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Poverty's Cost and Cause

DeNeen L. Brown is an exquisite writer who has always brought a stunningly perceptive eye to people, their problems and their triumphs. This morning she has written about the high cost of poverty, a subject that always draws a large number of angry comments (and in the old days, angry letters to the editor) blaming the poor for their condition and asking why the bleeding-heart newspaper is writing this story.

We have those remarks today, but many of our Readers Who Comment understand that poverty can happen to anybody, is debilitating, and, yes, leads people to make poor decisions for bad reasons. The comment string is full of both condemnation and sympathy. Every suggestion that the Poor Are Evil finds a rejoinder.

This is indeed a complex problem that has always been with us. One reader suggests that if poverty were a flu epidemic, we would figure it out. Were it so.

We'll start with this exchange:

RogerSteciak wrote, "People can get themselves out of poverty if they really want to get out of poverty, but they really have to want to do so or else they won't. It's attitude rather than aptitude that determines one's altitude... Use the free computers at your local public library to provide yourself with a free education. If you don't have a library card, then get a library card."

To which ano1again replied, "i figured at least one idiot would make a comment like this one. excellent article"

psouleles wrote, "If poverty were contagious it would largely disappear as everyone would do their best to ensure their neighbour did not fall into it. Perhaps as the recession deepens it will become contagious and that is where the opportunity may arise for individuals to help other individuals without the government always wanting to play the role of big brother. There has to be a new consciousness about how everyone is connected bot just for flu epidemics but also financial calamities."

nancyjeanmail said, "beautifully written and sensitively conveyed.
another cost are the poorer schools, often with fewer sports and other extras, the newest teachers and oldest books. fewer computers at the schools in these neighborhoods, with no IT support to maintain and upgrade them, things middle class people take for granted.
write more about this, please."

48004939 wrote, "Been there, done that...I take little credit for my successes, which were mostly a matter of being in the right place at the right time and the luck I had in being able to get an education. The abyss is just one or two steps to one side. I am to this day appalled by the total lack of awareness of what poverty really is by most middle class people."

ImpeachObama said, "If you are a credit risk, OF COURSE buying things on credit will cost more. The same goes for neighborhoods. If you live in a place where the local grocery store has a shoplifting problem, prices are going to be higher."

DupontJay wrote, "The poor who buy "9-dollar hot chicken wings" at Giant get poorer. But somehow, the poor who come across the southern border with nothing but the shirt on their back end up making enough money to send back to their families. Being poor in America is not insurmountable. But being poor and stupid is."

To which Voter4Integrity replied, "That's because many of them get paid under-the-table yet claim to have no income and receive scads of free services that were intended for poor Americans, while the poor people profiled in this article pay their own share of taxes and those of the immigrants. I think that rather than being stupid, many of the people in these situations have just lost hope that things can be better and so they no longer try..."

swmuva wrote, "Over the past year, I went from being comfortably middle-class to living below the poverty line because of a job layoff. It has been an eye-opening experience. People who think that the poor are either lazy or stupid have no clue. I got news for you: there are lazy and stupid people living in McLean and Bethesda just as surely as there are lazy and stupid people living in Anacostia."

dcpsinsider said, "I think this article is meant to pull at heartstrings but I think it will have the opposite effect. Some of the people interviewed admit the foolish behaviors that help keep people poor...Some poor people don't open FREE or LOW COST checking accounts at banks because they don't want a paper trail. They don't want themselves or a family member to be found (I.e., by the law)."

genbarlow wrote, "Poverty 101:
1. Stay in school
2. Study
3. Stop breeding when you can't afford to raise kids"

aust1nz said, "...I think the sometimes illogical choices that poor people make are what make the issue so difficult. It's easy to criticize a man in poverty who purchases $9 of chicken wings, but could you really argue that purchasing $5 of chicken breasts -- even over months or years -- would make the man's life so much different?"

malonechris6 wrote, "Couldn't ask for a better description of life for the poor in the US. I was there. I got out. Now I'm back again. My credit card bank charges me 27% annual interest. And that's a bank! But that looks good compared to what the non-bank lenders charge."

bastanow said, "Capitalism tends to sink the masses in poverty and degradation while exalting a very few to unfathomable wealth... With an unprecedented gap between the rich and poor right now, and no signs of reversing the unbounded greed of the plutocracy, there really is no hope left for this nation... Clearly, capitalism has proven to be an utter failure."

george32 asked, "and who disporportionately buys more lottery tickets sponsored by governments."

ianhoffman1 suggested, "...get a bike. It will be nearly as fast as a car and healthier for you and cheaper."

