Down, Out, and Hated

Robert S. McElvaine's _Down and Out in the Great Depression_ is a fascinating look at America during the Depression. Compiled from letters written to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover, it presents Americans in their own words, saying what they thought was most important in the Depression. Besides the pleas for help and the accounts of the situation on the ground, there was a profound anger at those who needed help. "Paddle your own canoe or sink" one letter wrote. A "Poor Southern Arkansas Woman" wrote that she felt she was a slave required to carry thousands of idle men on her back. While others wrote about stealing coal from the railroad to keep warm, and about not being able to eat even on relief payments, overwhelmingly those not on relief wrote of their anger at the thought that others were taking advantage - their hatred is palpable, along with their sense of betrayal.

I thought of this when I read Zuska's latest post which links to this article from the Philadelphia Inquirer. It documents that Americans are overwhelmingly angry at the poor, which is not news, but that that anger may be rising (the increase seems to be within the statistical margin).

Last month, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer of South Carolina said that when the government helps the poor, it's like people feeding stray animals that continually "breed."

And just last week, Colorado state legislator Spencer Swalm said poor people in single-family homes are "dysfunctional."

Both statements riled some Americans from the Piedmont to the Rockies and underscored a widely held belief: In tough times, people are tough on the poor.

In an April 2009 poll by the Pew Research Center in Washington, 72 percent agreed with the statement that "poor people have become too dependent on government assistance programs." That's up from 69 percent in 2007.

"The economic downturn has made the middle class less generous toward others," said Guy Molyneux, a partner at Hart Research Associates, a Washington firm that researches attitudes toward the poor. "People are less supportive of the government helping the poor, because they feel they're not getting enough help themselves.

Prejudice against the poor is nothing new - it is mixed with racism (despite the fact that the average welfare recipient is a white woman) and a whole lot of assumptions, but at its root, both in the past and present is this fear - that other people are taking advantage, and getting more than you. And this anger - the idea that you are working and struggling and others aren't.

I've opined in the past that I think that concern with perceived fairness (as opposed to actual fairness) is a huge psychological issue for most people - many people will act against their own interests in order to make sure that things seem fair. As more and more people get poorer, that anger and fear - the sense that others are taking advantage (and undoubtedly some do - I'm no advocate of the fantasy of the noble poor) gets more and more overwhelming.

I can sympathize with the anger a poor working family feels when their taxes push them over the edge. But what's fascinating to me is that the anger then gets passed down to someone else poorer - it rarely goes up. It doesn't matter that the military budget for engagements that do nothing to keep you safe takes a much bigger hunk of one's paycheck than all the welfare recipients in your state together. The target is always down the hill, never up.

And the working poor, the becoming poor and the deeply poor *are* pitted against each other. I completely grasp the sense of betrayal of someone like Tammy, who posts here, and who is struggling to take care of her severely disabled child, getting minimal help and support from her state, and seeing her kids' resources pitted against other children, who may need it just as much. As long as the language works that way, as long as we set things up as though we have very limited resources to help people in need (which is false) and ample ones for building bridges and imperialism, then people will be forced to fight over who gets what scraps. This is evil, and it is important to realize that the judgement that people have against the poor is created by the way the discussion is framed and organized in our society.

I've posted this before, but I think it bears posting again - it is a brilliant and clear analysis of what it is like to be poor, written by a friend of mine who was on welfare for a while because both she and her husband were unemployed. She writes about the profound hostility towards the poor that she sees, and the rules for not attracting that hostility:

With this in mind, I've compiled a simple list of rules (or perhaps, "guidelines") to help minimize the embarrassment and discomfort of taking public assistance. This list has been created based on my own experience and the experience of friends. Please note that contravening any rule in any way does grant legal rights for every person who sees you to judge you (out loud or, if desired, in print) on any or all of the following: your lifestyle choices, your parenting, your personal hygiene, your laziness, your education, your intellect, your lack of patriotism/apparent Frenchness, your very existence as signaling the certain decline and fall of our entire civilization, or any other topic of choice. So please do be careful out there!

...4. Never possess any item which could be construed as you spending money. This rule is a bit confusing, so examples might serve well here: do not let your SIL give you a manicure for your birthday, or fix your hair in any fancy way. Do not dress in business clothes, even purchased secondhand. Do not borrow your parents/in-laws nice car to go to run errands. Never dress your children in the expensive clothing purchased for them as gifts by loving relatives. Do not use public aid to buy your child a birthday cake and soda, which was the only thing they asked for for their birthday. Obviously, if an upstanding, tax-paying citizen sees you in a grocery store with nicely done nails & hair, driving a nice car, and buying a cake and soda, they are entitled to decry loudly (and post everywhere possible online) how abusive you are being of the system. Just because they have no idea how or why you have these things is no excuse--it is your responsibility as a poor person to never make taxpayers have to think about, well, much of anything.

