Reader’s Forum on $2.00 a Day continues

ALICE RYDEL

I’m moved by Kathryn Edin’s book and all the comments it inspired. Here’s mine:

Our political system represents the wealthiest of the wealthy. We’re never honestly told, “Here are the leftover crumbs. Fight among yourselves.” Rather, we’re lied to with “Here are the jewels. The best and most worthy among you may achieve them.”

I grew up on the South side of Chicago in the 50s. The first Black family that moved into my neighborhood had their house firebombed. During my teen years in the 60s we 20171204_134452moved to the Roseland neighborhood Edin wrote about. The Pullman factory was closed, people living right across from that isolated factory were referred to as lesser-than — as hillbillies. When football games took place at Gately Stadium with Black schools, fights always broke out.

Thinking that one part of humanity was more worthy than another – fighting over crumbs — was just a part of life.

In the 70s, I met an activist fighting against social injustices. She was on my college campus, had pen and sign-up sheet in hand, and I signed up. This new life activity changed my world view from nothing can be done to we’re the ones who have to bring about change.

As others have commented about “$2 a Day”, it’s going to take a lot of us to make that change. Tiani Xochitl Coleman’s comment touched me: “…we need a change of heart, a deepening of our cultural values to help solve the problems of poverty.”

 This isn’t just a psychological change. It’s lots of work – team work as the college students referred to – to change our political system. No one should be forced to live on crumbs.

Alice Rydel is a thirty year builder of the All Stars Project and a life long independent.  

Advertisements

Join Tonight’s Call. $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America.

Reader ‘s Forum–from Nevada to the Bronx to Florida

We wrap up our Reader’s Forum this afternoon with four submissions. One from Catana Barnes, the President of Independent Voters of Nevada, two from college students at  Bronx Community College and a note from an independent activist in Florida.

I hope that you will join us this evening at 7 pm EST for our conversation with co-author of $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, Kathryn Edin.

TONIGHT @ 7 pm EST

Politics for the People Conference Call

With Kathyrn Edin, co-author of

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Join the Conversation

641-715-3605 and passcode 767775#

***

CATANA BARNES

Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaffer’s $2.00 A Day Living on Almost Nothing in America is one of the most personally relatable books I have ever read. As I read through chapters 1 and 2, I felt as though I was reading through a diary of my own life. Chapter 2, Perilous

catana barnes speakingWork, affected me so much it was suggested that I not finish reading the book. I will, of course, finish reading the book with great anticipation and, unfortunately, with great sadness. This is a book that can be of comfort and support to those, like myself, who have had to survive on little to nothing and a book that can provide great insight to those who have never had to deal with this kind of struggle. I absolutely believe this book can and will change the way people, in the United State and the /world, understand and view poverty in the United States; a country that proclaims its economic prowess.
Catana Barnes is the founder and President of Independent Voters of Nevada.

***

CLAUDIA ARROYO

My name is Claudia Arroyo. I am a Full Time Student from Bronx Community College and I am majoring in Psychology. I learned about your work from my Psychology professor Rafael Mendez. I am submitting my thoughts and questions about the writing $2 A Day on Extreme Poverty in America and will be attending the conference call on Sunday at 7PM.

Upon Reading $2 A Day it is interesting to know how close to home many aspects of this book touch upon. Either we have experienced many of these events ourselves or we know somebody who has lived through it or is going through it currently. There claudia arroyois so much struggle and trauma that the individuals mentioned in the story and those who encounter these challenges face everyday and must continue to live with it because it has shaped who they are. What stood out a lot to me was the story of Jennifer and her children. When living with family members it still wasn’t a positive or safe environment for her children. Little did she know the impact that this had for them, especially her son who suddenly became very aggressive and violent to the point where he harmed his sister. Even then his sister also suffered being molested by one of her own family members which forced Jennifer to flee with her kids to somewhere else she could call “home”, although it is difficult to consider a place home, when it isn’t yours and there is no stable settlement. With this we see difficulties of finding places to safely call home, especially with ones own family, they are the ones which can hurt you the most or even abandon you in your time of need. But because these events do have an influence to shape who we are, they certainly are not what officially determines the person we can be, as humans we are dynamic and constantly changing and have the ability to adapt and overcome.