But TRS5501 advised, "You have to have access to cashflow to get a bike. You have to have access to cashflow to move. You have to have access to capital to get ahead. The point is that not only are the poor limited in their access they are paying more for what they get than those who can afford to pay more..."

subscriptionsinbox wrote, "The ache and fear of poverty never leaves, no matter how much money you eventually have. You remember the helplessness and hopelessness. And just beneath the surface you are always afraid."

Dive4Blood wrote, "...We're all sympathetic to those who struggle but the cold, hard facts are that long term poverty can only be solved by the individuals it affects. How do you lend a hand to people who refuse to put pen to paper and calculate? How do you help someone who pays $4 to pay a bill because he hasn't got the time to spend a $42 stamp?... "

We'll close with JayHurstAtty who wrote, "...Those here blaming the poor for being born poor need to literally walk a mile in their shoes. Take a week's vacation and go live like those who have nothing must live... Berating the poor for being poor is arrogant and ignorant, but no one who's never been poor will be able to empathize with that."

All comments on this article are here.

By Doug Feaver  |  May 18, 2009; 7:38 AM ET
Categories:  Poverty  | Tags: Poverty  
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I think jolline's post shows a perfect example of why we shouldn't be encouraging the urban poor in areas where mass transit exists. I think the extra hour spent on the bus and slightly higher prices for groceries is hardly worth the $400 plus in insurance, gas, repairs, etc.

I mean, poverty is real and the fact that there is little healthy food in poor neighborhoods is truly a shame, but the idea that poor people should drive to work when the bus is an option just seems counterintuitive. Someone earning $7.50 an hour is probably taking home 1100 a month. Why does that person, in a city with public transit (the rural and suburban poor are different) need a car? To spend 30 percent of his income simply maintaining even the cheapest of rundown kias? That's just insane when you could buy a bus pass for $80 a month.

Posted by: chuck20 | May 22, 2009 6:14 AM | Report abuse

I read quite a few articles on poverty, and there is one thing I could never wrap my head around.
Why is there always some person out there saying that "It is so easy to get out of poverty. They are just to stupid and lazy."
I am a 23 year old white female, living with her boyfriend just to save on rent.
I work as many hours I can pull at my retail job, and every store I pass on my way to and from work I have put in applications in for a second job. I was in school for 4 years just trying to work and study so that I can have a better life. I stopped being able to afforded it 3 years in. And for all of you people out there saying finical aid and grants and scholarships will pay for it. Well yeah, finical aid pays for class and books, but when you have a dream to be a funeral director that is a full time college dream. So since that is full time, when is the gas bill being paid, or how is the rent being paid? We as a society think that poor people got it easy. Well buddy try being told that you are not poor enough to make that grant application, or that scholarship is meant for straight out of high school kids.
I work, I’m not one of those dumb women who have sex and then forget that is how you have children. I have two siblings still living with my mother who for 20 years has been on government assistance. This is the woman that while I went to school stayed up and made us fresh bread cause it was cheaper and ironed sleazy men shirts for a few extra dollars.
I grew up poor, I am still poor, but I value what I have.
To all those who say, "Just stop being poor."
To them I say, "When you work your fingers to the bone for something, it means so much more than ever being handed a free ride.”
Remember that I am a 23 year old woman, working retail and wondering when they are going to shut off my gas. But when I look around I remember that I am 23, working, breathing, and I have hope that one day, I will be able to pay my bills on time. It’s a small dream but you have to start small. Next is being able to buy name brand cereal. Now those are some big dreams.

Posted by: wandgbunnies | May 22, 2009 1:58 AM | Report abuse

I am glad someone is writing about this, I work for A major company Home Depot to be exact who banks with bank of America and they charges $6.50 TO CASH YOUR WORK CHECK IF YOU DONT HAVE AN ACCOUNT WITH THEM, and when I said I am going to complain to my company the teller said your company will not stop banking with us because of you I think that was rude and we should not let them treat poor people that was.

