October 07, 2005

John Edwards and poverty

Here's why John Edwards is cool: he's out there stumping on behalf of the poor---which would be nice enough---but more importantly, he's stressing the fact that the vast majority of people living in poverty aren't there because of disability or laziness, they're actually working full-time.

It should be enough to know they're poor, but one of the less flattering traits of humanity at large is the belief that people should only get what they "deserve", whatever that means, and that lazy people don't deserve to get anything. This in turn becomes an easy out, permitting people to dismiss poverty as some strange form of just deserts.

The problem is, this really hasn't ever been true, although the lazy poor person is pretty much a trope in political discourse. It certainly isn't true now. Poor people aren't any lazier than the rest of us---considerably less so in many cases---and in the vast majority of cases, they're only in the position they're in because life dealt them a crappy hand. Helping the poor is not, as Edwards points out, a matter of charity; it's a matter of justice.

"Character is what you are in the dark." --Dwight Moody

Posted by blahedo at 12:15am on 7 Oct 2005
The thing is that the hands life deals to the poor doesn't need to be all that crappy to begin with. I went to decent schools, had good grades, and earned scholarships, and we were in poverty for eight years and are still paying off debt from it. I shudder to think how easily it could have continued.

Vernon could not get a job paying above minimum wage in Quincy. Partly because we had no car, partly because the boss of his student teaching badmouthed him, partly because he did not know anyone in town. When I try to have an intelligent discussion about it, otherwise reasonable people will insist that if someone is willing to work, no matter where they are, there is a job that pays better than minimum wage, especially if they have a college degree. It just wasn't there for Vernon, and the scholarships were there for me, so we stayed.

These otherwise reasonable people will invent a safety net of friends and family for any hypothetical poor person. They seem to believe that everyone has a family that they can rely on, that anyone who says they don't is lying or just too proud and needs to learn to eat crow and having public aid available lets people get by without learning to get along.

Posted by lee at 6:41am on 7 Oct 2005
Strangely enough, the discussion in FP went its way around to this very topic today. Funny how these things work. Posted by blahedo at 4:07pm on 7 Oct 2005
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