Old Woman at a Soup Kitchen from WikiHistoria (photographer attribution unknown)
I won't tell you what I spend in a week at my local Whole Foods on my organic fruits and veggies, grass-fed beef and gluten-free and dairy-free alternative breads, milks and such. It would be too embarrassing at this point. But I'm not going to even try to pretend that someone can eat, let alone eat well, on $4.45 a day. You want to know what's that cheap? High fat, high sugar, highly unhealthy things that don't give you real nutrition but sort of fill you for the short term. And not fill you all that much, either. But those same foods are what can lead to obesity, metabolic syndrome and problems with diabetes. When you're poor, you have to eat something and if what's cheap is unhealthy, well, it's better than going to bed hungry at night is likely the way many adults look at it, for themselves and for their children.
But I know what you must be saying at this point- Marzie, Marzie, Marzie, those food stamps are supposed to *supplement* your income, not pay for all your food, silly! Well, the problem is, quite a few people don't have leftover income. My older son, a chef who makes just shy of $1800/month at a swanky hotel restaurant, which offers pretty decent benefits, typically eats at work for at least one meal a day because he eats for free there. He makes well above poverty level income. Nevertheless, after he was sinking into debt, we helped him make a better budget just the other day. He has very little left over for food after rent, utilities, car payment, car insurance, laundry costs, gasoline costs, medication costs, and of course, he doesn't even qualify for food stamps. Since striking out on his own with his shiny culinary degree he has lamented the cost of everything from bath mats to toilet paper to a simple bag of potato chips, let alone work needs like uniforms and his knives. Currently, he has no money for going out, for doing anything other than watching the occasional On Demand movie, although now he and his girlfriend are thinking even that's an extravagance they can't afford. That's right, he's learning the hard way, you can say. But see, he had us a rescue net- something that many, many people don't have, even if they have loving families that would want to help, if they could, but they simply can't help because they, too, are strapped. So our son is not pulling himself up, out of the not-a-speck of poverty of his upbringing, with his fancy-dancy Culinary Institute of America degree. Not at all. He's a low income "family" with his girlfriend and is working the maximum number of hours he can. Only, somehow, the thought that he will soon, as he will be aging out of parental healthcare coverage, be deciding whether to buy his mood stabilizer medication versus a week and a half of groceries is not very comforting to me. Only wait a minute, if he wants to eat at home but can't function, he won't have a job, now will he? But unless a miracle raise is on the horizon somewhere, make no mistake, that is exactly the choice he may be forced to make. You think it's an exaggeration, because after all, he'll have health insurance from his job. But he's taking a new-fangled medication, just like our youngest son is. Our co-pay, with top-notch insurance through my husband's work, for our youngest's single monthly medication is about $125/month. Yes, you read that right. That's our co-pay. The uninsured cost of the medication is somewhere around $800/month here in South Florida. And the medication for my older son is about the same. How would he be able to afford it, we wonder, if his health insurance isn't as good as his present insurance is? Take a different medication you say? Really? Of course, both psychiatrists have been totally arbitrary in their determination of our sons' needed medications, which in both cases have fewer side effects than previous generations of these medications. Taking a drug that pushes our older son closer to metabolic syndrome and diabetes just doesn't seem to be a good plan, somehow.
I'm sure many of us are aware of how hard it is to consistently get and/or stay on medication if you're homeless or poor. Those are difficult circumstances, even if you have federal health care like Medicaid or Medicare. (For more on this issue, check out Personal Failure's newest post over at Forever in Hell) But what about food? Surely there are many options if you're homeless or poor and hungry? Think again.
A Food Not Bombs graphic
Soup Kitchen Today, August 12, 2011, North Carolina
used with kind permission of JW Hanley
But I digress with the whole census business and counting how many people are really living at or below the poverty level in this country. I was talking about food and poverty right? There are a lot of people, if we just look at the level of poverty and the number of food stamps recipients, who struggle with food. How are we helping people eat? What is this about communities not wanting to feed the homeless or placing limits on the number of homeless that can be fed? What are these people guilty of? (Either the ones who are hungry or the ones who feed?) They appear to be guilty of being there. I keep turning McHenry's banner over in my mind. Are we essentially criminalizing the impoverished? While I'm not exactly sure that we're calling them criminals, I am sure that there is more rhetoric these days that makes it seem as if people who are poor are somehow poor by choice, or by laziness or somehow as if they are at fault for their situation. This not-so-subtle undercurrent seems to suggest that if people would just pick themselves up and work harder they wouldn't be poor anymore. Kind of like that argument that if people worked better jobs, they'd have (better or any) healthcare, right?
Looking at the increase in food insecurity since 1995, even for those who have attained a bachelor's degree or higher (which has almost doubled!), drives home the point that even education is not enough to shield families entirely from poverty. And that's what more people need to think about. I actually know quite a few people who are literate, quite well-educated and who struggle mightily with caring for their families, teetering on the brink of a financial abyss. Quite. a. few.
So what is it then, about poverty? What is it that we are blaming homeless or poor people for?
Yesterday I saw this article on ABC's news website that blazoned the title: Tax the Rich, Obama Says; Class Warfare, GOP Says. Well, it's no secret that I tend to be on the liberal social democrat side of things but I seriously wonder how the GOP thinks things have gone down, historically speaking, with a very large, increasingly impoverished, overtaxed class of citizens and a small, elite, undertaxed class of citizens, who considered themselves the "job-providers". Hmmm. Seems to me there were some revolutions a while back in similar circumstances. Of course, there are still plenty of semi-successful oligarchies around the world. (I'm trying to think of one not on an Amnesty International blacklist for something but am currently drawing a blank.) I look at brief articles like the one posted the other day on CNN about Rick Perry's own state's poverty debacle- one in five Texans live in poverty, their poverty level is growing faster than other states, they collect fewer food stamps and have less healthcare and Texas has one of the lowest per capita spending rates on its citizens. Perry's claims of job creation all deal with low paying jobs, which doubtless mean jobs with few, if any, benefits. Texas ties Mississippi for the highest percentage of minimum wage workers in the country. And all that just makes me look at the current unemployment figures of only 9.1 % and shake my head as I think about the people that gave up making claims or the people who are currently under-employed, in jobs that are just under full time or jobs that are at or below minimum wage and which will do nothing to help pull them out of poverty. Where are we going in this country? Class warfare? Isn't that where we already are?
Maybe a better dialog in this country would be served by talking about the amorality of poverty and what we're going to do about making sure that it doesn't worsen.
Stop blaming the poor for being poor. They aren't the problem here.
Against the Wall, 1934 by Dorothea Lange
Mr. Paul, please see my gauntlet below. Have you been to any of your government's statistics websites lately? Well sir, I have...