As I began thinking about writing a book about this character Tucker that I created, one of the things I wanted to accomplish was to challenge people’s view of the poor. Based on what I read on Facebook and hear during casual conversation it appears that people who have means have a very demeaning, condescending, and critical view of people who have not. Unfortunately, most of the time their opinions are not based on personal experience at having been poor themselves but rather are a parroting of what they too have heard and read.
Hear are some of the prevailing views of the poor and reasons those views need to be adjusted:
- They are poor because they choose to be. Some people are born into poverty and raised in poverty. That is all they know. They have no vision that life could be different. They exist in a world of hopelessness and that is devoid of dreams. Others are poor because they’ve lost their job or their health. What would you do if suddenly you lost your job? Turn to unemployment? Do you realize how small an unemployment check is? I remember the first time I got an unemployment check that I had hopes would help bouy my family through a difficult storm. When I eagerly opened the envelope and saw the amount, I laughed a heartless laugh. I felt it was a joke – but it wasn’t. I don’t know anyone who enjoys being poor, living in public housing and depending on food stamps to feed their family.
- They are lazy. Just because a person is unemployed does not mean they are lazy. Just because someone doesn’t have more than $100.00 in the bank doesn’t mean they are lazy. There are many people who are working for minimum wage of $7.25 an hour who are poor. Do the math: 7.25 an hour x 40 hours = $290.00 a week (gross), which comes to less that $15,000.00 a year take home pay. Could you provide for your family on that amount?
- They are only interested in getting a handout. I believe what poor people are more interested in getting is a hand up, not a handout. The majority will never be able to lift themselves above the poverty line without getting help from somewhere – whether it’s financial, educational, or job training.
- They just need to get a job. If you are fortunate enough to have a stable job and haven’t had to look for a job in the last ten years, count yourself as fortunate and blessed. In the area of the country where I live, the job landscape has changed dramatically. Available jobs are few and far between. Unemployment is way above the national average. And if a job is minimum wage and you are a single mom who has to pay for daycare, you will spend 2/3 of your income or more on daycare, so much so that staying home with your children is the only option (though not a bad one).
- They are wasteful and eat better than I do. The average monthly allotment of Food Stamps in Tennessee is $528.44 for a family of four. I don’t know about you but I am shocked at the prices of groceries these days. While $500 a month sounds like a lot of money, it disappears before you can turn around. What this means is that poor people often go without and tell their kids they have to do without as well.
If you’ve continued reading this blog to this point, I’m quite sure you’ve thought about people that you personally know who are poor and lazy, always looking for a handout, don’t want a job, and have bought steak or lobster with their Food Stamps. And I won’t disagree with you because I know some people like that, too. What I maintain though is that those are the exception. just like the corrupt judge, the ruthless police officer, the pedophile school teacher, the adulterous evangelist, and the narcissistic athlete. It’s easy to pick an example of someone whose behavior we detest and say that everyone in their class is just like them.
Of great concern to me is the attitude of Christians toward those who are poor. If Christ is our model, then we need to treat the poor with the same respect, honor, and compassion with which he treated those of His day. Jesus said the poor will always be with us, which means there is no permanent cure for poverty, not even if a war were declared on it, as it was in the 60’s. I’ve got to believe that there were some who took advantage of Jesus’s generosity when he fed the multitudes, no doubt taking home some of the bread to sell for a profit. But I don’t see Jesus being overly concerned about those folks. He went about doing good to everyone and left it to the Father to decide what kinds of consequences should be administered to each recipient.
And while I understand that we must be good stewards of our own gifts and blessings and not squander them on those who would intentionally waste them, I much prefer to err on the side of mercy and grace rather than mistakenly withhold from someone who is deserving.