4a. To maintain the personal moral indignation of the taxpayer to our situations, it is acceptable to on occasion breach rule #4 in limited fashion. This allows the taxpayer to continue with their prejudices, which is crucial for our status quo.

5. Only purchase things deemed appropriate by the surrounding consumers. Again, the guiding principle here is that you are poor, and obviously incapable of making educated decisions (otherwise, again, you wouldn't be poor now, would you?). You must only buy products that other tax-paying people think are appropriate. As this can vary somewhat sharply by area, it is often helpful to pass out a brief questionnaire to other shoppers before attempting to shop yourself.

6. Maintain an acceptable number of children. This number will vary between zero and 4, depending on your location--please find out what is appropriate for your own area. But the core here is that, as a poor person, and a person on public assistance, it is inappropriate for you to make childbearing decisions on your own. Poor people attempting to actually bear and raise children is considered an unconscionable affront in many places. It is immaterial that poor people are just as capable as taxpayers of raising happy, well-mannered, well-educated children. In our society, poverty is a sign of moral failing--if you can't buy your child a PS3, what business do you have raising children at all? If you need help paying the cost of children, no matter how loving and wonderful parent you might be, and no matter how unlikely it will ever be that you'll be in "an appropriate financial position" to have children, you must not do so. If you already have children, use various methods for hiding them while in public.

If you follow these simple rules, you should lead exactly the joyless, grinding, depressing life you are meant to lead, while simultaneously having any sense of self-worth or pride expunged from you forever. Remember, if you work very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very hard, you may be able to get a job that will allow you to pay taxes, and then you can decry all the other people on public assistance for not "taking every opportunity to get yourself out of that mess like I did!" If you work even harder than that, you might someday be able to afford your own health insurance!

You'll definitely want to read the whole thing. The reality is that because our anger always rolls downhill, we can keep up this stigmatization until the very day that the last of us becomes poor - there will always be someone poorer to hate. And this, of course, prevents us from actually creating conditions that make things better. Because for that, the poor have to be allies, rather than enemies.


More like this

It seems counter intuitive to me that deteriorating economic fortunes breeds increased hostility toward the least empowered segment of the populace.

Poor people don't...
--Package and fraudulently sell bad housing loans to unsuspecting investors
--Intentionally jeopardize the solvency of large financial institutions
--Waste gobs of of money on irresponsible military spending
--Start expensive wars with foreign nations
--Destroy the tax base by giving even more money to the rich

it seems then that most of this ill will towards the poor is really just the result of racism that tends to lie dormant when times are good.

By PlaydoPlato (not verified) on 17 Feb 2010 #permalink

I got a taste of this at Christmas from my family about health care. I found it unsettling and just plain mean.

Afterward(when the best comebacks occur), I thought about the parable of the good Samaritan-since they're nice churchgoing people maybe that would have made them think?

It's very much like the illegal immigrant argument, isn't it? "We" are subsidizing "them" at our own expense, and that's why health care is so expensive/taxes are so high/blah blah blah. The sort of ass-backwards thinking that comes of a system where a decent place to live, food, and health are merit-based instead of, you know, basic.

By Alexandra (not verified) on 17 Feb 2010 #permalink

I am curious if this is primarily an American cultural phenomenon, or if it is seen as powerfully in other parts of the world as well. Perhaps some readers from other parts of the globe could comment ... while we Canucks have our share of problems (racism towards First Nations people, for instance), the idea that poverty is somehow "your own fault" and that the "rest of us are diminished by your poverty" doesn't seem to have a lot of traction here. Or, maybe I just don't see it. Frankly, it never really occurred to me before that anyone might see it that way.

We have food bank bins at every grocery store, the schools have mitten trees up at Christmas and gather hats and gloves for those who need them, and most people seem to think that charity to those in need is their responsibility, if they are able. Even the panhandlers in the downtown core are generally treated with a degree of courtesy - avoided, yes, but I've seen strangers speak to someone who gave their food to a homeless person, praising the generosity and kindness of the gesture.

Perhaps we just have more of a cultural attitude of 'we are all in this together' - maybe it comes from living where winter is such a stunning reality. Nobody lives here very long without needing a stranger to tug them out of the ditch, or being called on to help push someone else off a snowbank. So you hit the ditch ... maybe you're an idiot, but hey, it happens to everyone sooner or later, so we'll pull you out. I think we have a similar idea of poverty - most of us, anyway - a "there but for the grace of God go I" view that helps us to be gentler to those in need. Sure, some people got where they are because they made bad choices, and there are always a few bad apples out to game the system, but really ... bad things happen, and we just don't know. Maybe there's a good reason, maybe not - regardless, it's "a good thing" to help your neighbour. Never know when it might be you who needs a hand, eh?