Posted by: gur2728 | May 21, 2009 10:44 PM | Report abuse

Ms Brown admirably tried to show the poor aren't all alike - there but for fortune go some like you, while others clearly waste money, time, and opportunity. Predictably this attempt at balance was wasted on those who want to dismiss all poverty as the same.

Posted by: jhbyer | May 21, 2009 9:42 PM | Report abuse

I am the living poor. I live in San Diego California which is very expensive and the cost of living exceeds what the payrate is. Me and my husband of ten years had just gotten into an apartment which will be a first for the both of us. We share a one bedroom apartment in a fantastic neighborhood with three other people. It is a little cramped, but we are making the best out of what we got. Before this, we were either in a homeless shelter or sleeping under a bridge. My husband works, he has been a security guard for the past year or so. It is hard to be homeless...being constantly woken by the police at three in the morning isn't exactly conducive for a proper night's sleep. However, the homeless are not all saints. Personally, I refuse to give the homeless money...and this is coming from someone who had been homeless for years! It is the worse thing you could do, is to actually give them money. I often offer food, or I will offer to purchase what exactly they need...if I have the money to do so. When the homeless litter, get drunk and disorderly in public, relieve themselves in public...that is what the middle class, the upper class...every class sees of the homeless. A few rotten apples spoils the bunch for the lot of them. The cost of living is going to get higher, especially in this recession. They are constantly building expensive condos in the heart of downtown San Diego...and barely a handful live in these units. I had coined the phrase "Today's Condos, Tomorrow's Ghettos." in light of that. And as for supposed low income is hard to get into such units. We were denied not one week before we got into this apartment from another place that claimed to be low income housing...they claimed our credit was flawed. Being poor, being homeless...isn't exactly going to grant us flawless credit. On the topic of jobs..well..I see it all the time. People are turned away because employers claim that these individuals are over qualified..whatever that means. That just means that you would pay someone else less money for the lack of experience that you claim you want from that said individual because someone with experience is more than likely going to know what exactly he could ask for, as far as his trade is concerned.

Posted by: bleachunlimited | May 21, 2009 9:10 PM | Report abuse

I suppose it's all relative. I live in Harlem, NYC. The poor kids in my neighborhood are fat and have ipods.

Posted by: mselim123 | May 21, 2009 7:10 PM | Report abuse

it really is sad they pay more , but why not take the $15 dollars and put it to get a new drivers license and open a bank account where you don't have to pay a fee for cashing.

Posted by: Iam21084u | May 21, 2009 6:34 PM | Report abuse

I lived in Kansas City, MO for many years as an adult. I watched beautiful new subsidized housing built. I saw beautiful inner city magnet schools being built and of the line computers, olympic sized swimming pools...much nicer than the suburbs.

Ewing Kauffman a Kansas City philanthropist even started a program to send inner-city youth to college, 100% tuition paid...all they had to do was stay off drugs, stay in school, not get pregnant, and pass their classes...No minimum gpa...just not fail! Sad to say, only a few people took him up on this offer! Can you believe that? free college for minimal effort...and few were interested.

Now, 15 years later, the beautiful housing looks like crap...vandalized, and falling apart. The schools have been torn apart by unappreciative thugs. A lot of taxpayer money went to building these properties and maintaining them...but, there comes a point, when the taxpayer has to say, enough is enough. We keep giving upgrades to those not providing for themselves...and then they tear them down. We keep trying to help these people by giving more to them...then they take what we give and insist on more.

And, I know what it's like to be poor. I grew up in family survived on my father's disability the age of 10, I mowed lawns, mopped floors at a laundromat and had a paper route....I paid for my own school supplies, clothing, and helped pay the monthly family bills....we didn't complain or ask for more...this was the hand we were dealt, and we knew we could either give up, or work to get out of poverty.

I studied my butt off, worked my butt of and put myself through college. And, now I am comfortable because of the sacrifices I made then.

Bottom have to help yourself, if you want others to continue to help you.

Make good choices, obtain a checking account, (most are free with direct deposit). pay your bills on time, to avoid late penalties, make smart decisions when you go to the grocery store, ($9 chicken wings are not a smart decision). And, finally sacrifice now to better your life tomorrow.

