The War on the Poor

We have a lot of people living in poverty in this country and through various conversations on Facebook and on blogs you see a lot of arguments against providing a social safety net, raising the minimum wage, and helping them in general that I thought I would compile a list of my least favorite and most fallacious arguments I hear.

  1. I know some people that actually think the government owes them, doesn’t look for a job, and these people are just lazy freeloaders.  Throwing money at them just supports a dependency culture.

Some variant of this argument is often used so let’s dissect it.  Whenever you hear someone say “I know some people…” or “I know this person who…” this argument can already be dismissed based on being anecdotal and not necessarily a representation of how things are.  We all have our own experiences that shape our views, nobody is saying your own experience didn’t happen, only that you may not be understand your experience properly in the context of the bigger picture.  There is no question that some people cheat the system.  But this happens across the board at every level of society, and I would argue that the rich cheat the system by a far higher percentage rate than the poor, the only difference is that the rich can change the laws so what they are doing is legal.  They can afford better lawyers.  More importantly is that we do tend to focus on the negative, and this is what we tend to see.  There are so many poor in our country that even if 2% of the 50 million living in poverty in the U.S. were cheating the welfare system that still 1 million people and FOX news could run 100 stories a day focusing on a different cheater of the system and still not be done in a year, but that doesn’t really give you the reality of the situation.  What if there are a lot of people on welfare who are trying to get a job, or who actually work a job but it doesn’t pay well enough to make ends meet?  What if most people are actually embarrassed that they are on welfare and are trying to get out of it and don’t get very vocal about it.  Do the rest of our time really take the time to talk to all the poor and find out which ones are on welfare and are honestly trying to get out of their situation?  Nope.  And especially if the freeloaders anger us, not surprisingly we are going to take You-Pay-Taxes-So-the-Rich-Dont-Have-tospecial notes on those people and they are going to stick in our memory and support our views about wasted taxpayer money.  I have also yet to find anybody post some actual data on how many of these welfare freeloaders are.  They are always anecdotal.

I would agree that throwing money at the poor is not always the solution that we also need to do better to help people out of it so that they can support themselves, but the conversation always seems to be welfare, or not welfare.  There is a 3rd option and that is to improve welfare.  To say it doesn’t have value is an insult to many people who have depended on it when times were lean.  Not all people on welfare are on welfare for the rest of their lives.

And concerning the subject of wasting taxpayer money if we want to play the “I’m not supporting things I don’t like game” with my taxes, then I would also not like any of my taxpayers to go to foreign wars that I disagree with.  You pull your money out of the freeloader driven welfare system, and I will pull my money out of military spending, and I guarantee I will be much richer at the end of the day.

  1. I have never had to work a minimum wage job in my life. If you can’t live on minimum wage, go find a better job.  Ask for a raise.

Once again we have a point that rests on anecdotal experience.  I find these statements also come from white people.  I’m not saying their racist, but perhaps the people who hired you are, and preferential chose you.  That’s a light argument though, so let’s get a little deeper.

Let’s just look at it by the numbers.  In a capitalist society I think conservative and liberal alike we can say that businesses want to make money.  They will definitely maximize their profits by selling some product for the highest possible price that gives them a large base of customers, and they will try to cut costs on expenses.  People that work for them are part of those expenses.  So we would expect that just like there are always a very small amount of really rich people in the country, there are also going to be a lot of low paying jobs and then less and less jobs that are higher paying.  The more special skills you have, and this could simply being really strong and doing hard manual labor, trade skills, or this could be, being highly educated, you are of course are going to garner a higher wage.  The types of jobs available to the high school graduate are small.  You have a job at $7.25/hr and you want a better one, and of course a lot of people do.  You have to compete, and if that higher paying one doesn’t require a specific skill set then you have even more competition, quite simply not everyone can get it.  So just to say “Find another job” isn’t realistic.  Finally, how easy is it to find that new job when you are working 5 days a week and actually can’t search for jobs which are quite often only open during the times that you work?  How do you take time off from your job, unpaid, to go look for jobs?  How do you think your boss will react when you need to take an afternoon off to go to a job interview?  And if they don’t get the job, they’ve lost money just by taking those hours off.  Money they desperately need.

