The War on Poverty

Welcome back! Happy New Year! I ended a day early and am starting a day later than planned—thank you electronic world for all that you promise versus what you deliver. The Internet is a marvel when you can be a part of it, and oh, so frustrating when you need IT. Anyway, I know that everyone out there feels my pain, so let’s just begin. A new year, yet apparently, the same old rants will do.

“There will be poor always/Pathetically struggling…”

For those who didn’t memorize every line of Jesus Christ, Superstar, that is the Messiah himself saying that the War on Poverty will never work. So, WWJD? Maybe set up a safety net, and in the meantime, not wrack himself with guilt or waste a lot of resources on something that will never change.

I get the feeling that those most “concerned” about the sad state of the poverty-stricken aren’t really familiar with anyone who has been long-term poor. I know some long-term poor types personally, and I know that they have a truly different mind-set. The concerned types think that simply throwing money at the poor will elevate them to middle-class status. But there are those for whom it is impossible to have enough money to even maintain themselves at a minimal level. No matter how much money they receive, they will have month remaining long after their stipend has been accounted for.

For the long-term poor, planning ahead has no meaning. So long as they have walking-around money, they spend it. When the money is gone, they stop. Whether they receive government handouts, or cash a paycheck, their wallet is their bank, and their budget is however much they have on hand. An extra $20 makes them rich as Croesus for the day, and having no cash means asking somebody, anybody, for a loan till payday.

It is not the money, or lack thereof, that keeps these people poor. It is their inability to care about anything later than right now. There are those who can take $10 and make $1 million of it. And there are those who can start with $1 million and end up with $10. Because of this, I think that having some sort of safety net is a basic human kindness, just not necessarily the safety net imagined by the guilt-ridden. When the poor have blasted through their allotment, they turn to their true safety nets: family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances,  bosses, anyone who will let them borrow till next week, next month, next infusion of cash. Until those who are fighting the War on Poverty have had someone scrounge from them month after month after month after their money has somehow mysteriously disappeared yet again, they will have no idea of the scope of the War they are fighting. Especially since there are people who are in the same, or worse, financial straits, who somehow still manage to have a little bit left over at the end of the week.

At every income level, there are savers and there are spenders. Being a bit of a miser myself, I have some trouble grokking the attitude of the spenders. I try to balance my knowledge that the car will break, someone will get sick, a vacation would be nice, with enjoying myself today. But for spenders, today is all. The car, the sick, the vacation will all somehow take care of themselves, or not. But it is not for the spender to plan for, or to take on the responsibility for, them.

On Elementary a couple of weeks ago, a woman was talking to a wanna-be reformed addict. The addict was apologizing, yet again, for bad behavior. The woman said, yes, yada, yada, we’ve had this conversation before, you apologize for being naughty. What I don’t understand, she continued, is why you continue to put yourself in situations that require you to apologize later. Or, as I would say, Stop that!

I don’t know what it takes to change someone who drifts along with the vagaries of life, living high on the hog when there is cash available, starving when pockets are empty, but I do know that money is not the solution. The War on Poverty will not be won with larger hand-outs. We may have a fighting chance when we can somehow change people’s minds.

Or not.

The lilies of the field…toil not, nor do they spin. (Matthew 6:28)

As caring human beings, we can hold out that safety net, allow the spenders to spend, and not expect too much of human nature. I just don’t think that the War on Poverty is something that the politicians ought to be spending a lot of their time, and our money, on, until they have some concept of what type of solution might actually make a difference.


Filed under Critical Thinking, Politics

9 responses to “The War on Poverty

  1. Katie Small

    Great commentary. Apparently one politician believes he has the solution and that’s to declare class warfare which we all know puts the majority in the same poverty bucket. Those who have the most will survive longer. However, to your point, until the mindset changes on both side (government and indiviudal) no change will occur. The pain must be greater than the comfort provided by Big Brother.

  2. Bob McClister

    Exactly! Far more often than not, lack of money is not the “disease” afflicting the chronically poor; it is but a symptom.

  3. I read recently that about $60,000 is spent on each person supported by the government in the War on Poverty. This figure includes housing subsidies, food stamps, transportation and medicaid. We must also provide breakfast and lunch in schools because these same children are hungry. And still there are villages of street people.
    What is going to happen when all the folks who have been on a 99 week paid vacation (aka unemployment) run out of benefits and have very outdated job skills?
    Just live for today seems very expensive for the rest of the population.

  4. Don

    We are all guests at a never ending banquet, always here, always now, without exception, condition or judgment. I have always had the most difficulty understanding how we are supposed to live without judgment. It seems to negate the existence or need for standards. Fortunately, starting with LBJ and currently BHO, we have leaders who understand this need and are ready, willing, and able to divine the standards that we are expected to live by. Of course without their standards, they wouldn’t be able to decide who is rich and who is poor, allowing them to make proper adjustments to balance things out properly, thus assuring that we will all live happily ever after. Your comments indicating that, so far their attempts have never worked, attests to the great difficulty of their task.
    So, to finish on a positive note, I suggest three things: first, let the higher-ups do their job. It’s not easy trying to redistribute all that money; second, remove the concept of judgment from their task. “Always here, always now, without exception or condition.” sounds good enough. I think expecting them to use good judgment has been mucking up the works. (I’m glad there is a little space between the m and f keys.); and third, for those who feel guilty about having a little money left at the end of the week, please send it to me and I’ll see that it used with good judgment.

  5. At first I was going to say that some people can just never be changed… and I do believe that’s true. They seem to be “steeped in the poverty mentality” and have no inclination to get out. Why should they when everything is given to them. Then I thought about my own kids, I was a single mom without child support (so very poor) trying to teach, go back to school for another degree to make more money, and be a good mother. After I had sacrificed and sacrificed things for myself, (Including going to the doctor or dentist unless it was an emergency) so my kids could have things they wanted that even my “Welfare students had already”. Finally, I realized that if I GAVE them something… like a used car, name brand clothes etc… they didn’t take care of these things or even keep up with them. (Lots of stuff was stolen when they were in college), but once they had to begin paying for something themselves… rent, cable, food, gas, clothes, etc… they had a different outlook. In my opinion, it’s a huge mistake to give and give and give, instead of helping someone learn how to do it themselves. Not only do the feel the sense of accomplishment, they are so proud that they actually had the ability to do it. good blog! 😀

    • When as a single parent, I was raising my daughter, I felt like I was pushing a boulder with a string. I required chores be done for extra money. She had to save for things she wanted. Teachers- I never did figure out how it was their business- blatantly objected to my ‘violations of her rights’. Parents of her friends were very vocal about how I was ‘unfair’ to ‘deny’ her anything she decided she wanted, or to expect effort from her for those acquisitions. She bought into all that muck. How does one penetrate all that indoctrination?

  6. Jim Schweder

    Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns. I am thankful that thorns have roses.

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