My question to you is, yes it is already difficult to live in the U.S, especially in major cities like New York or Los Angeles, but how much more does the difficulty increase of sustainably living here in the U.S as a person of color, someone who is hispanic/latinx, or even outside of the U.S?

Thank you.

Sincerely, Claudia Arroyo

***

MADELINE MANZUETA

    My name is Madeline Manzueta and I am a student at Bronx Community College and here is my comment on the story.
    Poverty is something that is overlooked in this country. Congress doesn’t really care about the poor and their struggles. We see this in chapter 3, as Jennifer talks about her not being able to afford such a place like the one in which her aunt was letting her stay. I can relate to Jennifer because it is very expensive to live. In the Bronx a one bedroom apartment is now going for 1,400 which is impossible for someone with a minimum wage job to afford. They now have programs offering rent controlled housing for what they call “those with low income.” In order to qualify for these apartments you must at least have an income of about 16,000. The average poor person barely even has an income of 5,000 so how do they expect for us to be able to afford these places?

***

ASHLEY BRUNO

I just started the last chapter of this book and I am only now starting to see the organized

Ashley Bruno

outlook and commentary on what needs to be done to cure the “disease” of poverty, in addition to accepting the sad symptoms. With 20 pages left, I remember when I was only 20 pages in, still then naive to the wrenching reality of modern day poverty in America and how it would be illustrated in this writing. I really believed I would be reading a how-to-guide on living on almost nothing, as if there was an underground network of people administering tips and lifestyle advice on getting it done, against all odds, without criminal and dangerous activity and/or total dependence on an ultimately unalleviating and traumatizing welfare system.  I am glad to have read this book and been given a reminder, yet again, of what the collective mind set and experience is of the people who aren’t making it, where the cycle of poverty is like a chain that seems to be unbroken, as the closest thing to direct slavery, and actually still is in many ways, especially mentally.

The last few years, since I joined this network of direct urban humanitarianism and canvassed low-income housing buildings advocating for open primaries, I have felt the need to understand better the communities that are suffering the most, and why,  eliminating the “us and them” and completely eliminating the pursuit of “success” in a capitalist driven society that aims to keep the rich-rich, and the poor and ethnic in a box to provide for cheap labor, control, and pocketed subsidies, made on people, that should be going to the programs and the people themselves. The money exists! The gap, margin, and total imbalance in our demographic economy is so extreme, the outlook has become bleak! There are so many people caught in this cycle and they keep procreating in the most terrible conditions. This isn’t yesterday’s “third-world” problem, and this is not a television show. This is today and now. These family stories are just a few of the endless situations going on and all the people suffering, fearing being out in the divided world today, yet unsafe at home, or the bare survival of one.

I am truly amazed by those who are courageous enough to get involved and try to take these issues on, for I have made no difference and was starting to feel like I just can’t. I think of the serenity prayer. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I want to focus on that last chapter. I want it to expand. I believe that together we can create the how to guide, because essentially we need to.

This book is definitely not boring, somewhere in between a dramatic yet disturbing lifetime movie and an interview with the real life person behind the door of the NYC Projects buildings the day you stop in and say, “can you sign this petition if you believe in positive change and a fair system?”, wondering how many people live in there and why it smells like that.  I will aim to make the conference call, but I should be working tomorrow. If I change that, I will hear you all on the call. Otherwise you know you will hear from me; I appreciate this listen and learn.

Ashley Bruno is a volunteer with Independent Voting and Open Primaries.

***

SAGE SEPULVEDA

What I’ve been thinking ever since I read this chapter is that while a lot of operations are trying to help families in poverty even when it’s rather difficult, there are at least a few operations that make things worse for these families. Poor people may not have hygiene because they weren’t properly taught by their families or that there wasn’t enough IMG_0286water. Families may go into poverty because the housing costs are too much for them to handle. When I read this chapter, it makes me think of a similar problem is happening in all apartments in the Bronx, especially in the South Bronx, because families will lose their apartments because of housing. I think it was an amazing decision for Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer to write how the family, especially Jennifer, will help Kaitlin to cope with the trauma of being sexually molested by Jose, since it shows that even or especially in dark times, some families can still support each other, since not all of them do. It kind of seems like people of poverty are victims of abuse because they’re easy targets. Why are poor people more likely to be subjected to physical, mental, and sexual abuse than people who aren’t in poverty?

