Friday, December 18, 2009

Why does poverty so offend those that are not poor?

I have a theory, which I'll discuss later. Anyone who has read a sampling of my posts, knows that I'm not ashamed of being poor. It's a fact, being ashamed of it won't change it. I manage, I wobble, I falter, I pick myself up and dust myself off. I save and scrimp and feel guilty when I spend $20 on a night at a college bar (that's $20 including food, beer and tip.) I make choices. I buy a pomegranate instead of a bag of oranges. I deal.
Most poor people do. It's not like there's another option. Well, I mean, there's death, but...that's stupid.

Yeah, I just spent a little over 1/6th  of my paycheck on tires so I don't die if it gets a little slick on the roads, which was 1/3 of my remaining money for the next two weeks after bills. Then my battery died. Well, my battery died and then the auto parts place said the word I've come to fear: Alternator.
There was good news and bad news. Good: Lifetime warranty on the one I put in last year. So, the part is free for as long as I own the car. Bad: It's bitterly cold, I don't have access to a garage bay or lift.
Yes. I know how to replace an alternator. I had to learn. Why? Because I'm poor. Duh.
So, I had a minor freak out yesterday, got home and burst into tears after I figured out exactly how much money I really had left. This may not even cover the labor and I haven't even filled up my gas tank or bought my mom an xmas present and we're gonna need food and kitty litter and ohshitwhatthefuckamIgonnado? 
 I get paid twice a month. I don't get paid again until New Year's Eve.

Fact: If you live in a cold-weather climate, someone in your city is going to freeze to death on the streets tonight.
I'm way better off than that. I appreciate what I have.
Enough about me, I just wanted to give some context.

One of my friends posted this on facebook: wondering whose brilliant idea it was to intstate the government program, TracPhone? (sarcasm should be very apparent)

Kristen McHugh 
Actually, it's always been around, it just used to solely fund landline service for low-income households. Now it funds wireless, too.

someone else replied: yeah, dont you think that calling a hospital is like... the first step in receiving heathcare?!?!?
I'm not sure what they mean, but... the thread owner's reply followed: 
I don't believe war should be funded to the level that it has been. But this is not the issue. You have to draw the line somewhere on where the government provides aid and people have to take some level of responsibility for their lives. The person who makes 500 per month is probably getting it from social security or disability and most likelyreceiving reduced energy costs from the utility companies (which are subsidized by the gov't) as well as Medicaid/Medicare and Food Stamps and now TracPhone. There must be some personal responsibility even for those with disabilities. It would probably be a safe bet to say there are more people who abuse these services than those that truly need them. Now Life Alert makes sense as a gov't provided service, not a cellphone or landline.

And, another reply from someone I don't know: 

Amen!~ With freedom comes responsibility. You can't have your cake and it too, although certain people in power would love you to believe that - until they strip you of every freedom given to you by the Constitution! Creating a dependant welfare state is the ultimate purpose of Government - no matter what form - they are all evil.

Now, we welcome the conspiracy-theorists to the party: 
I've heard (no proof) that Cricket is actually a government run company. The idea being they automatically have legal access to all the phone records of people who have no credit for a higher-end service provider (ie: poor people who buy and sell drugs). No credit check for a Cricket.

Major assist in drug investigations. The big boys might be able to afford Verizon, but their clients can't.

Contrary to urban myth, most drug dealers earn the equivalent of minimum wage. All pyramids are built the same way, hence the all-seeing eye that crowns the pyramid on our money. (Is that straight out of "Lord of the Rings" or what??)

Information is the single most powerful weapon you can possess. Controlling information means permanent power.

The Chinese refer to this process as "patient gradualism".

Because we are an eye-candy society, the subtleties of what's happening escape most people. It's important for artists, musicians, writers, etc., to be aware of this stuff as it we who are usually the first to be rounded up. History has proven that even though the "John Brown's" of the world have been crazy, they were also very often right.

Sorry for the rant, topic close to my heart.

A voice of reason enters the fray: 
Actually, Some of the client's I've worked with cannot afford to have telephone service and this program has really benefited them and has helped mental health services keep in touch with them. I think it is a good idea for some individuals.