Not to open a nasty can of worms, but it seems related to our attitude about health care - of course everyone who needs help should get it. (The American idea that we each ought to pay for our own illness rather than pooling our resources to be sure everyone's looked after is totally incomprehensible to the majority of Canadians I know, me included. Don't try to explain it to me, it's been tried, and I honestly just don't get it, and I never will. I'm chalking it up to cultural differences.)

Have you read Spirit Level? Just out, it talks about how societies with the greatest inequality in wealthy have very poor outcomes for just about everyone.

As a fellow Canadian, I tend to agree with Apple Jack Creek.

Not to say that we don't have racism and prejudice - we do.

But I do think there is a fundamental difference, and I find there is an underlying attitude about the whole "all men are created equal" thing with America - a "we aren't poor, therefore you shouldn't be either, and if you are, it's your own damn fault" attitude. One of my very good friends is American (living in Texas), but her attitude towards "the poor" baffles me at times: basically, "they" are lazy, selfish and ignorant, and if "they" really wanted to, "they" could get an education, a job and health benefits, just like everyone else.

And I also think it's related to the whole health care issue, or, more correctly, the whole health care issue stems from the same mindset.

I remember years ago talking to someone about how Natives get certain benefits that other Canadians don't, including university tuition. That someone summed it up perfectly: it's far cheaper to provide someone, who otherwise can't afford it, with the basics of a good life (education, health care, etc.) then it is to support them through social programs for their entire lives.

I'm at work, and can't look it up, but I seem to remember there is an essay by Malcolm Gladwell in "What the dog saw" that address this point as well.

This is in no way meant to start a "war" between our countries (or any others), just observations I have made from years of living on the border, and talking to many, many, many Americans. Generalizations are just that - generalizations, and there are many Americans who are more "Canadian", I'm sure, than some Canadians :)

People don't really resent the poor in a bad economy, they are afraid of them and resent feeling afraid.

When you living from check to check and casting about for your future in the eyes of others the poor seem obscene, they are the stuff of your worst nightmares.

You gravitate to the stuff of happier aspirations and wonder on what beach the affluent are lounging because you are directing your wishes to that affluence and that beach.

People are just looking in the mirror that makes them look good and avoiding the bulgy bolted one under the florescent light.

The most depressing part of this issue was noted as an afterthought in the OP, to wit:

"despite the fact that the average welfare recipient is a white woman"

That's the most serious among the issues and proof of the most pressing problem that has fallen by the wayside. We do not have a truly egalitarian culture and that was supposed to be our first principle as a self determining nation.

By Prometheus (not verified) on 17 Feb 2010 #permalink

Just want to note that you have to pay taxes on some forms of government assistance. Unemployment payments come immediately to mind, but there may be others as well. So the distinction between "poor" and "taxpayer" isn't quite as neat as it seems.

I agree that this is more of an American problem. Even a few years back when the US was 'rich', relatively speaking of course, I was shocked at the discourse towards the American poor, often coming from those who thought of themselves as good people. At the same time, the US is the developed country with the highest level of social injustice I can think of. The conclusion I come to is that people have to support their unjust system by rationalising it to themselves and blaming the poor is part of this.

"So the distinction between "poor" and "taxpayer" isn't quite as neat as it seems."

People who spend all their time kvetching about how their taxes are being spent generally don't pay much in the way of taxes or have any idea of how they are being spent.

I kick in enough property tax that I should have my own county employee paving my steps with fresh rose petals but it is the people who rent from me that I get to hear grousing about taxes.

They have state jobs, kids in the public school system and state funded extended family health insurance, pensions, mileage reimbursements and fat freakin' write offs for their kids and their tithe to the Baptist/Mormon/Pentacostal/Catholic happy hut.

If you gave them the bloody taxes back they would just hand it to the church so that their minister can get his 10th full quiver kid a new SUV before he throws the change at "Jingles the Evangelical Poverty Clown" or send some parishioners on an all expense paid Puerto Rico poverty fact finding junket or other pointless crap.

So yea. The "Mah taxes!" people are generally parasitic window licking morons.

By Prometheus (not verified) on 17 Feb 2010 #permalink

#9, paying taxes on government assistance like unemployment seems so silly and counter-productive.

#8, I don't think that our nation was founded to be an egalitarian system. That's something quite different from equality under the law and equality of opportunity.

Frankly, there are some people on 'welfare' that I find thoroughly disgusting. One of them happens to be my brother. Armed with Ivy League degrees, he's done absolutely nothing to help himself and after finally exhausting the patience (and finances) of his family, he's living in subsidized housing, getting food stamps and Medicaid. And complaining about how hard it is.

The rigidity of our current system seems to cull quite a few of the truly needy, especially those who need temporary help. There are perverse incentives that encourage generational dependence. They are not as bad as some contend, but they are there.

The rules for taking public assistance are spot on. If only we could make them required reading in some facilitated book club discussion circles for all the Snarky McSnarkersons who so love to go on about how the Evil Poor Are Ruining Our Country. Along with requiring them to work up a budget as to how they would get by each month on public assistance, without any help from family or friends.