Sage Sepulveda is a college student at Bronx Community College.

 

 

Conference call tonight and Tiani Coleman in the Reader’s Forum

20170318_conf_187

Learning How to Help the $2/Day Poor

In the book $2.00 A Day:  Living on Almost Nothing in America, by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer, we peer into the lives of those left out of the 1996 Welfare Reform.  While the Clinton / Gingrich welfare reform offered a helpful hand up to some – the working poor; it put those who can’t manage to find or keep a job into a hopeless predicament of not being able to dig out . . . and more and more Americans are joining this group of people who live in deep poverty, a hidden poverty that goes unseen by most Americans.

Many think that those who can’t manage to find or keep a job are at fault, but we don’t take into account what makes finding or keeping a job nearly impossible: the horrendous, difficult circumstances they face at home; the costs associated with acquiring skills and an education; the deprived working conditions they’re subjected to; the bad luck that hits them, such as sickness, broken vehicles, child-care problems, etc.

Though in many respects, I’m far removed from the lives of the $2/day poor, I have seen some of these struggles up close in the lives of a few family members: one who became a single mother of five children with virtually no child support from her ex-husband and no college degree; and one who, at a young age, became a widow with no college degree and eight children.  Both have had phases of struggling to find or keep a job.  Similar to what’s described in the book, each has faced mounting family medical bills, or has had to board with family or friends, be very resourceful at scrimping, or has even had to resort to some borderline tactics in finding money for food, the next utility payment or other life necessities.

There was a “break-through” with one when it finally became clear to us, her loved ones, that there was no way she could support herself; she didn’t have the credentials / skills to find a decent job to cover her expenses and had a high amount of debt and was facing some mental health challenges.  Rather than demanding she get a job before lending a hand, we finally realized that she needed to be substantially helped in order to get back out on her own.  One family member agreed to pay her student loans each month; one family member paid her utility bills each month; one family member paid her car payment; one family member helped with a limited amount of “spending money cash” each month, and she was resourceful in finding a family member to board with, and she utilized SNAP for food.  This allowed her to focus on acquiring skills in a good-fit profession, and she has now acquired certification and a job.

But I’m sad that it took years before we realized this.  Family members would help her out here and there when she would urgently beg for help; but otherwise, she was left in her desperation to try to make life workable in her incredibly difficult situation, with us all baffled as to why she couldn’t stay employed and be more self-sufficient.

The book makes clear that the $2/day poor don’t see “a handout” as a solution; they simply hope for the chance to work, to find a full-time job paying $12 – $13 an hour, a modest dwelling in a safe neighborhood, and some stability.  As a society, we really need to focus on how we can create more decent paying jobs.

As the book explains, the 1996 welfare reform pushed millions of low-income single moms into the workforce, but it did nothing to improve the conditions of low-wage jobs, and arguably worsened the quality of the average low-wage job in America.  For example, many employers utilize work loading and on-call shifts, where employees get few hours and unpredictable schedules, but are on-call 24/7 without full compensation for such.  How can someone find child care in these circumstances, or earn a living wage?  Workers also face “wage-theft,” with violations of labor standards, where they get less than the minimum wage, do not collect overtime pay, and are required to work off the clock.  Housing prices have also skyrocketed such that there is nowhere in America where a family supported by a full-time minimum wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market value without being heavily cost burdened.

Though I have watched some family members struggle greatly, they have at least had supportive family to help; they belong to caring church communities, and they were raised in a loving, nurturing middle class family environment.  Their children have risen above the circumstances of their parents.  So many of the $2/day poor are raised in hellish home/community conditions, and have very little family or community support; the cycle of abject poverty is repeated from generation to generation.

There are no easy answers.  Edin and Shaefer discuss the feasibility of raising the minimum wage, if not to $15/hour, then to at least $10/hour; they support government-subsidized private sector job creation, as well as creating more government-sector jobs.  They mention expanding the earned income tax credit (EITC), recognizing that this is a more dignified way of helping people than the shame-filled TANF.  The book also advocates for improving labor conditions and changing negative incentives such as TANF block grants that subsidize the states more than the working poor.

