The Poor You Have With You Always

Image courtesy of [graur razvan ionut] /

Image courtesy of [graur razvan ionut] /

This evening I went into my Pocket (see yesterday’s post for details on Pocket) and read the article “20 Things the Poor Really Do Every Day” on Ben Irwin’s blog.  It was written in response to an article on Dave Ramsey’s blog – “20 Things the Rich Do Every Day“.  I loved Mr. Irwin’s article.  I should let you know up front that I’m a graduate – twice – of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.  I now teach a small group when we offer the class at our church.  We practice several of his recommendations at home.  I am an accountability partner for at least two friends. I, for the most part, agree with what he says.  But I was disappointed by the what-the-rich-do article.  Especially this line that Dave used in the comments that he appended to the list after, apparently, all hell broke loose when the blog was first published:  This list simply says your choices cause results. You reap what you sow.

Really?  The poor reap what they sow?  They choose to be poor?  I always find it interesting that we are willing to accept statements like – if you come from an obese family, it’s likely that you’ll be obese.  If you come from a family of drinkers, it’s likely that you’ll be a drinker.  But as soon as we start talking about the poor – they’re lazy, shifty, want-to-live-off-the-government, sit-around-and-have-tons-of-children, pay-less-taxes-than-I-do, and on and on.  One person who called him/herself “Sarcastic” made this comment on the Irwin blog:

Kill the poor! That’s right, that’s what will fix the problem. Why should people of means endure the stench of the poor. I say round them up and gas them. They are the ones who are ruining America. Kill them, every last stinking one of them!

I felt Sarcastic’s frustration, because I feel it myself.  How is it that we’ve become a society that has no compassion for the poor?  A society that thinks that people have “chosen” to be poor?  I know – I’m not naive to believe that there aren’t some people who are living off the government, and exploiting the system.  We never seem to admit, however, that in this great country of ours, there are people who go to bed hungry every night, not because they want to go to bed hungry, not because they’ve spent all of their money on alcohol or drugs – but because there is no food for them to eat.  Even though they are trying to work and make ends meet.

My church has adopted the public school across the street from our building.  The principal told us that 80% of her 800 or so students live below the poverty line.  I can’t remember the exact figure, but there are several hundred of them whose only full meal is provided by the school lunch they get.  Poor people can’t afford to make healthy food choices all the time.  The other day I walked into my grocery in my affluent suburban community and paid a little over 8 dollars for a bag of grapes (I don’t remember the weight, but they were $3.99/pound or something like that).  I’m not going to argue here about whether I can find grapes cheaper or not.  I am going to mention another grocery, just outside our community that is supposed to provide “specials” and “super low prices” that I never go into, but ran into one day because I was in a rush – and couldn’t find any juice in the aisles.  There was soda and alcohol.  But no juice.  I walked the entire store twice, and then walked out and went to my regular grocery.  Didn’t matter that I was going to be late – I don’t buy soda to give my children to drink.

If, however, I’m a mom struggling to provide for her children, am I going to spend eight of my hard-earned dollars on grapes?  Or am I going to try to get as much food as I can for that eight dollars, no matter if it’s chips and other stuff that’s not so healthy for me?  These are choices that poor people make everyday.  I’d even wager to say that the idea of having fresh fruit and juice that is not full of sugar is probably not one that is prevalent in the minds of the poor, because it’s not something that they’ve been educated about.  I’ll go one step further and argue that the grocery I mentioned has realized and acknowledged this truth by the fact that they don’t stock juice because they know most of their patrons are not going to buy it!!!  

In all of these conversations that I hear and read about how awful and lazy poor people are, and how “I picked myself up by my bootstraps and made myself who I am today,” – the people who picked themselves up never seem to acknowledge the fact that education plays such an important role in who we become.  Dave Ramsey, for all his talk about wanting to teach people about the right way to live, doesn’t offer his classes for free.  It’s almost $100 to sign up for Financial Peace University.  And there are no scholarships (as far as I’ve been able to see).  So – if the mom I mentioned above can’t afford to purchase an 8-dollar bag of grapes, are we seriously to expect that she will be able to afford a $100 course that requires her to attend class once a week for eight or nine weeks? (Remember – she most likely has a second job because she’s poor).  How will she ever get that very important information that Dave has to share, that can turn her finances around????

In my family, it was expected that all of us would go to college.  There was no discussion about it – college was expected.  I’d go so far as to say that a decision to attend vocational or trade school might have been frowned upon.  All the cousins knew that we were expected to get college degrees.  This is because one or both of our parents had college degrees; the parents of our friends had college degrees – having a college degree was like drinking water to us.  If you’ve come from an environment where people never even get their high school diplomas, how likely is it that everyone in that environment will decide to, or be able to go to college?  I totally understand the concept of America as the “land of opportunity” – but you have to understand first what opportunities are available to you.  If everybody you know works two jobs and barely scrapes by, how likely is it that you are going to decide, “No – I need something better for myself.  I have to figure out a way where I can work one job and be able to take care of myself.”  In your eyes, working two jobs and still struggling to get by is like drinking water, the same way the concept of a college education was like drinking water to my siblings and I.  The one or two or ten people who make it out of an impoverished upbringing are the anomaly, just like the child in our family who ended up going to trade school would be an anomaly – in this family of college-degree-holders.   How could you end up at trade school when everyone around you is going to college?  How could you end up breaking into the middle class, breaking out of the poverty cycle when everyone around you is locked in it?

I cannot understand how people cannot understand the cycle of poverty.

This comment on the Irwin article from Laurelfish touched me:

I grew up hungry and poor since age 10 and still struggle. I have struggled with many of these truths. If you don’t believe any of it, ask a poor person. What gets me is people sit around talking about “the poor” and making assumptions and doing “studies” but does anyone actually get out in the world and have real conversations with each other? Um, not really. The poor, are actual people.

Jesus said in Mark 14:7 “For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good…”  Whenever we feel like, we can do good for the poor.  Because they will always be here.  Can we, like Laurelfish asks, if we detest poverty so much, if it disgusts us so much that people are living off the government and paying less taxes than we are, can we figure out a way to help them?  Because that’s the only way they won’t be poor anymore!


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