Contrary to popular misconception, the majority of homeless people aren’t the drunks we see sprawled across sidewalks. The majority are women and children. Kathryn Edin, a researcher who lived among the poor for many years, draws this conclusion in her block buster study of poverty in America. (“What if Everything You Knew About Poverty Was Wrong?” by Stephanie Mencimer, Mother Jones, March/April 2014, pgs 42-47, 61)
That women head the majority of households among the poor is common knowledge. What we didn’t know until Edin’s report was that many of these women are single by choice. They believe the social and economic systems make it impossible for them to form stable families. The men in their lives get little assistance to help them find jobs and so, having few marketable skills, they make poor providers. Selling drugs is the most lucrative opportunity for many of them, an enterprise which leads to jail and leaves women to fend for themselves. This high rate of incarceration among males also explains why women living in poverty tend to form multiple relationships and why their children have different fathers.
Edin notes that in the absence of male support, women have developed an underground economy which flies under the radar of the welfare system. That might include working for cash or bartering for services. The women aren’t lazy, the researcher insists. They are resourceful but overworked. (Ibid pg. 46)
From my years in public life, I know that a few welfare programs exist for women and children but almost none for men, a clear case of discrimination. The situation is especially bleak for those released from prison. Without a support system when they return to the streets, they often revert to the same habits that got them into trouble initially.
To feel righteous about wrong-doers or men who dissolve their despair in drugs or drink is easy but it solves nothing. These men, living at the lowest economic levels in our society, need programs to give them a foothold in life. Help is the surest way of healing family ties. To harden our hearts with the belief that these men don’t care about their children is false, an excuse that allows the rest of us to feel comfortable with our indifference.
(Courtesy of worthfun.blogspot.com)