“Poverty” in America, Part I: Establishing Credibility in the Discussion

For starters, I put “poverty” in quotes because much of what we call “poverty” would be a huge step up in standard of living for a starving, parasite-infested Eritrean family living outdoors, jabbed nightly by Dengue- and malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and sleeping on the dirt as machine-gun toting warlords roam nearby. I cannot fathom what that must be like. By contrast, far too many of our “poor” have cell-phones and $100 shoes. Let’s keep a proper sense of perspective here!

For the nearly four decades (since childhood) that I’ve been following the daily news, I’ve seen pundits and ivory-tower academics deliberate on what to do to counterbalance “poverty” in America. Even after all this time, many of these pundits, and especially liberal columnists and BLOGgers, still advocate a large governmental role in ameliorating “poverty”. They think that distant bureaucrats in Washington, and suit-and-tie politicians inside the Beltway, are better poverty-fighters than churches, private charity, and most of all, jobs. They believe that fighting poverty “as a nation” must mean raising taxes, under the crazy illusion that layer upon layer of government bureaucracy could do a leaner and more efficient job of it than charitable and church organizations and employers. They seem to genuflect reflexively to the misguided notion that Big Brother knows what’s best for you and me when we’re experiencing financial misfortune.

As someone who has seen government operate from inside and out, including being on the receiving end of several forms of aid, I both could laugh and cry at such egregious ignorance.

It’s amazing how many of those pundits–and even people I personally know who think they understand poverty and the solutions thereto, are writing and speaking only from things they have read or have been told. I call their bluff, right now.

You haven’t a stinking clue about “poverty” in this nation unless you’ve lived it.

If you haven’t dumpster-dived for toys and salvageable items as a child…
If you haven’t seen your rough-n-tough blue-collar father cry because of the horrible shame of living off food stamps (yes, it absolutely should be dishonorable)…
If you haven’t had roaches crawling under your bedsheets and up your legs at night…
If you haven’t slept in a heavy summer sweat because your parents couldn’t afford air conditioning…
If you haven’t been bereft of transportation while welfare-poaching households you personally knew drove Lincolns and Cadillacs…
If you haven’t seen a parent busting his tail trying to get off unemployment whilst witnessing others shamelessly suckling the welfare teat and swapping food stamps for drugs and booze…
If you haven’t had experiences analogous to those, specific details aside…

Then, step aside for a spell and duly yield the ideological right-of-way to those with first-hand understanding in the discussion.

As a child and youth, I witnessed numerous instances of public-aid benefits (by households other than mine) flipped into illegal substances, booze, luxury items and other non-necessities. I heard parents of other kids openly admit having more children, no employment and/or outright falsification of marital, parental or financial status, just to boost assorted aid benefits. I knew of illegal aliens drawing public benefits, somehow (probably bogus paperwork and/or identity theft). I saw the wretched moral, ethical and psychological damage that results from public-aid dependency, first-hand. Have you?

Low-rated inner-city schools with drugs and gangs? I attended them. Roaches and rats in the walls and on the floors as a child? Check. No AC in the Texas in hundred-degree heat? That was us. Inability to pay a mounting pile of bills even when the head-of-household was fully and gainfully employed? Been there, done that–all of it. How about you?

For most who would read this BLOG…not exactly. That narrows the field down a good deal regarding credibility in this issue. To reiterate, your understanding of “poverty” is most strongly a function of your first-hand experience in it. Secondhand eyewitness knowledge, as from mission work or immersion, is helpful but far from that gained through actually living the condition for years. Merely reading or studying it? That’s woefully inadequate, unrepresentative and superficial.

Yes, my stance is exclusionary. You bet it is. So is the analogous idea that one cannot understand SCUBA diving optimally without having donned the gear and gone under on a regular basis. In both cases, it’s just the truth. Sometimes the truth is hard to take. If this irritates or offends someone, the problem is theirs and not mine.

It is from the perspective of personal credibility, direct understanding instead of ivory-tower theory, real life (as opposed to the pompous, patronizing proclamations of limousine-liberals about what’s best for the poor), that I engage this issue. More soon…

Next: Part II– Luck is Overrated



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