The immobility of the poor demonstrated by disasters like Katrina
The immobility of the poor demonstrated by disasters like Katrina

More importantly many poor people have other issues to deal with than just finding that better job.  What if that job is another city?  Can they afford to move if they already have no money?  What if by moving they lose the support of family who can help reduce their costs by taking care of their kid(s) while at work?  Even a job in another part of the city may involve a long commute on public transportation which increases the time that they have to leave kids at daycare or a babysitter that increasing their expenses.  Finally, should we really expect other people to move away from friends and family for a better job, a decision many of us are not willing to make either?  Why is it so unreasonable for them to expect the minimum wage to be increased and keep pace with inflation, since it has not?

Well wanting the minimum wage raised, is actually asking for a raise.  Going back to the start of this argument, in a capitalist society why would a company raise the wage of a minimum wage worker if they didn’t have to, if they job had such a low skill they could just replace them with the next applicant?  What if by asking for a raise, the boss actually decided to terminate them or give them worse hours?  When you are barely surviving rocking the boat isn’t always the safest play either.

And raising the minimum wage will help greatly with reducing suffering.  While it’s probably best to raise the minimum wage incrementally, in general the idea that prices on everything would double is wholly untrue, since wages are only a portion of expenses for a business.  While $15/hour might be excessive, no study finds that when the minimum wage is raised to keep pace with inflation that this harms the economy. This article by the Department of Labor does a great job of discussing it and remember that when people actually have money to spend, this is good in a consumer driven economy.  All those people in poverty aren’t buying as much stuff as you think.

  1. People on welfare are buying steak, have smart phones, getting manicures, smoking, buying drugs, etc.

Nothing cheers me up more than a person of privilege who has been fortunate to have the luxuries of this world, whether through marrying someone with a great job, or being born into a middle-class or higher family, complaining about other people wanting those things too.

Let’s ignore the fact that people need a phone, and that smart phones are practically free, and that maybe spending more money on quality nutritious food is maybe a better idea than crappy food which is cheaper and leads to all sorts of health problems.  But let’s look at the psychology of poverty .  When you live paycheck to paycheck barely making ends meet, and have grown up in poverty, your ability to long term plan fades, and yes you tend to not save money depriving yourself of creature comforts, because your life is one in which appears to have no long terms solutions.  So why live for tomorrow, when you can live for today?

Income-InequalityIn my training for my volunteer work we had to try and make a budget based on what a family makes on two minimum wage jobs and it is a daunting task.  And of course there are many families that do try to save, but saving is hard to do when you’re poor.  If you don’t have access to public transport, you have to depend on  car.  And people live in poverty have to buy old cars that nobody else really wants, but they can get a good deal on them.  However, such cars need repairs frequently, and repairs cost.  Now you could say why don’t they get a better car that is more reliable.  Quite simply it costs more and they wouldn’t qualify for the loan.  This leads to, what I call, the “stay-in-poverty-feedback loop”.  What little money poor people often save goes to these types of expenses because they literal can’t afford better quality stuff.  Car repairs are just one example, but people in poverty often have to get home repairs more often, replace things like water heaters, furnaces, or air-conditioners more often, because poorer housing means people are getting used, cheaper, and/or older stuff in their home.  So even if they are able to put away a little money each month it often gets eaten in one fell swoop by these unexpected repairs.  And there are plenty of other big costs, like health care, which they often put off, even if they have insurance to save money on co-pays, but then this compound into a worse cost later, but remember how poverty doesn’t lend itself to long-term planning.  And if you have kids, there are even more emergencies that can come up.

On the topic of buying drugs, well I don’t see a lot of people asking that all employees receiving public money take such drug tests, only poor people.  Some how if poor people are doing drugs, that is more egregious than any other income bracket.  As it turns out though, the amount of drug abuse among those on welfare is staggering low. So low that the cost of testing everybody costs more taxpayer money than letting that small percentage of people have their drugs.  Not to mention that just cutting off their life support doesn’t actually work as a deterrent to doing drugs, just makes them resort to more desperate measures to obtain drugs likely causes more problems.  And throwing these horrible drug users in jail, just gives them a criminal record, making it harder for them to get a good job and get out of poverty.

 4. Why are they having babies if they can’t afford to raise them?

Well there are all sorts of reasons that people have children, and if we ignore the fact that there are many areas of the country that don’t have adequate sex education, women don’t have easy access to birth control, or that a woman might simply get pregnant because a man lied to her, or the birth control failed.  But let’s say that there are these terrible women out there who are having children as some sort of scam to get more free money.  I am sure such women exist.  Nevermind the fact that such women were likely raised by a similar mother, probably has little education and special skills and is certainly not mentally well to be making that decision, should we cut her off from that money?  Is this the way she will become a wonderful mother? Or will she literally be unable to cope, unable to keep up with all her new responsibilities?  More importantly it’s of little good to question whether she should have had children, she does have children.  These children are innocent, they’ve done nothing wrong, and so cutting off the mother also harms the children.  Where is the humanity in this?  If you’re pro-life then this must also be part of your consideration if you care about children.

