As I see it, there are two kinds of poor people in the world. The first are the ones you think about living in slums in third world countries. Because of government policy (or the lack thereof) or poor leadership, the masses suffer. Other factors that also contribute to poverty are criminality, corruption, illiteracy and little access to health care.
For most of his existence poverty has been man’s natural state.
The fact that we have billions of people who do not live in poverty is a testament of our progress. This is why a person who is poor in Brazil is not the same as the person who is born in America and is “poor.”
In America I believe there are three divisions of poor people.
About 30% are truly poor, a cycle that probably began several generations previous. Think of Appalachia, or perhaps inner city Chicago, as examples of this kind of systemic poverty. These folks didn’t get a fair shake and the cycle continues. Broken homes, single parent families, no support system, etc., these qualities constitute systemic poverty in this group.
The second group are people who are clearly either mentally insufficient or suffering from some emotional issue which prevents them from being able to perform in society with any degree of normalcy. These people are typically under some kind of mental health treatment (and in some cases overmedicated, and thus are unable to function normally, i.e., hold a job, attend school, etc. They are the ‘wards of the State”; this group is growing and makes up about 25% of the poor in American society, included in this are Veterans and people suffering from PTSD.
The third and largest group of people who are poor (or homeless) are people who have simply not matured intellectually or emotionally, and have experienced a life of poor decision-making that has resulted in consequences which prohibit them from advancing in society, i.e., loss of job due to poor working habits, people who are unable to find good employment because of incarceration or a negative criminal history; people who abuse alcohol, pills or other substances over long periods of time – making them less effective in their daily living; people who make poor nutritional choices (also over long periods of time) and thus, suffer from health maladies that also prohibit them from ably performing in society.
In this group it could truly be said that life-choices are the main cause of poverty. I call this group The Miserables.
Let me give you two common examples of The Miserables in action.
Donna got in a car crash when she was 19. She was drinking and driving. She injured her brain and thus, for most of her adult life she was termed disabled and treated as such. Donna, not having to work or provide for her own existence, continued to drink and is now 50 years old and totally unable to function (owing in part because of her brain injury, but more importantly, because of long term substance abuse that exacerbated her brain injury). Society will always need to pay for Donna.
The good news is that Donna will probably not live to be 60 because of liver or lung cancer (Donna chain smokes two packs of cigarettes per day). It is a tragedy that she will die younger than she should, but life choices are deadly over the long run.
Fred, 40, is homeless and has been for about most of his adult life years. He says he suffers from PTSD because he was abused by both parents when he was young and he became a heroin addict to deal with his PTSD. He has at least one felony for drug possession so he will alway be unable to get a decent paying job, though he is an experiences welder, BUT because he suffers from PTSD and is now a heroin addict, his chances for a normal life is slim.
Fred will be a ward of the state for the rest of his life and will live in poverty because he only receives $1,100 per month. He may get Section 8 housing soon, but the best he can hope for is a small apartment in a rundown neighborhood.
In both cases there is a blend of decision-making and bad luck. Both outcomes are the same, a life of being dependent on the State. But equally important is that neither Donna nor Fred are expected to change their own behavior. As adults they can continue to live making poor decisions even though both have a life-long support system that should allow them to grow intellectually and emotionally. There are school programs, free classes, support groups, libraries and volunteer agencies that welcome people like Fred and Donna who can do things like help feed the poor (ironically).
But as in so many cases, many people who are “poor” in America are not poor at all, relatively speaking. They are given more money than most people in most countries, and there are a wealth of community services (even transportation) available to them to help them improve upon themselves. But what they choose to do with their life once they begin to receive government assistance remains an issue because they are expected to do nothing. Society at large not only foots the bill, but people who are really destitute and have no recourse (like the severely disabled) also suffer because resources are spread thin.
People who are higher functioning and do receive assistance should be expected to workt
According to the 2017 U.S. Census there are 23 million adults who have no physical or mental disability but receive government assistance and/or housing and are perfectly able to work IF they were given a job). But restrictions are put in place to make it easy for abled-bodied recipients to NOT work, or are penalized if they do work (they lose a portion of their benefits). In one case, a person who receives a subsidy and is given a low-income single unit in a very nice area of Santa Barbara, California, is not allowed to own a motorized vehicle. In another case, a 52=year old women who is quite able to work would lose her housing and monthly stipend of $940 per month if she works more than 20 hours per week or earns more than $500 per month.
Many of our homeless, especially men, are simply drug addicts and have lost their way. Many receive benefits so that they won’t have to work and won’t have to be held accountable for their actions and continuing bad behavior (especially if they continue to use controlled substances). In short, millions are ‘gaming the system’ because we are a rich country and we can afford to pay out to help the less fortunate.
But at a time when every dollar does count, and bad life-choices are part of the problem for many who have become dependent on State or federal assistance government, many choose to not work, even when they are quite capable of doing so. Our society has a duty to help the downtrodden. Our society also has a responsibility to ensure we don’t enable bad behavior by subsidizing bad behavior and poor life choices, liking drinking, taking drugs and being generally irresponsible.
As a country, every citizen needs to put something back into society. It’s the right thing to do and it helps everyone.
We need to hold people accountable when they benefit from the generosity of a wealthy nation. The time for a free lunch must end or we will have far too many derelicts roaming the streets and draining the coffers of tax dollars intended to help people who really need it. Homelessness is erupting at an increased pace, as we are seeing now in major cities like LA, San Francisco, New York and Seattle.
It is one thing to have compassion for the truly poor and want to help, but it is quite another when you have people who simply take advantage because they know how to play the system and are doing so without any repercussions. We need to hold people accountable. Doing so would actually be good for people. It is always better to put people to work. Working provides incentives and it makes people feel good about themselves.
Can the next Democrat, instead of focusing so much on the poor, also include a plan for getting many of these poor back to work – especially if they are recipients of welfare and are able-bodied?