I have a friend who’s savvy on many subjects and I’m grateful to know him. But we don’t always see eye to eye. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth and is to be admired for what he’s accomplished. But I’m also sure what he calls being raised poor in America isn’t what I mean.
I was raised by a single parent, a Costa Rican mother, who spoke English with an accent thicker than clotted cream. We lived in Los Angeles during the 1940-50s, a time when the racial divide between Anglos and Hispanic made the Grand Canyon look like a puddle jump. Living in some of the worse environments the city could offer, my mother pieced together a life of part-time work to provide us with a rat infested place where we could rest our heads. Her day began at 5 a.m. so she could make pies for a local restaurant. After that, she went off to a menial manufacturing job that didn’t pay a salary but by the number of pieces produced. No benefits: no medical, no vacations, no sick leave. On the weekends, her days ended at 2. a.m. when she fell into bed after working for tips, not wages, as a cigar-and-cigarette girl at a nightclub. She didn’t just work hard. She worked herself into exhaustion. Even so, she couldn’t keep us from going to bed hungry.
When she lost a job, we relied on unemployment checks which were small, limited in number and couldn’t feed one person for a week, let alone a mother and child. But that was the only assistance available — an era before food stamps and other social programs. What’s more, she had to show up at that office to get her check. It wasn’t mailed to her. On some days, the lines outside were so long, it took two or three hours before she reached the counter. On one occasion, she stood in the line with a temperature of 103 degrees.
My lunch friend thinks poverty is a life style of choice, the result of being lazy. As I’ve said, I admire him for many reasons. But I’m appalled by his ignorance. The other day I sent him an article by Eli Saslow about the life of the unemployed in a town where jobs are scarce. Saslow does a good job of describing a hand to mouth existence and the humiliation that comes with being dirt poor. It’s not a lifestyle to be envied. It’s not a lifestyle of choice. And so while my friend decries government assistance programs, I say, “Thank God” for them.
I’ve attached Saslow’s article to this blog for anyone who might care to rid him or herself of the notion that poverty is an existence chosen by the lazy. Too often, it’s the lifestyle of the exploited.
(Courtesy of beforeitsnews.com)