A Departure

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:


Is That Stuff Contagious?

I Want a New War.

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.


6 thoughts on “A Departure

  1. It’s also going without food so the small amount of food the foodstamps covered lasts for the kids to eat. It’s your four year old asking ‘Mama, are they going to shut the power off this month again?” It’s seeing those red numbers on your bank account each month and knowing the bank just made another $160 off you in overdraft fees until the next pay day. It’s deciding what bills to pay and when. It’s being looked down on as a drug user or a ‘taker’ or a lazy person when you pull out the EBT card at the store. It’s washing your kids clothes by hand in the yard with a hose and dish soap, because you don’t have enough money for the laundromat. And when the food runs low, and when the power company won’t wait another week until you get paid, so you have little food and no power, it’s setting up blankets and sheets in the house and telling your kids you are on an ‘exciting adventure, to a place, unknown, and we have to make the rations last’… so that it seems like a game, and not as horrible as it really is.

  2. The documentary film, “American Winter,” airs on HBO Monday night (3/18/2013).

    “Filmmakers Joe and Harry Gantz highlight the crucial role of social service agencies in preventing homelessness and providing basic needs after the economic collapse and sluggish recovery that has followed. Many of the film’s subjects, including a former Columbia Sportswear accountant, have been without work for years.”

    The film documents people who are struggling in Portland, which I am sure is representative of what is happening throughout the country.


  3. Pingback: ‘American Winter’ documentary film airs on HBO Monday | Ozarks Blue

  4. Pingback: Fix It: Five Ways to Beat Poverty in America (Now) | Everblog

  5. Pingback: 21 Statistics About The Explosive Growth Of Poverty In America That Everyone Should Know — State of Globe

  6. Pingback: 21 Statistics About The Explosive Growth Of Poverty In America That Everyone Should Know | Prepper Podcast Radio Network

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