I believe some policy changes will likely help; for example, tax deductions for big mortgages that subsidize the rich could instead expand the EITC; laws could be passed to prohibit uncompensated on-call labor; benefits could be more flexible so that beneficiaries have access to cash to meet their individual needs, etc.  Some policy changes need to be carefully approached so that drastic increases to the minimum wage don’t just result in high inflation, or major housing subsidies don’t result in higher rents, defeating their purpose.  Jobs created need to be sustainable.   If we’re helping people improve their skill sets and life circumstances to rise above what’s holding them back, we’re making good investments.

Ultimately, though, we need a change of heart, a deepening of our cultural values to help solve the problems of poverty.  The Teach for America teacher who helped Tabitha Hicks was a genuine example of what needs to happen throughout our society if we want to truly help the poor.  Good people need to be willing to provide service, whether it be a highly qualified individual giving up a lucrative consulting job to teach and go the extra mile in the rural, poor south; or people making an effort to give long-term sustained help to family members; or people volunteering as tutors, caring for the elderly, etc.  It will require employers (such as the owner of Market Basket) to voluntarily raise their minimum wage or labor standards, which ultimately “forces” employers such as Walmart to make some of the same changes.  We need to integrate and interact with one another so that we see the humanity and recognize that with just a few differences in life circumstances, it could be us.

With the ever-broadening automation of jobs, it’s even more crucial that we quit worrying about partisanship and ideological purity (that contradicts itself in practice), and start working together to expand the economic pie, reduce the selfish greed that drives exploitation, and find ways to help everyone around us find hope in reaching the simple American dream of having a job, a home and providing for their families.

Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and president of NH Independent Voters.

TONIGHT @ 7 pm EST

Please Join the Politics for the People Conference Call

With Kathyrn Edin

We will be discussing:

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Call In and Join the Conversation

641-715-3605 and passcode 767775#

 

 

Bronx Community College Students in the Reader’s Forum

 

BCC photo

BCC_Logo_GREEN

This is our second set of commentary from students at Bronx Community College.  Dr. Rafeal Mendez invited students in his psychology courses to read Chapters 2 and 3 of $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America and to write a post for our blog.

 ***

IMG_0766

Marie Dorleans is taking the Psychology of Infancy and Childhood.

According to chapter 3 it is stating that it is hard to afford an apartment with low minimum wage. Earning low minimum wage makes it difficult to take care of your family because you are responsible for feeding and clothing your children and making sure that they have a roof over their heads. In chapter three Jennifer did not have enough money to buy an apartment with two bedrooms, so her children and herself were living in the same bedroom. Jennifer had a job at “Catalina Spa & Salon”. Jennifer and Andrea, her coworker, both did their part of the job very well, but then Andrea got into an accident she could not work and so Jennifer took her shift to make extra money. That was a heavy load for her, plus her manager didn’t give her a raise for the extra work so she left that job.  It was hard for her to even tell us what happen to her daughter or what happens when she is not spending time with her children. The living condition was so bad that she would move place to place to find a better home or to find a better life. With rent being raised everywhere people with low minimum wages cannot afford a home to live in. Chapter 3 stated that during 2000-2012 rent rose up to 6 percent and if a tenant missed a rent bill they would receive a “soft eviction”. That is when the landlord would remove the door of the tenant’s apartment or cut off the power. This proves that living in poverty could change a person life for the worst.

***

Darin Florence is studying Abnormal Psychology.

Through this workshop, the illumination of the depth of poverty, to the tune of producing what we now call “The $2.00 a Day Poor,” currently growing in its divisiveness from a “thriving class of people.” This of course being measured in broadest of framework by Darin Florencewhich a thriving class of people can be quantified, the psychology of poverty can know no bounds, nor can its dehumanizing capabilities. The ability of a class of people who have no skin in the game to criminalize the victim is frightening in that the drastic and often dangerous tactics which the $2.00 a day families must adopt as a way of life is sure to foster other actions which are in fact criminal in the traumatic effects on their children as well themselves.

The temerity of those experiencing financial proficiency to blame the poor for being poor and creating barriers to distributing the wealth of resources so that the supply meets the need, and allows resources elevate the level of the needy. This is a despicable display of gross negligence and apathy on the part of what is reportedly the Richest and most powerful nation in ever in existence.