I do not know when to walk away from this kind of thing. I really don't. Probably because I don't understand it. 
Kristen McHugh 

I believe in responsibility, but to be completely frank, the government isn't doing what it should be, for the population. Yes, some people are abusing progams. However, there are far more people who are not eligible for any benefits, because of outdated measurments. Life Alert wouldn't help someone who has to coordinate medical appointments and transportation, and as... mentioned, mental health services. There's also the fact that many people who are disabled, did indeed, pay more than their fair share into medicare and social security, FOR OTHER PEOPLE. We pay into it, and when we need it, it should be there. I say, anyone who wants to opt out of ever receiving medicare/medical assistance/social security-ssi , go ahead. However, if you can foresee the possibility of ever needing ANY of those things - don't judge other people for needing them now. Someone else's tax dollars will be paying for our Medicare and Social Security payouts, unless the entire system collapses. But what if? What if you have a catastrophic medical condition that maxes out your health insurance and makes you uninsurable, you can't work, you burn through your savings paying for care while you fight to qualify for SSI because you have a college education, and sure, you can't walk or sit or stand for any length of time, but surely you can WORK. You try to work, but get fired because you miss too many days due to medical appointments. You try again, but this job, you earn too much to qualify for medicaid, and not enough to pay for your life-saving medication. You lose your house. You can't drive, even if you could afford car insurance.
These are the kind of people that qualify for programs that you don't think should be funded.
So, do you think they should disappear and die, because they *can't* not won't, but *can't* do for themselves?
Also, medicaid, as it's administered through HMO's, doesn't provide what you might think they do. I used to work for one, and I quit because I couldn't stomach the way they denied care. Profit is more important than whether someone dies.
That's reality.

Here's where things got interesting. 
My friend replies: Health care is screwed, it obviously needs reform. In the unfortunate circumstance of becoming disabled or sick there are things that can and must be done to simplify one's finances and lifestyle. Cutting out unecessary costs and living frugally to survive along with finding non-traditional ways to make cash are a few strategies. Granted, there are sure to be some extreme cases but I would suspect a large majority of people don't think things through before jumping onto the government support train. I have friends on disability who don't "truly" need it. I have family on disability because they refuse to make the life changes needed to lead a healthier life. I just think there are far better programs out there our tax dollars should support. And there are other options for affordable phone calls: pay phones and Cricket. My grandparents have a cellphone they pay for while living on social security and a small pension. My uncle in law is on disability for mental illness and lives frugally in a small apartment but still manages to pay for his phone. If it's worse than that, there are agencies out there to assist. While the government should have the people's best interests in mind, it's not their job to take care of everything.
The voice of reason returns: 

Its hard to know the reality of the situation until you have been around it and seen how the government actually doesn't serve individuals who really need it. The system needs to be reformed. Plenty of people take advantage of programs. You will have that no matter what the program is. There are indivdiuals who can't "just change and make certain adjustment" Some people aren't able to work and have nothing and no one. The system is actually set up in such a way that it is hard to get off of it once you are on. The moment you start making a very minimal amount of money, your benefits are cut. If you need healthcare or mental health care, or if you need coverage becauese you are mandated for treatment, you actually can't work and still receive the necessary benefits.

In addition, some programs make it actually impossible for people to do the right thing. They say, "you have to receive mental health treatment and you have to get a job, while staying in our program" A lot of available jobs don't offer benefits so if the individual gets a job, the benefits are cut and they aren't in compliance with the program.

People do need to take responsibility, as much as is reasonable for their situation. I say that because some people don't have the capacity to reason out what the next step is. I know people who can't and shouldn't work. Not all people who receive benefits are "working the system". I have seen it help people to. 

Cricket still costs money. some people have NOTHING and staying connected is their only lifeline.

I am passionate about this because government support has been an every day problem where I work for over 2 years. Some of the problem is people playing the system. A lot of the problem is people having benefits pulled out from under them before they have a chance to get back on their feet. Then in order to get what they need for themselves and their families they have to quit working and go back on government support.

There is a book I read....that highlights the plight of the low wage worker. Its called "nickel and Dimed and not getting by in America". It kind of blows the whole perception some people have that as long as you get "a job" you should be fine. No one can exist on minimum wage without helathcare for very long. Its not a spectacular book (the way its written) But it gets at the reality of the work situation in America.