  5.  Poor people need to be more personally responsible.

I’ve blogged about personal responsibility before, I don’t want to repeat all I’ve said there, but I think we can agree that one’s responsibility for themselves depends on the environment in which they were raised, such as level of education, family, friends, culture, etc.  And as I also stated in that post, when we look around we don’t see a lot of people being personally responsible.  Politicians rarely are.  Rich kids like Ethan Couch certainly don’t show a lot of personal responsibility and so even if you believe that personal responsibility comes down to the absolute free will to choose to be that way, it’s clear that a lack of personal responsibility is not a trait that only applies to the poor.  Should we say that rich people are allowed to lack personal responsibility, but poor people or not?  More importantly why aren’t we asking the question of personal responsibility to those that are extremely wealthy?  Is it personally responsible to have more wealth than you can spend in your lifetime.  Is it personally responsible to have more wealth than is required to meet your basic needs have plenty of luxuries and send your kids off to the best of colleges?  Is it personally responsible for corporations to ship jobs overseas just to make more money, while their fellow citizens now struggle to make ends meet?  Is it personally responsible to make that 5 billion in a year than the 2 billion you might make if you paid your employees a fair wage?  Is it personally responsible to not pay your fair share in taxes by hiding your wealth in off-shore accounts and other tax shelters?  For those who hold personal responsibility as the most important of virtues, can we not apply this attitude consistently across all economic classes?  Why are only the poor held to these standards of personal responsibility?

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I know this is already a little TLDR, so I’ll be brief here.  In a line from the movie the Usual Suspects Kevin Spacey’s character says “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled is that he convinced the world he doesn’t exist.”  Well maybe there is an even greater trick.  Is it possible that those who are driven by greed in the acquisition of wealth and power have instead convinced you that the poor are the demons in our society?  That even though a majority of them work longer hours, take less vacation, receive poorer education, less nutritional options, worse health care, and less social mobility, somehow a good proportion of the wealthy have led you to believe they are the bane of your quality of life?  And so effective is this message that many of the poor are complicit in that oppression and vote into office the same people who have demonized them in society.  If trends continue as they do, with the exception of a small percentage of the population we all sink together so let’s stop making the poor our enemy.

The choice of having children: Why abortions happen

In having a discussion with someone a while back who is anti-abortion she said, “Isn’t it interesting how when they don’t want it, it’s a fetus, but when they do want it, it’s a child”.  The implication being that the argument on when personhood occurs is arbitrary.  Aside from the fact that she’s wrong, because a lot of people, even when they want a child and get pregnant, they still don’t think of the fetus at 14 weeks as a person, she made an important point without realizing it.  There is a big difference in our attitude when want to have children (even if it isn’t exactly planned) and when we don’t.  Meaning that the important question to ask is, if we don’t want the child, why would someone get an abortion?  Given that it has happened since we existed as a species, either there are a significant proportion of psychopathic humans who love murdering babies, or there is a natural and logical explanation for it.

In my last post, I talked a little bit about the fact that we are wired not only to procreate, but also to sustain ourselves and our community.  Community is much different than it was in hunter-gatherer days and in some ways it is much worse.  Western society especially can be very individualistic and so support may come from nowhere else but yourself, and you’re often lucky if you have a partner who is willing to support you if you become unexpectedly pregnant.  To our Paleolithic brains the worry about the scarcity of resources to care for our child is going to make us look for options other than not having the child.  If you feel like you have inadequate resources to care for the child, you will likely not want to carry it to full term.  I read a blog just recently about how great Christian communities can be when someone loses a job in helping them through that, but it’s a very different story when a teenage girl has a pregnancy out of wedlock.  She risks being shunned by family and friends. And I don’t mean to just single out Christians, because there are great many other cultures that stigmatize girls for getting pregnant outside of marriage.  So no matter how supportive a community might be in other aspects, when an unwed girl gets pregnant she is often treated much differently.