Posted by: madswens | May 21, 2009 5:50 PM | Report abuse

I would like to dispute almost every part of your article since having lived below the poverty line with no credit (which I still don’t have) working a minimum wage (7.25$ in 2008). You don’t save any money at Costco or Trader Joe's, they are both a rip off, your local ghetto “Save-A-Lot” has better deals. I just moved to Hartford CT and live a few streets from the not so nice areas, there are lots of corner stores but there are 4 supermarkets and a Wal-Mart with in 2 miles and me and my wife walk or bike with backpacks to go shopping. I bet the yuppies going to Costco or Trader Joe's drive 20 or 30 min to get there and that’s no longer then we walk or bike to shop. It’s more to do with laziness and not thinking ahead then being victims of there situation, just think about it; you can get fresh air and a little exercise and shop all at the same time. Since moving to Hartford we have found the opposite of what the story says; there’s more competition between the stores and the food is cheaper and you can shop around to find better deals. “The poorer you are, the more things cost” Is not true at all, if you poor you don’t drive so no car payments and no insurance costs or parking costs and if you buy a monthly bus pass or get a bike you’ll save more then the cost of gas. I still have a trac phone because it’s like 100$ a year instead of 50$ or 60$ month. We use the trac phone for emergencies and for work to contact me and Skype to talk to friend and family (to save money you have to think outside the box and lack of wastes money). You told of the costs of poverty when Nya Oti’s car broke down and it took a lot of time getting on the bus; I’m from Maine if your car breaks down your stuck at least she can get a bus. Don’t even get me started on Organic food, Nya Oti should not feel like less of a person because she doesn’t by it. Why pay extra for caller identification, get an answering machine. To get a bank account it only costs 30$ to get a state ID, they victims of not planning ahead. ”The poor know the special economics of their housing, too.” "You pay rent that might be more than a mortgage," True but also untrue, it my be more then a mortgage but add property tax, heat, maintenance, yard care, snow removal, higher power and gas bills because of bigger rooms, renting today is a better choice for many and your more likely to save on monthly costs. Your life is what you make of it and if you’re poor you’re not stuck at the whim of a higher power unless the higher power is laziness and not thinking ahead. You can always use your head to get ahead.

Posted by: goddambats | May 21, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Yes, you make valid points on the frustrations of money and prices with the poor. But you need to look farther than your nose to OTHER areas of the USA. I am directly around the asian community. Is see them come here from China, Thailand, etc. and they have a different perspective. They immediately network to find others, they do NOT live by themselves, they live in groups to SHARE the burden. They do NOT take the damn entitlements WELFARE, WIC, FOOD STAMPS, etc, etc, etc. The programs do not help. It is a social issue that needs things other than money. The system the asian community embraces is one that was used in the USA during the depression and 100's of years before. The entitlements have ruined our socialabilty and desire to help ourselves out of poverty.

Posted by: Hoppestown | May 21, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

My moms bills: ($800 mo income)
Rent: $60 (everything but electric incl.)
Electric: $80
Phone and Internet: $65
Car insurance: $60
Gas: $100 (no job so she doesn't drive a lot)
Toiletries: $50 (can't buy toilet paper or shampoo w/foodstamps)
Laundry: $40
Doesn't pay for healthcare, food, clothes, or furniture(foodstamps, medicare, free clothes and furniture through like Salvation army or something like that)
Total: $455 for fam
Leftover: $345 monthly $4140 yearly
My bills: ($2600 income)
Rent: $750
Water: $50
Gas (for house): $75
Electric: $80
Phone and Internet: $65
Car Insurance: $140 (when I add up I'll say $60)
Gas: $150 (driving to work and etc.. have a fuel eff car so its pretty cheap)
Furniture bill: $100 (payments)
Clothes: $20 (like $250 yr for fam)
Health Insurance, co pays and medicine: $500
Food: $550
Total: $2400
Leftover: $200 Monthly $2400 yearly
So my mom ,who makes $21,600 less a year than me, actually has leftover $1740 more a year than me because I have to pay for things she doesn't because she's "poor". Even though this is the case I wouldn't trade places with her. She's disabled and wants to work but can't and people treat her like crap because she has to use free services. But on the other hand, please don't act like I'm "rich" because obviously I'm far from it.