Now that I have really beaten a dead horse, I am done! I never write big long political things like this. bleh.

My friend then posted: 
There's no doubt the system has flaws but monies to fix that system are needed and cutting TracPhone to ensure people get proper medical care and "life training" in hard times of disability and sickness, sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

I left my only parting shot, short of saying, "What the fuck is wrong with you?" 
Radical suggestion: Cut the cashflow to corporate welfare (aka Subsidies to agribusiness, oil, etc.,) and stop letting wall street rip us all off, before we tell people who are already stepped on and invisible, falling through cracks every day, to do better with resources they don't have. If you've got relatives milking the system, step up and report them. If you think people you know should make better choices re: health, help them to do it. The bottom line is this, people are more important than money. The programs that help people who really need the help, (granted, some people will always game the system, if they can,) these programs are not only a minute fraction of the budget, but they get cut almost every year.
Telling people that are an inch away from homelessness, to be more frugal, isn't just blithely ignoring reality, it's cruel.
Strip people of their humanity and dignity, and then tell them they're still not debased enough.
Because it is humiliating, people who are on medicaid, even for disabilities that are well-diagnosed, are humiliated. They are treated differently. People who are poor, sacrifice their dignity.
Being poor shouldn't be a crime, but we treat it like it is. 
Not everyone is poor because they're spendthrifts, not everyone's disability is a fraud. Projecting that onto people who don't deserve it, is wrong.
Compassion costs you nothing, this piddly program costs you next to nothing. If you're willing to drop a dollar in the salvation army kettle, this shouldn't bother you in the slightest.
Talking about this isn't achieving anything useful, I'm done. 

Oh, but no, the original author is not done yet. 
People are more important than money. In fact, my ideas are geared towards helping people where it's REALLY needed. Health care keeps coming up over and over again and is a major portion of what influences people's life choices and it MUST be reformed. In fact, there are many government programs that need to be reformed. The fraud connected to Medicare and Medicaid is a huge reason these programs don't have enough assets to truly make a difference in the lives of those who need it. Not everyone who needs assistance fits in the same box, but we have to do a better job in administering these programs. If FaceBook can code an algorithm as brilliant as this, that knows how to present content in a way that is personal and "understands" the user, there is no reason our government cannot effectively deliver benefits and monies to those with greater need. This is by no means an insult towards those who are less fortunate, but simply states that both sides of the spectrum are responsible. "There is only one class of people that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor. In fact, the poor can think of nothing else." ~ Oscar Wilde

And y'know, my friend isn't actually wrong. 
This is what I would have said, if I'd wanted to continue the conversation:
I don't disagree with anything you've just said. The quote is also quite apt. The system is incredibly flawed, having worked in it for a medicaid contractor, I've seen both sides. The corporate avarice and the ingrained cycle of poverty that occurs not simply from lack of money, but lack of hope, lack of dreams, a poverty of the mind and soul that makes financial circumstances not merely unbearable, but inescapable. My personal point of view is that Universal/Single payer/Socialized Medicine both levels the playing field in a meaningful way AND eliminates a large percentage of, "fraud," in the system. Medicare actually runs incredibly efficiently compared to commercial health care. There's also the ethical issue of people making life or death decisions, (at the very least, extreme quality of life decisions,) based on maximizing profits. It would be lovely if we stopped trying to put people into tiny little boxes and addressed needs in a more holistic/whole person way. (Note: part of the reason the cost/feasibility ratio looks so skewed is that as the Insurer's profit margin drives the rates negotiate with providers; providers are forced to inflate fee schedules in order to meet their own profitability goals. Take that factor out and costs go down. Single-payer then becomes easily affordable.) Using the Orshansky model, the Federal government is essentially generating a deflated number of those that live at or below the poverty level. Similarly, unemployment statistics reported weekly are skewed, because they ONLY count those that are eligible for unemployment benefits. The actual number of people who are unemployed is much higher. I'd actually recommend using Google as a paradigm of the personalization and broad-spectrum analysis for that sort of thing. My ultimate point is that the only person who can tell you whether they need a service like Safelink, is the person who really NEEDS it. Someone who is homeless, for example, may not qualify for it. Just because they are HOMELESS. There are too many catch-22s and hindrances already for those who are genuinely in need. I'm not trying to rant at you, but it's too easy to dismiss something as wasteful, when it's not something you, yourself need. It's too easy to see the negative aspects, (waste and fraud,) rather than the necessity and benefit if that's what you've seen.

