My tendency to drift off into thought was in high effect this weekend while I pulled weeds at Steele Indian School Park in honor of Cesar Chavez Day with HandsOn Greater Phoenix. With each pull I reminisced about home, thought about grad school in Denver, wondered how it was possible I was sweating and getting sunburnt in March, and craved some boneless wings from Applebee’s. The usual.
My mind eventually wandered to poverty. Part of the VISTA experience is living below the poverty line. For the past 7 months, I’ve been living off of a modest stipend and grocery shopping with food stamps. I suppose you could call me poor, and every so often things get a little frustrating (Remember my post about my car’s transmission going out? Well, that still isn’t fixed). But being single, no children, and in my 20-somethings, I’ve been able to make it work just fine.
What I mainly pondered over as I uprooted desert weeds was the fact that so many people look negatively at and stereotype the impoverished. Honestly, it’s something that now breaks my heart.
I’m sure you’ve heard it. “Why don’t they just get a job?” “They’re living off the government.” “They’re just too lazy to work.” “Waste of my tax dollars.” It goes far beyond words…
When you were a little kid, did your parents want you playing at the ‘poor kid’s’ house? Was that kid and his/her family considered ‘dirty?’ What about that family you knew with an alcoholic parent? That was their problem, right? How about when you see someone begging on the street? Do you just look past them, pretend they’re not there?
Some of the most recent data I found regarding poverty came from a press release from the US Census Bureau in September of 2009 . According to their research, about 13.2% of americans lived below the poverty level in 2008. That means nearly 39.8 million people were living in poverty!
Could that possibly be each of their own faults? Do you really think they’re all purposely trying to ‘just live off the government?’ Maybe there are some people out there who try to slide by and live off of benefits or have managed to put themselves in financial despair. But I don’t believe there are over 39 million.
Think about that ‘poor kid’ who you weren’t suppose to play with. Was it their fault they were born into poverty? No, it wasn’t. It wouldn’t be their fault if it was because their mother or father had an alcohol or gambling addiction either.
The people on the streets are really there, even if you try not to see them. Do you believe they choose to sleep on the streets and beg? Do you trully think that they are ‘just too lazy’ to provide a home for their children? I don’t.
I also don’t believe it’s that easy for someone to ‘just get a job.’ If you had someone in tattered clothing you expected of living on the streets walk into your restaurant/store asking for a job, would your hire them? I don’t doubt that there are people out there that would, but be completely honest with yourself. Would you?
I’m no expert on poverty, and I’ve only been living below the poverty line for a few months. Like I said, I’m making it work just fine (food, a warm house, and a little bit of money on the side). My family went through some rought times when I was a kid, but my mother and father were always able to provide for me. I also know that if I really needed it, my mother could help me now. Sadly, that’s not the case for everyone.
I was fortunate. I still am very fortunate. But I refuse to be blind to the 39.8 million that aren’t. I’m proud to be spending this year trying to make a difference.
Moved by the phote? Check out more by Ed Yourdon here.