Posted by: jolleen | May 21, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Very few people really understand the full extent of poverty,and society has lost compassion,it seems to have become an embarrassment to need to ask for help of any kind,I believe that is why children have problems in school, they are embarrassed to ask for help.Poverty and the need for help steals away pride and self esteem,
people have very little respect for those who are less fortunate, and very little compassion.But with the world's financial condition there will be more people walking in the shoes of poverty.
People who are used to having the fiances to take care of needs will have a harder time living without because they are accustomed to a certain lifestyle.
One of the reasons I believe banks are needing a bailout, and have caused people to have deeper financial difficulties is the price they put on late payments and insufficient bank charges,someone with a couple of dollar mistake can have a chain reaction of several $30 something dollar charges,
People often misunderstanding too what overdraft protection does.
People that make min wage, can not afford to live.have housing,car,gas,food,children needs,
but yet Obama drives up on Inauguration day in a 25 million dollar Limo to a homeless shelter making promises of help,and than making them a huge budget cut,while Michelle goes to a soup kitchen in$ 350.00kickers,I can not see that they have a fill grasp of poverty.
You have given insight to some of poverty's problems.
I see fund raising for political events of millions of dollars in very short periods of time,but not often a fund raiser for those in poverty,homeless and hungry,
a huge budget cut is going to hit disabled,and the elderly, and the children.
The government takes more and more rights away for low income people,invasion of their privacy is part of having gov assistance.

Posted by: judyarlinepuckett | May 21, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

I've been in deep poverty this guy only writes about it. Yes many have not choice but a LARGE number of impoverished people are lazy and that's a fact. I have enough fat lazy relatives to prove and your King Barak Obama could really, really give a lovely.

Posted by: pooniesmichael | May 21, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

I'm an immigrant I emmigrated about 13 year ago , I get four years ago my american citizen by naturalization , since I get this country I have been working hard I do not consider myself as a middle class just an working class , I bought my first home 10 year ago , I sold it and buy one again now a day I get a new home plus an second home as investment ,like working class I've seen my income reduced I make less money that i used to make two years ago but the living expensives cost more much not to mention the property taxes so I going to be one more on the list of the 35 millions people under poverty level , because once I could not pay the property taxes and the mortgage I'm gonna be out . The article is a real analisys of our american society the poverty is real and hundred more american people every year they are going to increase the list , the new reality on forclosure , unemployment , frustration, the american worker society

Posted by: r406rfacenda | May 21, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

This reminds me of a film I've watched by Peter Straub titled, We Have A Table For Four Ready. I have been part of the working poor not knowing how to keep the bills paid or if I would have a roof over my head the next day. I do believe some can overcome their struggles with help; yet there are also others who would rather keep their addictions and cry about their situations.
I hate to sound cruel but I am also getting a bit tired of hearing about everybody's sad state of affairs. In this economy, we are all going through something and I as one person cannot help everyone! I do my best but it seems that every day someone else is asking for help and I can never do can get overrun by guilt if you think about it.
Thanks for a great, thought-provoking article.

Posted by: catndogldy | May 21, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Let's see. Free, section 8 housing, free food, free healthcare, free utilities-- So the poor have to go to the laundromat. Big deal. Even if they have little money, every bit of it can be used as disposable income. The working/middle class are the ones who should have the most grievances. They're the ones who have to make real sacrifices because they not only have to figure out a way to pay for their own families, but they also have to pay for society's anchors.

Posted by: questiondiversity | May 21, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

My husband works for a gas utilty, and he has the unpleasant job of shutting gas off for unpaid bills.He has observed many things over the years and here are some... Why do the majority of such people smoke, have many dogs or cats, have live in boy friends who don't work,( but have a big screen T.V. in their living room)?
The writer should have included if the poor smoke (or drink)or play the lottery as that consumes 75% of their money.

Posted by: newfaith1981 | May 21, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

The writer & paper should win a prize for this artile on telling it like it is. I hope every American reads this article - especially the President. Something needs to be done to help the poor in America. The poor have it soooooooo much harder then the rich, yet the poor keep getting dumped on. I myself, a single mother, worked 3 jobs to just keep up & it is exhausting and no one cares. Only God knows the truth on the characters & hearts of America's poor. Hopefully, and I pray that the writer will keep up the good work & report more honest articles. If anyone rich wants to trade places w/me for one month, be my guest & we can write the new article. All my best for a job well done! At least someone got it right. Darl :)

Posted by: darlkoest | May 21, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

JaxMax hit the nail on the head. I wish everyone was like him. This tells all about

Posted by: cliffhajek | May 21, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

This is article is right on. I grew up in a working class family with a mother who recognized the excessive pricing and in many cases mitigated the risk by saving and cutting coupons

But both she and my father would acknowledge our position as the working poor.