***

 Raziyah Rodriguez 

As a Single Mother of two girls , a college student and a welfare receipent I am please to IMG_0842know this issue is being addressed. It is extremely alarming in the midst of trying to be heard and helped the struggle still remains. What has become of our economy ? What are the limits we must face to finally see the grass is always greener.  I enjoyed the talk on her book and the process of the research that was conducted to realize society is being oppressed. I am deeply fond and admire the work and time put into this project. It is sad to know as poor as we may think we are , their is always another family who has it worse. What I mean as worse is less and much more worries as problems arise in top of problems in situations of poverty.  May we all hope for change , and may we all put in work to make the change . With team work , great minds and clean hearts , America shall prosper. Amen

***

 

Screenshot_20171130-114037

Cesarina Tapia

My opinion,  2-a-Day poverty book impacted me in different ways. For example, how can a powerful and resourceful country have such high number of poverty and nothing is being done to lower the poverty epidemic. Why is the government not doing anything to stop poverty. I think the community needs to be aware and to be educated about whats happening in our society and come up with a solution to fix the problem.

***

image1 (1).jpeg

Sabrina Mendoza

As I read Chapter 3 of the book $2 a Day it gave a different perspective of what it’s like to be poor in America. The American media tends to make poverty appear as a choice rather than something that is passed down due to certain circumstance that families may face in the country. When in reality the American system is what hinders certain individuals from prospering and achieving the “American Dream”. In order for everyone in this country to be able to get a fair chance in achieving the “American Dream” the system must change. Those Americans who are apart of the 1% or apart of the middle class should empathize with poor and be apart of the solution not against them.

IMG_1805

Fatoumata Millogo is taking Introduction to Psychology.

When I read this book’s chapter, It seems like the author is telling my story instead of telling Jennifer’s family labor experiences in Chicago southwest side. This book should draw the Government attention to the application of minimum wage and the increase of poverty in United States Why the Government instead of giving SNAP to families with low income doesn’t increase the minimum wage and send police officer in work sites to check if owners are applying it? It seems stupid for me to help low income families just with food instead of helping them to be dependant.

I used to work an African braiding shop where the owner paid me $200 a week and I worked from 8am to 10pm Monday to Friday. I didn’t get pay for sick days, I didn’t have vacations. I worked just to pay my bills. I quit the job and decided to stay home with my son instead of working and not getting the money I was expected to get.

The department of labor services should control all the services, small business etc to see if they are paying right their employees in order to decrease the number of unemployed. SNAP is one of a way to help but not poor people but it is not the Good way.

***

Leslie Espino

My thoughts of the chapter 3 on poverty in the USA $2 a Day is conflicting because on Leslie Epinoone hand these people have the means to rise out of their situations. Although at the same time I feel as if the system intentionally tries to place some of us in situations comparable to Jennifer or Rae. Unjust situations that ultimately force us into uncomfortable positions, which in turn leaves us potentially vulnerable to unspeakable horrors like the tragic events that occurred in Jennifer’s life. Im also concerned about people in Rae’s position or similar to it, who have a good chance of being eligible for government assistance but are too prideful to seize the opportunity.

***

Cleritude Dorleans

I found chapter three to be very interesting. I am aware that there are poor people living in all states of the United States, however; I did not know that it was this bad. In chapter three of this book a woman named Jennifer and her children were really going through tough times. She was working trying to provide shelter for her children and herself. Working trying to make ends meet just wasn’t enough for her or her family. She had to IMG_20170427_190258_159move from place to place in different apartments because the rent was too expensive for her to afford. It is hard for low-income families to afford an apartment. According to the text in chapter three the cost of an apartment would be more than 30% of one income, that is why a lot of people are struggling to keep their homes. According to the text if one would miss payments on their rent the landlord would do some repulsive things, so the person can leave the apartment on their own. When people are in situations like this one tends to get stressed out. I can relate to this reading because a few years go my family and I were living in a three-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn for about $800 and change. We were a family of 8 at the time and my dad was the only source of income. We were evicted twice and a year later our apartment was mysteriously on fire (we were not home) so we had to live in a shelter for about three years. During that time, we were really stressed out, we lost most of our belongings. That is why I can relate to this book.