Sorry Donna B. I should have specified my reference to egalitarianism is as a doctrine and not philosophy which encompasses equality under the law and equality of opportunity rather than economic redistribution. I was frowning at our legal culture.

Despite the fact that your brother seems like a douche,

I still maintain that the majority of "public assistance" is dolled out to whichever group is still meeting a baby boomer era definition of nuclear family conformance. We just call that tax incentives or credits or benefits or hud housing or anything other than welfare.

Most people are on the dole in some way. Hell, even I get a farm check. Social security payments aren't money back that you put in.

That was a tax.

SS is a bribe to support incumbency because old people vote. If you cash the check, congrats you are a welfare tarp recipient.

I am now picturing an old cranky conservative guy wearing a Thomas Jefferson costume and yelling about his rights and gloating.


By Prometheus (not verified) on 17 Feb 2010 #permalink

Hmm... What's so bad about rule 6, especially for doomers who presumably understand the severity of population overshoot? We should honor Octomom???

"I kick in enough property tax that I should have my own county employee paving my steps with fresh rose petals"

This is the awesomest description of my taxation rate, ever.

I reserve especial wrath for the jackasses who claim that if we had Benefit XYZ, I, personally, would have to pay Teh Dreaded Yurrup-een Tax Rate! OH NOEZ!!!!11!!

My household tax rate, including state and spouse's business taxes and property taxes: 52%.

Out-of-pocket costs for family health insurance and co-pays through my employer: another 7-9% of our income.

Tax rate for our income bracket in the UK, where Spouse is a citizen: 35%. Cost of health care at the level we currently receive or better: $0.

Cost of moving all our crap and jobs to the UK at this point in time: $30,000-50,000, not including losses on real estate we would have to sell. Including those losses, more like $150,000. So we live in the US for now, but don't plan to stay here into our old age.

That said, I have been working poor. Food stamps poor, anyway. Other than food stamps, childless folks get nothing at all in the way of help to keep a roof over their heads, and that sort of crap helps fuel the sentiments about poor people having children--childless poor are last in line for housing, get nothing in the way of cash support, have far fewer scholarships to help them get a better job. I have a hunch it would be better for women, too, as there would be less financial incentive for non-custodial fathers to stick around and make life hard for the mom, splitting her only income off to support another adult.

And Zuska, while I am sharing: When I was poor ($180/week between two adults in the mid-1990s), I had to learn many of the household management techniques that Sharon describes: buying food in bulk (particularly legumes to make what the spouse persists in calling "Flavorless Legume Casserole"), keeping warm with the thermostat low, preserving food while it was cheap and in season at farm stands, gardening in window boxes or on a balcony/fire escape. I wish someone would have just laid it all out on the internet for me, but the most helpful book I could find then was an out-of-print 1970s era Women's Almanac from the library. It had some of these tips, plus advice on home and car repair. Which is pretty much essential if you live in a dump that the slumlord refuses to repair and drive a '65 Dart, as well as being a helpful skill to barter.

In fact, participation in informal or even black market economies is the only thing where I think guidance would have helped me significantly. It's hard to break into that sort of endeavor if you've never done it before. Sharon, could you please write about that some more?

I think this hatred of the poor thing is the evil side of the American Dream i.e. 'Anyone can be anything, if only they put their mind to it.' coupled with the rugged individualism, i.e. 'everything that befalls me in my life, good or bad, is because of MY strength of character or MY lack of initiative.' So if you try hard and fail, there must be something personally wrong with you. conversely, if you succeed, you are a GREAT man or woman.

I really think it is this pervasive marketing of the American Dream that is causing this chasm between we Americans and our egalitarian neighbors to the North.

The consuming public has been sold this story that if only they show initiative, strength, and enough elbow grease, they, too, can be a millionaire (the goal is always monetary success). While the executives selling this lie are the only ones making that money, just by selling us products that make us able to show fiscal success (through cars, expensive TVs, truck nuts :) )

I think as more people lose their jobs and become poor, we might see an upheaval of the American Dream ideology. People might begin to think 'Hey, I worked hard, put in my hours at my job and I'm still here on welfare barely able to eat.' Time will tell.

By Ashley Colby (not verified) on 17 Feb 2010 #permalink

@Ashley: I agree, and I tend to think there's also a strong dose of Protestant Work Ethic in there, too. My husband did a whole sermon at our UU church about the effects of the Gospel of Wealth, written by Carnegie in the late 1800's, that basically says that the wealthy are rich because they've lived rightly, worked hard, and God has smiled on them. The poor are poor because they are morally inferior and God is punishing them. Of course, he allows that one will occasionally find an industrious poor person, or a slacker rich person, but they are the exception that prove the rule. The goal of a good person is to work as hard as possible so that one can give money to charities designed to help poor, immoral people learn to be industrious, moral people (hence all of his libraries). This line of reasoning actually led to a backlash in the 1890's, and the historical origins of "What Would Jesus Do" which was actually a book called "In His Steps: what would Jesus do?" written in the 1890's as a social-justice style response to the Gospel of Wealth.