Posted by: behorne | May 21, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Is poverty about status and convenience in our country? All the things that are at issue(modern conveniences of life) in the article are relative and not absolute. Can someone in poverty in sub Sahara Africa fathom drinking milk or even having air conditioning in their government tent that is provided to them at a refugee camp? Poverty is relative to social status and standing in the USA. Absolute poverty is in Boliva...Africa...No wonder new immigrants thrive so well here because they see how easy it really is to move vertically out of poverty instead of sitting around waiting for someone to do something for them. U may feel poor here but not a lot of cold milk in the Sudan.

Posted by: jamesgiller | May 21, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

"The poor will always be among you." "Judge not that ye be not judged."

What about poor children? Is it their fault, too?

Posted by: debrahous1 | May 21, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

I was reading the posts for the discussion about poverty, and I have to clarify some things. First, before anyone can make a comment they need to really evaluate people's situations. All poor people are not lazy, uneducated, and have a lot of children they can't afford. Some people have ensenuating circumstances that are beyond their control. An example is myself. I was have four illnesses and they are: Takayasu's Arteritis, Crohn's Disease, Left-sided Congestive Heart Failure, and Ankylosing Spondylitis. I graduated from high school with a 3.0 grade point average(would have been a 4.0 if it wasn't for me missing so much school due to illness). I had partial scholarships to more than 10 universities. I attended college for two weeks before I got so sick I had to drop out. By the time I was 27, I had 5 surgeries (two major heart and Aorta reconstruction), two strokes, and a heart attack. Despite my poor health, I recieved my diploma in Accounting and graduated with a 3.5 grade point average. Because of my poor health, I still could not maintain employment. I am in school again now to obtain my Bachelor's Degree in Corporate Finance (which probably won't do me any good). I continuously hold a 4.0 grade point average. However, I have to live off of disability from the government. No one seems to want to hire a disabled American, except for jobs paying mediocre wages. Now at the age of 30, I am living in poverty. From the sight of me, no one can tell that I am so sick. I appear to be healthy, and there are so many people in this country in my situation. It burns me up when people speak of poverty from a stereotypical point of view. All poor people are not lazy, uneducated, having babies they can't afford, etc. Some people are trapped in poverty by circumstances they have no control over.

Posted by: nyanasthealias | May 21, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

It seems the age old view that those at the poverty level are the root cause of all problems, past and present, abounds in our society. However for those poverty stricken people the road blocks to success are insurmountable at times.
I believe it is not the lack of education but rather an inability to clearly explain the reality of ones situation. Lets use a reply that stated, "they could just get a free checking account". Try going to a FDIC bank and opening one or get a loan for say $300.00. Its not going to happen very soon! Then we have the phone bill example to ponder. I believe what this person really was saying is, "I usually don't have enough money to pay on the due date" so I am forced to pay through these sleaze shops!
I want to point out that these so called "payment places" usually have a 72 hour hold before that payment is even sent to the corresponding biller. Translated a 72 hour float on the rightful money of that biller. Then to add insult to injury a fee accompanies that service usually based on a flat + percentage fee of the original bill. This now affects the original biller as cash flow rates decrease and eventually will be one of the deciding factors used to gain higher rates, which will effect everyone.
Once you truly understand the actual cost of being "poor", using logic before you formulate opinions, you might just hit on a solution. There are many and finger pointing is not a viable solution!

Posted by: Daytona1 | May 21, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

I live in a poor area, take the bus, but technically I guess I'm slumming. Since I am by definition middle class. (educated, white, professional parents) That said, I have seen most of this first hand as a teenager, and now on a daily basis, and I know it to be true.

The idea that if you work hard and stay in school, etc. Is a middle class myth. Even if you make it out, quite often you never fit in. What matters most is getting lucky, and having enough time that you're not forced into making stupid choices, and "equality of opportunity" it's the last that the poor rarely get.

As a middle class person what can you do? Well you could start by at least acknowledging the poor, and not pretending they don't exist.

Posted by: praxis22 | May 20, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Regarding Dive4blood's comment, "How do you help someone who pays $4 to pay a bill because he hasn't got the time to spend a $42 stamp?"