***

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS

Juliana Uzozie: “I was deeply touched by your book,after reading the part where Michelle told Juana and Angel that  she has not eaten for four days, and how the family lost their source of income  which made them live in the basement of their family friend, and the land lord discovered he has to throw them out.Honestly no child is suppose to go through that situation because it is traumatizing. That is why we need to be our  brother keeper.

Clara Castillo-Santana:  “In my opinion this chapter made know what is so important for poor people to have help from their friends families or even thought programs like the one doctor fulani’s created a way that wealthy people can communicate with poor kids and people to help all black and Latino to fight against the poorness.”

Kirk Reynolds:

My name is Kirk Reynolds a student from Bronx Community College. Poverty is simply
the state of being extremely poor. Poverty to me is more often than not passed down by
generation. In other words if you grow up in poverty it is a greater chance of the generation staying the same rather than being successful. Statics make it clear that kids always seem to follow what they see. Not saying that if you grow up in poverty it’s impossible to be successful.  That’s when things like identity projects come into place. Identity project is basically inspiration and or something to be passionate about. A well known example of an identity project is sports. However life can be a lot easier if everybody was promised a strong family support. Family is a huge role in children’s lives. I mean family is all kids know until they go out on they own. A key to raising a child is to help them feel confident and to help develop a sense of passion and
purpose. It’s the education that happens before we send them off to school which is crucial in bringing up a child. Without this idea of a strong family support it can very detrimental for kids lives. Which then leads to extreme poverty in the USA. Furthermore without a family support children are more at risk for smoking, drug abuse as adults, as well as engaging in high-risk sexual behavior. Which we all know are not behaviors followed by people with success. For instance in the article it says “the ACE study and more recent follow-up studies offer evidence that the experience of abuse, neglect and other adverse circumstances in childhood is disturbingly common in the American population as a whole. Yet as shocking as these ACE study findings are poor children are greater risk for such an experience (Edin 79).” In my opinion poverty can be stopped but it’s going to take an nation effort. In conclusion poverty is A generational thing, if we can give each and every child a stable successful family. Lots will be more successful to which we all will have the money to have stable apartments and lower the risks of smoking and drug abuse.

***

Please Join the Politics for the People Conference Call

With Kathyrn Edin

We will be discussing:

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

TOMORROW

Sunday, December 3rd at 7 pm EST

Call In and Join the Conversation

641-715-3605 and passcode 767775#

Reader’s Forum–Brenda Ratliff

Brenda Headshot

I couldn’t put down Kathy Edin’s compelling discussion of contemporary American poverty, $2 A Day, Living on Almost Nothing in America. I read the book almost nonstop over two evenings, and as I read I became more enraged with each story and description of the current plight of America’s cashless poor.

This is happening in one of the most successful countries in the world.  No one would question this if it happened in India, Africa or Central America. Our well-meaning liberals would express outrage that these countries could not take care of its citizens.  After all, isn’t America the land of endless opportunity? Unfortunately, it seems that endless opportunity comes with a high price for those living without the same means as those who have the wherewithal that comes from access, opportunity and stability to maintain a higher standard of living.

There is also currently, and for the past 20 or more years, no political will to even acknowledge this kind of poverty in our country where current politicians obsess over the middle class, (i.e. votes). Trump was quoted in today’s news as wanting to do 836ad-2-a-daysomething about the rampant corruption in America’s system of entitlements with no proof whatsoever that this is happening.  Kathy Edin’s book asserts repeatedly, that corruption does not exist in any significant way in our system of benefits for the poor.  However, once again, an opportunity to garner favor with a political base rears its ugly head as a campaign tactic for the next election by blaming the most vulnerable in our society.

I grew up poor in New York City in the 60’s and 70’s amidst a tremendous amount of family instability.   But I never felt that there was nothing that could be done.  We survived on the old system, Aid for Dependent Children, after my father, our sole support, sat down one day in a chair and died of undiagnosed heart disease. My mother was left with four children from 7 to 14 years of age at home. She was semi-literate having never completed high school and her chances of employment were close to non-existent.  Besides, what was she going to do with all of us?  She went on welfare and raised us. Even then, it was a Herculean task to try to keep us safe, healthy and on a good path.  However, I never felt that there wasn’t a place to turn to, even if we were treated like second class citizens in whatever office we landed.  With welfare money we paid the bills, paid the rent with assistance from section 8, we had three meals a day, and I thrived in school.  That is what the old-fashioned welfare system managed to accomplish.  We were not cheats.  Circumstances caused my mother, a poor black woman who was ill-equipped for skilled work, to fall on hard times, and to ask for help to make sure her children were safe, housed and fed.

