News and Tribune

Columns

March 13, 2013

ANDERSON: Poverty and income: What’s it all about?

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in a series of guest columns from Barbara Anderson on poverty and homelessness in the area. Read previous columns at newsandtribune.com

 

Poverty has a definition, according to Merriam-Webster: “The state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possession.” 

That is pretty concrete. You plain just don’t have enough to measure up to society’s standards. We measure people by their ability to garner things. Those who garner are considered successful and should be admired. Those who don’t are often chastised or rejected.

I remember a Weekly Reader survey a few years back that found the thing second-graders feared most in the world: being poor. There were abductions, war, crime, and the thing they feared the most was being poor. At 7, how did they even know what poor was?

I think they knew because that is what their parents feared the most. Losing it all, not having enough money to live on, not having enough to “be invited to the party” and not having enough to pay for the cars and houses — that can be very frightening. We have taught, however innocently, our children to fear a condition known as poverty. 

However, it is not a disease, it isn’t dirty and you can’t catch it.

So, why the fear? My guess would be that many remembered how bad it felt to be poor, not to have the same clothes as the other kids in class or to be in the food line with the card that everybody knew meant you were a “free lunch” kid. 

That hidden fear has created a shame based attitude toward the poor and is leading to the criminalization of poverty. Many state people choose to be poor, or they are just too lazy to work. One man recently said to me: “Barbara, I am tired of paying for nonproducers. You see you have your takers and your givers, and some of us are forced to give whether we want to or not through our tax dollars. If we didn’t have so many nonproducers, those taxes would reduce and we could possibly have more money to create more jobs.” 

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