Here's the problem: Not once, not even once, does my friend ever acknowledge that anything myself or the voice of reason said, might have actually been right. 
Not once. 
The initial post and subsequent replies all have a blithe, snarky, tone to my ears. It's a sort of, "Fuck the poor for costing me money," tone that, I'll admit, I might be a little sensitive to. On the other hand, I spent years working in a hotbed of Republican-fuck-the-poor-I've-got-mine 'tudes. 
Does this person bring up some valid points re: wasteful spending and fraud? Of course. Those are easy points to make, though. It's the same-shit-different-day cant most of us on the wrong side of the poverty line hear from those subscribing to the Ayn Rand school of thought. 
Why does being poor make someone worth less in the eyes of society? 
Why is being poor so offensive to people who aren't?
The SEP (somebody else's problem,) filter blinds people to the fact that they are one catastrophic illness, one layoff in a bad economy, one car crash away from walking in the very uncomfortable shoes of the poor and disabled. 
The paucity of empathy reminds me of the big, bad 80s. Yuppie scum who just didn't want the homeless sleeping on the heating grates in front of their apartment buildings, brownstones, offices. Out of sight, out of mind. Acknowledging that the poor exist, in a conscious, meaningful way, means acknowledging that you could be poor someday. 
Poverty terrifies people. 
Live frugally? I do. I barely leave my fucking house. I can't spend money I don't have, because I don't have credit cards. There's no such thing as living beyond my means for me. If I don't have the money, I don't have the money. 
Do I take a lack of empathy for, acknowledgement of, and dismissal of the poor, disabled, disenfranchised, invisible, etc., personally? Yes, I do. 
What I do not understand, is why people do those things. You've determined that someone who is unable to do the things you think they should, for whatever reason, is less deserving of compassion or a voice. How do you do that? How do you say, "This person doesn't deserve to have the bare necessities of life, because they have failed at helping themselves?" 
When you do that, aren't you essentially saying that they don't deserve to exist at all?
When we objectify human beings and deem them unworthy, subhuman or useless as a class of person, it makes it all too easy to see how Slavery reigned for hundreds of years, how the Nazis slaughtered millions of people, how genocide after genocide after genocide has happened before our eyes while we do nothing. I'm extrapolating, of course. Trying to understand one person's dismissal of the needs of other human beings does not a genocide make.
It's only a comment thread on Facebook. It's only women. It's only the Jews. It's only the lepers. It's only the filthy poor, it's only the savage natives. It's only...It's only... It's only...Somebody else's problem. 

"All the Devil requires is acquiescence... not struggle, not conflict.
Acquiescence." - Mark Frost, The List of Seven

Note: This came up in the search for the quote above, it reinforces my point, in the most revolting way. People really think like this. 

Ok, I rambled a little there, it's late, I'm pissed off  and I'm frustrated. 
Why? Well, the most entitled people in the world, are those that don't need help. 
When they do need help, it's always, "Different," because they're not faking-lazy-playing-the-system. 
They're never poor, even as they collect their dole checks. 
No, they're special. Poor people are somebody else's problem, after all. 


  1. This is an amazing initiative from tracfone and lifeline. Being on the Safelink program myself it has been an absolute life saver and has enabled me to do things i would never have been able to do in the past. It has enabled me to do things like call and order groceries, which will be delivered to my house only a couple hours later. This phone has even helped me reconnect with my family

  2. Virgin Mobile is going to be offering an improved version in about 5 states. What I too often hear, from the overly-privileged, however well-meaning they are, is a denial that things can be "that" hard. I'm glad that the program has helped you, whether it's to regain a measure of independence, (i.e., ordering groceries vs depending on someone to get them for you,) or reconnecting to family.
    It's helping a lot of people and I hope it continues to do so. :)