We see this Carnegian gospel line crop up again and again in American history--most recently with the "name it and claim it" folks. It's all bound up in tying one's class to one's moral cleanliness.

BTW, Brian's sermon can be found here if you want to read it--I think it's quite good (though I am somewhat biased):

Don't worry. America is not unique in hating the poor, though in Britain the middle classes have had the good sense to rename the poor Chavs, thus making it safe to conduct class warfare in polite bourgeois liberal company. But it's the same old shit: sneering at the 'undeserving' poor.

"...the average welfare recipient is a white woman"

No, the average welfare recipient is a corporation.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 18 Feb 2010 #permalink

Robyn - #18, it is a very good sermon. I've always preferred those that ask me to think over those that tell me I'm a Sinner and you know who is angry with me.

I also think there's a lot of tying class to moral cleanliness going on all the time -- not just in respect to poverty. While it serves society well to tie moral behavior to punishment in some areas (ie, murder, theft), it is harmful if carried to far.

Balance, moderation, and all that. Off to read Lost Horizon again :-)

I'm the Tammy referred to in Sharon's post.

Maybe it is just me, but I don't think anyone can fully understand this issue until you have experienced it from BOTH sides.

A little background:

My husband is an administrator at a local elementary school. He holds two advanced degrees.

He works a SECOND job to help us keep food on the table and this roof over our heads.

His job comes with insurance. Insurance that maxes out at one million dollars per person.

He couldn't retire even if he wanted to as Utah is voting to mandate that those who have reached retirement age HAVE to work another 5 years before they can receive even a penny of their pensions.

Only Parker receives any government assistance. My other children are covered under Reed's plan and will never even come close to the million dollar max before they age out of the coverage.

Our state's (S)CHIP program covers MUCH more than our private insurance. Our private insurance won't even cover the district's required immunizations.

(As a side note to the insurance stuff, the Children's Miracle Network Telethons start soon. You may find it interesting to research where who that money actually helps. We tried to apply for a surgery that Parker needed that our insurance wouldn't cover. We were turned away. However if a kid from (we were given the example of Iran) needed that surgery those monies could be used to cover THEIR surgery.)

The bottom line is that our family would have done much better if we had arrived with no insurance at all.

We are sneered at by entities such as WIC because we have managed to keep our home. A home we built mostly ourselves after fixing up and selling two previous investments. We have a deliberately much lower morgtage than our neighbors.

We don't receive any food assistance, or any other assistance for that matter.

I thought it was quite interesting that families our same size who receive food assistance receive almost twice what I spend a month to feed my family. BTW, I would never begrudge those who receive food stamps. Too many children in Utah go hungry.

There are months where I spend nothing on groceries. Months were grocery money goes to pay for stuff for Parker. These months I rely on our food storage.

We don't go on vacations. We feel lucky if we can score a free library movie a mere 10 years after it's release date. We don't go out to eat. I spend most of my days at home caring for Parker, so I don't even spend money on fuel. Our cars are paid for. My husband drives a zillion year old diesel jetta that was gifted to us two years ago.

He used his own elbow grease and knowledge to get it running.

We garden. We give thanks for hand me downs. We make do and do without.

I know exactly how much we pay in taxes.

My husband and I have been involved in and also support the migrant education programs that our state offers.

Both my husband and I believe that all children should receive and education AND proper medical care. Regardless of where they come from.

I've invited state legislators into our home to discuss funding to programs for the disabled as well as those with special needs.

I follow the legislature. I write letters. I've been interviewed in our local paper.

I do not harbor any hate towards those who are poorer than we are or who have children who may need state assistance as much or more than Parker.

However, if the state of Utah knowingly turns a blind eye to those who enter into the state illegally, knowing that these people will be in need of state assistance, then this state had damn well better be willing to free up enough funds to cover those here illegally as well as those of us who have played by their rules.

My anger isn't toward an immigrant child. My anger is toward a legislature who cuts funding from a resident family who has been waiting years for assistance to give it to an immigrant family who has lived here (illegally or legally) only months.

And if this legislature decides that legal immigrants no longer have to wait the state standard 5 years before receiving assistance, then maybe they can free up funding from the pot they used last year to buy each legislator a brand spanking new flat screen tv for their office, rather than doing away with the tax cut for families of children with special needs, or slashing the already slashed Medicaid budget for those who have been standing in line for YEARS to receive assistance for their children.

I've followed the money trail in this state. Utah has NO law in place for any sort of conflict of interest votes.

They just recently voted that a legislator couldn't receive a gift from a company valued over $10.00. You'd be stunned to know what has been accepted in the past.

