I’ve been simmering lately, trying to forget the paper floating around from a certain right-wing think tank that takes the US Census numbers and twists them to suggest that the poorest people in our country aren’t really that poor. At least, not poor enough to care. After all, it’s completely normal as a parent to choose to feed your child instead of yourself (otherwise known as being food insecure) because you can’t afford to feed the both of you.
That’s the thing about numbers. They lack context. Sure, a great many of the poor people in our country have access to a refrigerator. Granted, for many of those people that refrigerator is owned by someone else. It’s a rented refrigerator, if you will. The underlying assumption here is that if you are able to store food in such a way that you minimize spoilage and keep your family healthy, then you’re not poor enough to warrant help.
Further down the list was a cell phone. The image they’re wanting to project is of one of those fancy cell phones completely with yearly contract. An iPhone if you will. The reality is that for many families, a cell phone is their only phone. It’s also likely a pre-paid phone instead of a monthly contract. Apparently, if you have some way of allowing other people to communicate with you, like your employer or your child’s school, then you’re not poor enough to warrant the rest of our country giving you another thought.
Remember the War on Poverty? There was a time in this country when being poor, food insecure, or a child meant we as a civilization felt a responsibility to make sure you have enough food to eat, a safe place to live, and a free public education for your children (so that they would have opportunities you did not).
This is no longer the case. I’m not sure what makes me more ill. The fact that there are people out there who are twisting the data in this way or that there is an entire group of people who have no problem believing it (or repeating it to their family, friends, and neighbors).
I don’t know when all of this became acceptable. We are talking about people here. Like you and me.
There’s a project out there called Invisible People that chronicles the real life stories of the homeless. Granted, they probably don’t have a refrigerator so they’d maybe be worthy of assistance in our culture. Then again, if I know Paul Ryan or Scott Walker at all, I’m guessing not. What I really want to know is why not?
Real, live, actual people who deserve to be seen and heard. Novel concept, really. It’s a shame. It shouldn’t be.