climb out of it.

XO
WWW

Nick said...

www: You only have to look around your own neighbourhood with open eyes to see how much poverty there is. Denying it won't make it go away.

Mike said...

Being poor sucks. Think cockroaches, rats, squalor, substandard housing, etc.

I lived it for five years after going to live with my mom in Texas. Before that, I had lived in Nebraska with her middle class parents. Mom never really did escape poverty, nor has my sister.

Mom and my step-dad were poor, but they scraped by, somehow, without any kind of public assistance. I don't remember going hungry.

I never considered that I might live my whole life in poverty. My escape was by way of military service.

When I went to Texas, my teeth were in excellent shape. After five years of non-fluoridated water, they were full of cavities. The Navy dentists had a lot of fun working on me.

The poverty problem isn't just because of conservative politics or big business. The liberals declared a "war on poverty" fifty years ago. It has been an abysmal failure. The new health care law is having a horrible adverse impact on employment and poverty in America. (Employers don't have to pay for healthcare for part time workers.)

Key to escaping poverty, in my view, are two things: relevant education/training and jobs that pay a living wage.

It's complicated. :(

Nick said...

Mike: It's complicated, for sure. Poverty involves so many things - low wages, lack of skills and education, addictions, mental health problems, racism and sexism etc. And as you say, political pledges to end poverty have very little effect. Quite a lot of people take the military service route out of poverty - but of course that carries the risk of active service, death and injury.

I just find it shocking that so many people deny the existence of poverty or maintain that the poor "brought it on themselves".

CheerfulMonk said...

I'm afraid it's going to get worse before it gets better (assuming it does get better). Robots are able to do more and more, so there will be fewer jobs for people without advanced skills.

Nick said...

Jean: In that case, surely what's needed is free training in necessary skills for those who don't have them? I'm sure there are plenty of people intelligent enough to do the training.

Grannymar said...

I always remember a neighbour saying: "Just because there is a car at the door, does not guarantee food on the table!" How true. Genteel poverty is increasing amongst the older generation - those whose circumstances have taken a downward turn, yet, they are afraid to admit it.

Nick, when you and I started out in the land of work, a permanent and pensionable job was the thing to aim for. A few years later, the idea of someone staying in a job for five or ten years, meant they had no ambition and now folk are lucky to be given a contract for a mere two years.

Nick said...

Grannymar: Genteel poverty indeed. I'm sure there's a lot of that sort of disguised poverty - people carefully keeping up appearances although they're struggling to stay afloat.

You're right about jobs. It used to be quite normal to keep the same job indefinitely but now as you say short-term contracts are increasingly common.

Bijoux said...

It's hard to believe there are people who don't believe poverty exists. There are too many people with too much time on their hands if they have to attack someone on the Internet who writes it, whether they believe the writer or not.

Nick said...

Bijoux: It's amazing how many people think poverty is just the result of "bad budgeting" i.e. they're spending their money on the wrong things. As if the poor don't budget to the last penny all the time!

Rummuser said...

One is never too far away from poverty in India and one is never surprised by the dignity and courage with which most handle that poverty. I have personally known people who have handled such adversity and who have come out to lead reasonably good and comfortable lives just as I hope Linda
Torado will too. What was really shocking was the insensitivity of the commentators which, like you , I too found obnoxious.

Nick said...

Ramana: As you say, the dignity some people maintain in the face of terrible deprivation is remarkable. It's even more remarkable when they manage to overcome it and turn their lives around.

bonsaimum said...

Here, if you are poor and walk down the street they look at you like you have something that is catching. what is that saying--but for the grace of God go I...

Nick said...

Bonsaimum: I think that's less so in Northern Ireland, as there are a lot of poor people and on the whole they're not ashamed to let people know it. But yes, the idea that poverty is somehow "catching" is a very common one. And as you say, there but for fortune....

CheerfulMonk said...

Here's a great article.

Nick said...

Jean: A very sobering article. If she hadn't needed three jobs, and hadn't had to sleep in her car between whiles, she wouldn't have been overcome by the fumes from the leaking petrol container.