First of all, I assume you mean a 42-cent stamp. Secondly, you miss the point of the article altogether. Many of the desperately poor don't have checking accounts. So how can you pay a bill via mail by check and 42-cent stamp if you don't have a checking account? Further, when you're desperately poor, you often wait until the last moment to pay your bill. The person going to the check cashing place and paying a $4 fee to pay his utility bill probably has waited until the drop-dead deadline. He's paying his bill electronically to avoid shutoff the next morning.

The disdain for the poor truly amazes me. Growing up, I was middle-class and then through a series of unfortunate events, I was poor. I went to college. I was so incredibly broke after college because, guess what,I had college debt, credit card debt (not because of stupid decisions, but because I lacked parents who could afford to pay my way), and a low-paying journalism job at a small newspaper. Fortunately, my story ends well. Through determination and hard work, I have a very good job, savings and am optimistic about my future. But guess what. One misstep in life, my situation could be different. If my personal constitution wasn't as strong, perhaps I wouldn't have possessed the determination it took to get me to where I am. If I hadn't been fortunate enough to grow up poor but live in an area where there were good public schools, perhaps I wouldn't have had the requisite skills to complete college and go on to graduate school. One wrong turn, I could be any one of those poor folks mentioned in this article.

For those who want to condemn the poor for being poor, perhaps you should take one poster's advice and live among the poor for just one week. Try living without a car. Try "riding a bike because it's healthier" in a neighborhood that's not safe. Try living a life in which it's easier and cheaper to buy cheap processed foods than it is to buy fresh produce. Try, for one minute, to be empathetic toward people who haven't had the same opportunities as you. And try to understand that persistent poverty is pathological with complex root causes. Blaming the poor for being poor is tantamount to congratulating trust fund babies for hard work and innovation.

Posted by: Keepitforreal | May 19, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

There used to be dignity in being poor and it gave all hope. Now it appears to be a sin in this country to be poverty stricken. My Grandmother, said it was a sin to have money, I never understood what she meant until I became a man. It became clear that she was on to something, what I have yet to figure out completely. But, after reading most of the comments from this article I am getting closer.

Posted by: knjon353 | May 18, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Can the poor vote? Next time you see them at the food bank, ask them to support HR 1207 to audit our central bank the Federal Reserve. If you hate poverty, then attack inflationary monetary policy. Otherwise the Fed will continue to expand its balance sheet and all that credit and money will eventually lead to inflated prices (all things equal).

Posted by: millionea7 | May 18, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

There was a story years ago about how roving youth groups were brutally attacking street people in Tokyo. The underlying reason behind these attacks, as it came out, was the fear of many of the attackers that this could be their fate at some point.

In America, many of the holier-than-thous who write these condemnations of the poor don't or won't even recognize the fear they themselves have that they could land up like this. Many also are so influenced by political or religious brainwashing that they believe that either voting for a certain ideology makes them 'good' as well as worshiping the right God. Therefore, in their magical thinking, they have justified themselves that they have, indeed, rightfully earned their place in society.

And yet we see these letters of condemnation now grow more fierce as the economy gets worse. I think in many cases, these fearful people are seeing friends and family members lose their jobs through NO FAULT OF THEIR OWN and, even with substantial savings, it's only a matter of time before they land up either finding someone to move in with or landing up on the street. And this, of course, happens after shedding all the vestiges of 'The American Dream' until nothing is left.

But let's not kid ourselves about another reason: the middle class majority could always feel smug and self-righteous when the face of the welfare or food stamp recipient was black or Hispanic. Now, more and more, it's the kind of people they've seen at Rotary meetings or at the kid's softball game. Now the face of growing poverty is WHITE and now, once you've checked off your work ethic, your politics and God, what other rational excuse can you make for this?

A lifetime of educational and cultural brainwashing is being severely tested here - for at long last with nothing to lose, people begin to question capitalism. And they don't want to - that's like questioning God, the flag, mom and apple pie. Yet, you've done everything you were told to do - studied hard, went to the right schools, met the right people, worked hard, etc. Yet here you are anyway - waiting for the sheriff with the papers.

Blame yourself?
Blame God?
Blame Obama?
Blame. . . the economic system? Never!

So bend over and grab those bootstraps one last time and try not to pay too much attention to the looks on the faces of the people you used to sneer at in the grocery checkout line as you, for the first time, use the food stamp card to feed your family.

Posted by: kegbot1 | May 18, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

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