What Does Poverty Look Like? Not What You Might Think

What must it feel like to live in poverty? What must it feel like to be the object of scorn?

As I listen to the arguments against a living wage, and even an increased minimum wage, I try to imagine living in poverty. I imagine the constant stress of not having money for food and I don’t mean buying prepared food from Whole Paycheck, but rather being able to put a warm meal on the table. I imagine worrying about paying rent, utilities, transportation costs, and for medical care. The thing I don’t worry about is being able to pay for school, because it didn’t even come close to the top of my priority list even through I know it is why I’m not in poverty. Every worry was in the bottom rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Who are the poor?

  • The poor include those employed or underemployed at low wage jobs.  4.2% of those working full time and 14.4% of those working part-time are among the working poor.  Almost 19% of workers are poor.  The working poor are more likely to be women and minorities. 10.5 million Americans are among the working poor.
  • Families with children are 4 times more likely to live in poverty than those without children.
  • 60-80% of the mentally ill are unemployed and 90% of those with severe mental illness are unemployed.
  • 1 in 7 homeless adults or about 67,000 on any given night is a veteran.
  • 1.6 million children in the U.S. are homeless each year – I’m pretty sure it isn’t because they are lazy.

There is no doubt that the world has a certain number of lazy, shiftless, no accounts that live off of others. Fortunately, they are the exception and not the rule. The vast majority of the poor are people, who through no faulty of their own, are born female, minority, mentally ill, or physically ill. They are children that were not born into wealth or whose parents work full-time at minimum wage jobs. The poor are our brother and our sisters.   They are our neighbors.

I do not know why we fear the poor or feel a need to blame them for their position in this world. Why is it so hard to put aside our fears and address the needs of others? Why can’t we address the poor government decisions, greedy corporations, failing educations system, and lack of adequate mental health care?  Why can’t we insist on the same evidence-based practice in economics and the war on poverty that we do in health care? Are we really so concerned about having another nuclear weapon, another aircraft carrier, another bridge to nowhere, another tax subsidy for a stadium or an oil company that we can’t adequately feed and house the poor until we figure out how to address poverty?

The Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46 NIV)

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”


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