In this space every week we talk about poverty in America. We post links and data to support the general premises that being poor in America is a growing problem and that it is solve-able. My intention this week was to offer more of the same, with an eye toward what we can do about the problem.
I’m not going to do that today.
Instead, I feel moved to think hard about what it means to be poor. Because it’s easy to forget. It’s ugly and bad.
I wonder if it’s not easier for us to think about poverty in big facts and figures, if that doesn’t make it “easier-enough” and poverty becomes an abstraction. As has been said (and probably not by Stalin, as popularly believed), “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”
Let’s step away from the sunlight and abstraction of statistics, shall we? Follow me into the shadows for a moment.
Poverty in America is a young woman with a choice between not feeding her child and selling her body to strangers twenty bucks at a time. Poverty in America is a little girl who knows what mama is doing.
Poverty in America is sleeping between the bushes and the fence on a sheet of cardboard you salvaged from a dumpster, and hoping you wake up in time to move before the people who work in the building next door call the cops. Poverty in America is wandering around downtown all day because you don’t have anywhere else to go until the sun goes down again. Poverty in America is hoping that sheet of cardboard is still there when you get back.
Poverty in America is convincing yourself it’s ok to only take your blood pressure meds on days when you feel really bad. Poverty in America is laying awake half the night wondering who will find your body because you aren’t taking your blood pressure meds every day.
Poverty in America is generations of children who don’t know any better. It’s stacking concrete blocks or shingling roofs for forty years and still not being old enough to collect social security.
Poverty in America is roaches and fleas. It’s a toddler playing with glass vials and empty lighters in a grey-dirt front-yard. It’s sleeping in an old Toyota behind a luxury high-rise. It’s sickness in the shadow of a hospital and it’s a job you can’t afford to drive to.
Poverty in America is all those things. In the wealthiest nation in human history, and all this could be fixed for an extra percent or two on your taxes and mine. A few pennies on the transaction in your retirement account. Giving up the mortgage deduction on your second home.
We’re past the point where we can even call this a national shame. Much longer and we will have made an indelible historical statement that the people of the United States of America did not care about their fellow countrymen who lived in the shadows. That they drew bright lines between the classes and fought tooth and nail to stay inside the caste where they found themselves.
That is not the legacy I want to leave. How about you? If you say no, what are you prepared to do about it?
The Everblog poverty series:
And coming next Sunday (seriously this time), “What Can We Do About It?”
In addition to writing here at Everblog, Harvey Ward writes about his efforts to live healthier and better at SkippingDessert.Com. You can also find him on Twitter @hlward.