Go and Google the charter school situation in this state. The votes made in order to benefit private business owned or worked for by legislators would make you sick to your stomach.

If we were given back our taxes, every single penny would go into Parker's (now totally depleted) medical fund.

It would not go to our Mormon 'minister.' Clergy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in UNpaid, btw.

My anger is NOT toward the children or the parents. My anger is toward a system that allows elected officials to make laws that never wind up affecting THEM in the way that they affect US.

I understand that all parents are just trying to keep their kid alive.

I just wish that my state understood that the life of MY medically fragile child with special needs has every bit the same value as any other child from any other country.

If any of the above makes me a sinner or immoral in the eyes of another, I can live with that. Right now I have more important matters to attend to. Like keeping the child, sent to me by God, to keep alive.

This is a really tough topic for me. I was raised to believe that if I work hard, I'll be able to do well. And work hard I have, earning college degrees and getting a good job, obtaining tenure and benefits and reaping what I have sown over my years of hard work. Subsequently, I see more and more of of the paycheck I work hard for going towards taxes, and I'm increasingly unhappy about how my tax money is spent. At all levels... national, state and town taxes. I think there needs to be serious reform to the public assistance program before I'll be okay with it. There are so many documented abuses, and it's infuriating to me.

abbie, like you, i've also worked hard, raising myself out of childhood poverty and dependence upon the state (i was abandoned at age 15), earning advanced degrees and whatnot, only to lose my funding as a postdoc and to find myself unemployed, unemployable and unable to get any assistance to help keep me alive.

when i had a job, i had no idea that my taxes would be used to pay for bombing innocent iraqis but not for keeping me -- a single childless woman with an excellent education -- fed and housed. meanwhile, i was the object of a LOT of hatred and hostility because of my situation and my inability to fix it. overall, this was a horrible situation for my self-esteem, which at this point, has been destroyed (and i see no hope of ever recovering it, either).

in the USA, poverty/unemployment is a life-changing event, especially when it is a chronic feedback loop.

Tammy, I hope you didn't feel jumped on - I don't think people were directing things at you, and maybe I shouldn't have linked - I just thought yours was a good example of how people who are struggling are pitted against one another.


I'm not sure it's particularly USAish. In many other cultures the bottom rung is "untouchable" (not just in India) - so deeply despised as to not be considered human, really. Once you reach that stage, you can look at them as domestic animals- pat the doggy on the head; it's so utterly below as to be no threat of any kind.

The "hatred" may come when the parties are worried that those on the bottom may try to improve themselves (at whose cost!!??) - or worse, that they may deserve to better themselves. That's scary, which is when you start just hating.

Anybody else seen Mel Brooks' obscure movie "Life Stinks!" ? He takes a crack at understanding poverty, and does fairly well, for a philosophical treatise disguised as a comedy flick.


Nope. I didn't feel jumped on at all. :D

I was a bit surprised at the concept of hating the poor, and being pitted against each other. It's really made me think.

It's hard because there have been times when I wonder if the Medicaid we receive wouldn't help another family, one without a home or a support system of any kind, more. But on the other hand, without it we couldn't keep Parker alive.

At the same time I get very frustrated when this state reverses laws that put those who have been waiting in line for years for help behind those who have been here for mere moments.

Tammy - you are talking out of both sides of your mouth. First you complain that you didn't get funding from Children's Miracle Network & insinuate that it's because you live in the US:
"We tried to apply for a surgery that Parker needed that our insurance wouldn't cover. We were turned away. However if a kid from (we were given the example of Iran) needed that surgery those monies could be used to cover THEIR surgery"

Then you say, "Both my husband and I believe that all children should receive and education AND proper medical care. Regardless of where they come from."

So which is it? Are you angry that a child from Iran may benefit from a charity before your own child who is a US citizen?

I'm replying partly out of anger at the idea that all resources are unlimited. They are not. Many of the things people need come from the labor of other people. Lets just look at medical care as an example. The nurses, doctors, therapists, and OR technicians have limited time in their day (24 hours like everyone else). They trade some of those hours for their basic needs - housing, food, clothing, relaxation. When people get angry that they aren't getting enough state funded therapy time I have to wonder - do you see a lot of physical therapists who are idle? When you walk by the local coffee shop, is there always a crowd of bored respiratory therapists lounging around?

The way I see it, there is a constant flow of time (hours of work) that keeps the economy moving along. But if there aren't enough people putting time INTO the system and too many folks taking time OUT of the system, it breaks down. And the people who put time IN start to get overworked, overstressed, and burn out. Perhaps there are a lot of extra hours in all our days. I don't see them. And that is where a lot of the anger comes from. I don't mind working and paying taxes. But I get angry when I hear people complain that I'm not paying enough - because money isn't some abstract concept to me. Money = Time. When someone complains that I'm not paying enough taxes what I hear is, "I want more of your time & you get less of it."

