Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Poor

I don't find the term "poor" very useful, unless you define it very narrowly.

My mother, who was a social worker in the Great Depression and in New York in the 1960s, said, "The trouble with the poor is they have no money. All other problems are secondary."

But we tend to describe the poor as having certain traits, which are inherent. In one way or another, the poor have made themselves poor. They are, we think, badly educated, badly trained, with bad habits and messed up lives. Often, we think, they are lazy or criminal and do not work.

In fact, many poor people work and work hard. However, they are badly paid, and that is what makes them poor. It is a problem which can be solved with unions and a higher minimum wage.

Many poor people also have chronic health problems, which makes it difficult for them to find good jobs or any job, especially in a weak economy, which is what we have.

There is no clear line between them and working people who are slightly better off. A bad break, and someone who is "lower middle class" will suddenly become poor. The guys who live under bridges and in caves along the Mississippi are pretty much all blue collar guys, who have hit a bad patch. They do day labor. They collect cans and sell them. They are not living off any kind of welfare. The pathologies they have are things like post traumatic stress syndrome, closed head injuries and the anxiety and depression that develop when you live outside.


Blogger Josh said...

Yeh, it's hard to get "The trouble with the poor is that they don't have enough money" across. Remember twenty-odd years ago, on Nightline, when Michael Harrington in a discussion of "The Homeless" brought up the issue of the cost and availability of housing, and Ted Koppel corrected him for being off-topic: "Excuse me, Professor Harrington, we're not here to talk about housing: we're here to talk about the homeless."

7:40 AM  

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