When you look at countries that have the lowest rate of abortions you find that these are societies that give adequate health care to pre-natal mothers, give financial support to mothers once their babies arrive such as 1-2 years of maternity leave for the mother, and even a good deal for the fathers.  Women have free access to birth control, and there is a lot of emphasis placed on sex education and proper child care.  Is it any wonder that such countries have low abortion rates?  The country I’m in right now is Poland.  Poland has banned abortion for social reasons and only allows for abortions in the case of 1) Risk to the health of the mother 2) serious birth defects 3) Cases of rapes and incest.  I can say that there is at least some compassion here as many in the U.S. do not even want to give women these options.  That being said, as this article indicates, the policy was put into effect (in 1993 before which abortions were allowed for social reasons) with little forethought in supporting mothers and thus abortions have not stopped and have simply had to go underground and try to terminate pregnancies less safely.  And this is the important point.  Making abortions illegal does not stop abortions.  This article is a bit old, but looks at abortion rates worldwide.  In countries where abortions are illegal they have a hard time getting data on the number of illegal abortions, but use techniques based on estimates of how many women have to be hospitalized after getting an illegal abortion.  There are about 5 times more women getting illegal abortions than those hospitalized after the illegal abortion.  And despite a country like Brazil having several hundred thousand women hospitalized it does not deter women from having abortions.  When abortions are banned they still happen and are unregulated.  They happen more expensively if you want it done right, but for most people, they will simply not be able to afford it or the more qualified person will simply be too far away or too booked up, and women will use a cheaper, less qualified, and less sanitary, less safe method for the abortion.  Perhaps heard of “coat hanger abortion”, this was a reality when abortions were banned in this country when some women would try to terminate their own pregnancy.  A follower on the last blog post said she knew someone that used abortion as a form of birth control and had multiple abortions.  I agree wholeheartedly that this is a terrible situation, and one does have to wonder what would be wrong with someone who thinks that it is a valid form of birth control.  It seems fairly clear that such a person is not mentally sound, but one therefore must also ask the question, if abortions were illegal, would such a person be deterred from having multiple abortions?  Once again we must go back to the question, why would a woman want to terminate her pregnancy if the drive to reproduce is so strong in life, and if we can answer that, what are the necessary conditions to deter women from having abortions?

If you were paying attention to the last post and this one you will realize that one factor is of primary importance to the brain in determining whether to keep one’s baby.  The first is to feel supported.  This means feeling supported by your family and community and feeling that you have the material resources available to care for your child.  Now it’s probably true to say that there or many women who may have the resources or have the support, but simply perceive that they don’t but perception is also relevant.  Just because you may see someone as having more options than they have, we build our own realities. Furthermore, no matter how much we may love and be willing to sacrifice for our child a perceived strain on being able to proffer our own survival or drain the resources of our supporting community will impact our decision.  For instance a woman might think that they could have the baby, but they would need financial help, and while she might know her parents would help, she also knows they would have to blow through their retirement nest egg to do so.  And it’s important to remember that there are other factors that come into play.  Perhaps the father of the child is abusive.  Perhaps the parents will simply kick the mother out of the house for shaming the family.  A woman using abortion as a form of birth control might be doing so to continue her heavy drinking, drug use, and wild unprotected sex lifestyle.  Is this the type of person we want to raise a child?  Becoming pregnant can be a transformative experience for some, but for others simply makes matters worse and now there is a child in the world with a parent or parents ill-equipped to care for it.

Personally I feel there is a lot of vitriol aimed at the pro-choice crowd, but I don’t think any of us are opening up a bottle of champagne every time there is an abortion.  We have common ground, and we’d all like to see a respect for life that is equal to the respect for women who have unplanned pregnancies.  Shaming, blaming, and scorn only exacerbates the feelings of isolation and a lack of support and simply doesn’t help.  So if you love babies and you want every child to have a chance at life here are some things you can do to help:

  1. Fight for all women to get a minimum of 1 month maternity leave.  In that first year, she shouldn’t have to worry about money while doing the very difficult job of trying to adjust to having a new person in her life.  And if you can give the father 6 months paternity leave, that would be awesome too.
  2. Fight for universal health care. Don’t like the APA then improve it.  This helps all women have easy access to birth control.
  3. Make sure the education system treats sex openly and responsibly. Enough with this abstinence only stuff.  It doesn’t work.  Make sure your kids can get actual information about sex.  Instead of pretending it’s not going to happen to your kid because you taught them it is a sin to not have sex until marriage, accept that they might have sex and make sure that if they do they don’t get pregnant.  Fight to make sure your kids are informed.
  4. My cousin had 3 children by the time she was 19, and my aunt, like a champ stepped up and supported her daughter. I am sure she sacrificed a lot for her child, but knew that if she wanted those girls to have a chance, and her daughter to have a chance to improve her station in life she was going to need help.  Let’s stop shaming our daughters, our sisters, and friends for getting pregnant accidentally and make sure they know you are there for them no matter what.
  5. As a community of people against abortion, use your combined resources to not lobby the government but start funds to help young mothers, adopt babies yourself, and spread the word about adoption as a viable options and convince people that their child will not end up in the foster care system because it spends the first part of its life without being adopted. There are a lot of myths about adoption out there, and for some people it is very costly compared to having your own and having it covered by health care.  Help parents who might want to adopt with the cost, so that pregnant women know that the option is there for them.  I think there is a lot of positive and negative information about adoption out there, and we can do better to make the system more efficient and make women who have unplanned pregnancies more confident about giving their child up for adoption.   I do think things are getting better.
  6. Fight to improve the foster care system, so that children who end up being born to unfit parents have a chance at something better.

When we treat women as only having value for the ability to procreate we also commit a heinous crime to the living.  When we create laws that takes away a women’s right to decide what happens to her body this, to me, is also immoral and is harmful to women.  Especially given that it does not deter abortions from happening.  Can we really force someone to raise a child?  Especially when we make no provisions for how they do so? And speaking of the how, what about the fact that we hold no parents responsible for what crimes their child commits?  Parents are free to teach their children to hate, lust for power, oppress, be greedy, etc.  What of the parents of Dylann Roof, Timothy McVeigh, or an Adam Lanza?  You might argue that these are unique cases, but I bring them up to show the possibilities of what can happen when parents are ill-equipped to raise a child.  What harm to the world have such parents caused, and none are accountable for how they have raised their child.  Are these not crimes as well?  What are the results of having parents who raise a child who genuinely feel like they should not?  The foster system is full of children removed from parents who neglect and harm their children, and the system tries hard, but ultimately many who go through that system end up committing crimes and not having productive lives.  It is this multitude of people who increases the financial burden on others as well, increasing the need for taxation.  Something the conservative crowd that is often anti-abortion is also against.  If we are also against paying for all these unwanted children brought into the world, what is the option?  Letting them starve?  Letting them live in the streets? Is this demonstrative of this love of children that would have scorn those who have an abortion?

Perhaps these crimes are no worse than aborting a fetus, but coming together on this divisive issue requires that we find a solution that tries to minimize all these crimes.  It requires us to minimize the overall harm.  It is completely simplistic to simply tell someone they shouldn’t have sex, or they should have used protection.  It’s quite possible that the reason you have been able to make good decisions in your life, and others have not is because of completely different set of variables in their environment.  There could be a multitude of reasons why that person feels like they have inadequate resources and insufficient energy to raise a child.  But all of us who are pro-choice and pro-life must come together to deal with this issue.  The things I outlined above are a good start and reflect the values that are held in countries that have low rates of abortions.  Of course most of the people I know are pro-choice and you need only to talk to them for a short time to know that there desire to preserve life is as great as anyone.  In some ways moreso as they are anti-war and anti-death penalty and often fight for the preservation of life in many important issues we face today.  As a result I refuse to refer to those who are anti-abortion as those who are pro-life.   We all value life in our own way, so let’s work on solutions that meet that common goal.   As someone who has a child now, that I love an immeasurable amount it is hard for me to imagine life without him now.  Abortion seems all the more tragic, but I also know there are many couples who regret having children when they did, or at all, and it makes me wonder if they would have been better served waiting until a later time, or not having children at all.  Hindsight is always 20/20 and of course I know if I didn’t have my son, I would never know what I was missing.  Most women, not surprisingly don’t regret having an abortion.  Somewhere in the Bible I believe God says to “Be fruitful and multiply”.  We have certainly multiplied, but we have yet to ensure that all people on this planet can be fruitful.  It is the being fruitful that gives people the freedom to multiply.  To feel fruitful, mothers-to-be need to feel supported by their spouses, but their family, by their community, and by their government.  It may never be possible to stop abortion completely, something that has always been part of our nature, but we have the ability to reduce it greatly if we work together and create the environment that mothers need to keep and support their child.

Blogging about abortion is the one way ticket to getting people to hate your gets, but it is important to talk about, even very divisive issues, and hopefully I have made a case for how we can all work together on this issue.  I will finish off this series by talking about the choice to not have children at all, which seems to be increasingly common these days and why having a family with children is not the ultimate life goal in today’s age.