How would you feel if someone said to you, "You aren't doing enough to help the global society, so from now on you have to take on additional chores for your neighbors." I bet you'd be angry & you'd say, "I don't have the time!". Change the word time for money, and you have the outrage some of us feel.

Bottom line - resources ARE limited. We should strive to do the best with what we have - if that means we "get by" with less than perfect solutions then so be it.

By EngineerChic (not verified) on 20 Feb 2010 #permalink

EngineerChic: " resources ARE limited. We should strive to do the best with what we have - if that means we "get by" with less than perfect solutions then so be it."

All very well. The problem comes when YOUR "less than perfect" means you cancel that trip to the Bahamas this year; and MY less than perfect means sleeping under the overpass.



First, at NO time did I say that YOU (or anyone else) weren't paying enough in taxes. And I've NEVER asked for anyone to put MORE money into the system.

I'm asking for my state to abide by it's own laws. For the funding to go where the state wrote for it to go.

I'm asking for my state to take a minute and look at what they are doing to their disabled as they hack away at the already existing Medicaid budget, yet build new roads that in turn benefit their personal businesses. And I talk about that in my original post.

If you think that I'm talking out of both sides of my mouth, it is only because I can see both sides of this situation.

Take a moment to read my second comment you'll see where I mention how hard it is to wonder if there is another (immigrant) family without a home or any sort of support system that might also need this.

Yet without this spot MY KID DIES.

You think I don't think about that? Having my kid circle the drain on so many occasions makes me very sensitive to others in the same spot.

I can absolutely believe that all kids deserve medical care while still fighting for my kid.

I can absolutely believe that all kids deserve both health care AND an education while believing that MY government should put those who are residents, who have been playing by the system's rules, first.

Sharon's correct. Right now the system pits parent against parent.

BTW, when it comes to all kids deserve an education, my husband and I have both backed up our beliefs by working in the migrant programs. I volunteered tutoring for many years because these kids needed the help.

My husband and I have both PUT INTO and are STILL putting into the system. Our extended families have put into the system since the system was created. We are the first from each side of our families to ever have needed any sort of support.

Yes, it is frustrating to be in the PICU and have My child denied NO2 because it is too expensive. Yet the child of illegal immigrants GETS the NO2 because he has Medicaid.

This, btw, actually happened.

But do I hate the KID for that? Uh. No. My frustration goes towards the state.

I understand the waiting list. My kid waited. He put in his time and met the requirements. We played the game they way they asked us to.

When you watch the Children's Miracle Telethon, tell me who you think it benefits in the way they present their information.

And then tell me you (along with MANY other families I know) wouldn't be surprised to discover that those monies are first and foremost spent on cases outside our borders?

Now if they want to run this Telethon as the Children's Miracle Telethon for all kids (unless you are a US citizen) then I don't have a leg to stand on, do I?

My family is living WAY below the poverty line as we work to pay off medical bills. We've always paid our bills, and this is no different.

And while you are 'getting by' and 'so being it', may I suggest you take a moment to contemplate that there, but for the grace of God, go YOU.

Greenpa - My "less than perfect" is far from canceling a trip to the Bahamas. For the record my last vacation was over 11 years ago - it was our honeymoon.

"Less than perfect" for me lately has meant delaying dental care and debating if I would be better off continuing to pay out of pocket for an un-insured medication OR rearrange my life to see a new doctor about trying a different drug instead - with the hope that this other drug (that is available in generic form) would work well enough - but it means 6 weeks of hell weaning off the drug that DOES work and 3-4 weeks of hell ramping on the drug that MIGHT work.

I'm well-versed in making healthcare choices based on what I can afford as opposed to what is best. So please don't make assumptions about my life and paint an inaccurate picture of my "life of luxury" because it doesn't exist.

By EngineerChic (not verified) on 20 Feb 2010 #permalink

The root of the problem, like the root of so many problems humans deal with these days, is that humans "in the wild" live in small groups. By nature, humans are not capable of functioning optimally in huge groups.

If Tammy and Parker lived in a group of, say, 70 people, everyone in the group would know them. If I, too, were a member of that same group, I would undoubtedly have interacted with both Tammy and Parker. I would know Parker's smile, the sound of his voice. The thought of Parker dying would be personal to me and would hurt. I would be willing to spend, say, an extra hour or two a day to make money to help pay for Parker's care. Or maybe I and others in the group would offer to take care of Parker during the day, so Tammy could work at some money-making activity and pay for medical care. Or some combination of those.

But in a nation with hundreds of millions of people, Tammy and Parker are not the only people asking for my help (no, Tammy is not asking for my help directly; but she is asking for my help indirectly by accepting Medicaid, which my federal taxes help to fund). There are literally *millions* of people asking for my help. I could work 24 hours a day until I passed out, or I could give away everything I own, and die, and give away my body for fertilizer to grow more food, and I might help ... what? ... 2 or 3 people out of the millions? For six months, maybe a year.

My own situation is in between Greenpa's two extreme examples. I am not in immediate danger of having to live on the streets, but neither do I take luxury vacations. For me, the tax dollars that are taken from me mean that I cannot put up fencing to expand my garden; and if my veggie crops fail in my garden I have to make do with wilted, poisoned veggies from the supermarket rather than buying more expensive fresh produce from the farmer's market. Oh, yeah, and I can't afford anything but very high deductible medical insurance, so I never go visit a doctor unless I'm bleeding to death or turning blue from pneumonia. And so forth. Ultimately, my own life will probably be shorter because of paying taxes. Certainly, there are days in every week when I do not get enough sleep, because I am working over time to earn money I would not have had to earn if I did not have to pay taxes. Note that I am happy to spend a certain amount of time working to support certain functions of state, local, and federal governments -- I am not an anarchist.

I don't begrudge people like Tammy and Parker, but I am very angry that money is being taken from me by threat of force and used to kill innocent people in wars I don't want to fight; and to bail out inefficient, corrupt corporations. But I can't see a way to separate the two types of recipients, when you have hundreds of millions of people being governed by a small elite group. Tammy pointed out how even her state government does not apply tax dollars as its citizens directed it to. The federal government is farther removed and therefore even less responsive to local needs.

The only viable solutions I can see involve: (1) local government of small groups by their members, with representatives from the groups meeting periodically to engage in joint ventures, and to avoid wars among the groups (sort of like what the U.S. started out to be in the late 1700's but perhaps without the flaws that were built into the Constitution); or (2) to change human nature via drugs, genetic engineering, or whatever. The latter solution would, of course, result in creatures that would no longer be human, as we now think of the ourselves.

"And while you are 'getting by' and 'so being it', may I suggest you take a moment to contemplate that there, but for the grace of God, go YOU."

Can we back up a minute? I do not argue that what you are going through is awful. I would not want to be in your shoes. What I am objecting to is this assertion: "As long as the language works that way, as long as we set things up as though we have very limited resources to help people in need (which is false) and ample ones for building bridges and imperialism, then people will be forced to fight over who gets what scraps."

We DO have limited resources to help people in need. Just as we have limited resources to build bridges (or fund local library programs, or pave streets, or clear sidewalks). Resources are not infinite & never have been.

So long as we pine for what could be or what we could have, we are looking for a utopia that does not exist. That's what I mean by saying we have to do the best we can with what we have. In a perfect world my prescriptions would be covered. Your son would have all the medical care he needs. And we'd do it without requiring excessive sacrifice from anyone. What does it benefit us to get angry that life isn't fair? We can try to make things more fair, but at some point we have to continue living in the current unfair situation.

My argument is that you and I are not helping ourselves when we focus on what is UNfair instead of accepting what we can do with what we have (and feeling good about that). There will always be other options we could have had if money, time, and intellect were unlimited. Dwelling on that is a mistake.

By engineerChic (not verified) on 20 Feb 2010 #permalink

EngineerChic, no offense, but I think the "let's not dwell on inequity" argument is pretty weak. Sure we have limitations on what we can do - but they fall in two categories, absolute - ie, there is only a limited amount of money in the world and optional. We know, for example, that we can allocate more resources to healthcare for the general population, because, well, many nations do. We know, for example, that we can spend more on social welfare and less on imperialism because, well, lots of countries do it. So talking about our optional limits as though they are absolute and suggesting we shouldn't question them seems an inadequate response.


Sharon, I never said we shouldn't question the limits. I did say that we can try to make things more fair, but at some point we have to live in the world that exists.

I guess I have a different mindset. From the outside looking in, it seems like some people (not saying you or Tammy fit this description) spend too much time bemoaning what is wrong & being angry about it. That leads to some pretty self-destructive thought patterns where people focus on how external forces are against them. And it contributes to the Us vs Them mentality.

I hate to sound all new-agey and hokey, but at some point we have to accept the reality of our situation today and find a way to FEEL GOOD about the way we are working with it. From the way a lot of this reads I get the feeling that if Parker has a medical crisis or passes away, Tammy won't take solace in knowing she's done everything she could in a flawed system. Instead that anger she used to feel at the system will turn inward.

Obviously I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist. I'm just someone who's been through the cycle of "That is wrong! That is unfair! That makes me angry!" and I realized that life really is better when you separate anger that propels action from anger that just seethes & simmers.

Ten bucks says Tammy will jump all over this and say how wrong I am, how I don't know her & I shouldn't project my experiences onto her. There's a lot of anger and a focus on what she doesn't have in her posts here. I think my reaction is a reasonable one, but to each their own.

By Engineerchic (not verified) on 21 Feb 2010 #permalink

Seems we will always have the poor around. How we respond to them and to our own poverty (inability to fix these problems) reflects who we are as people.