Today’s America, has almost no safety net for the poor. It took very little money to stabilize my family.  We were fortunate to be able to capitalize on the political will of a very different time during a period of social motion that changed everything.  Now the political establishment does not talk about poverty, except to blame poor people for being poor. They, along with large parts of America, believe that if you’re poor, it’s because you didn’t try hard enough. But that American can-do spirit applies to those mired in poverty, as Edin talks about in her book, as much as it applies to the middle class.  The resourcefulness of some of the people described in Edin’s book is remarkable.  To make it though, sometimes people just need a hand up, even if that is also a handout.

If we are ever to address this issue meaningfully, caring Americans must become engaged in the political life of this country. We cannot strip away every entitlement that’s been enacted since the New Deal to deal with poverty.  Edin describes many common-sense solutions in her book. However, these will never become policy unless we hold every person we send to Washington or any local office accountable to our communities.  I would argue that we need to upend the political system altogether.  This is a tougher road.  Most of us just want to live our lives.  However, it is the more humane and ultimately more developmental solution to creating a society that cares for all its citizens.

 Brenda Ratliff is a senior communications consultant with more than twenty years’ experience in developing, executing and managing successful communications and marketing strategies in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.  She is a longtime political activist and philanthropist working to create afterschool programs for inner city youth.

 

Please Join the Politics for the People Conference Call

With Kathyrn Edin

We will be discussing:

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

SUNDAY

December 3rd at 7 pm EST

Call In and Join the Conversation

641-715-3605 and passcode 767775#

To My Pen Pal About Poverty in America

frank-fear-landscape

To My Pen Pal About Poverty in America

By Frank Fear

A Review of $2.00 a Day:

Living on Almost Nothing In America

By Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer

My critiques of America are misguided, so my pen pal tells me. I underestimate America’s greatness and overplay its challenges. He is dedicated to helping me “understand.”

Yet another of his missives arrived a few weeks ago. It came at a time when I was reading, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America (by Kathryn J. Edin and H. 836ad-2-a-dayLuke Shaefer. Boston: Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015).

It made me think about an omission in our discourse. My pen pal has never brought up the topic of poverty in America, not even once. Perhaps he thinks we’ve solved it. Maybe it’s not a priority for keeping America great.

Either way, he’s not alone in looking elsewhere. Poverty has fallen off America’s radar screen. We hardly even use the word these days. We prefer talking about tax cuts or referring to “working Americans.”

What a difference from the days of my youth! In 1964, President Johnson Lyndon made his intent clear and expressed it directly. He declared “A War on Poverty.”

What changed? Starting in the 1970’s, Governor (later president) Reagan had a bee under his bonnet for the “evils of welfare.” He promulgated his angst visually with the image of “The Welfare Queen.” Later, President Clinton signed a bill ‘reforming’ the welfare system.

Well, America got reform. And it American changed … for the worse.

“How so?” my pen pan will certainly ask. I’ll respond by quoting $2.00 a Day (p. xxiii).

“America’s cash welfare program that caught people when they fell—was not merely replaced with the 1996 welfare reform (note: Clinton’s reform); it was very nearly destroyed. In its place arose a different kind of safety net, one that provides a powerful hand up to some—the working poor—but offers much less to others, that is, those who can’t manage to find or keep a job. This book is based on what happens when a government safety net is built on the assumption of full-time, stable employment at a living wage combines with a low-wage labor market that fails to deliver on any of the above. It is this toxic alchemy…that is spurring the increasing numbers of $2-a-day poor in America.” 

That’s why (I’ll tell my pen pal) it’s precisely the right time for poverty to re-emerge as a public policy priority. $2 a Day should be the rallying call for that movement. “There can be no exceptional America (an image that my friend believes in so thoroughly) if that circumstance remains a reality,” I’ll write.

Misguided public policies need to be corrected, I’ll continue. We need to name, and then proclaim, those policies for exactly what they are … heartless. What we need today, I’ll write, is for American patriots to step forward—just as Marian Wright Edelman did in 1995 when she chastised President Clinton in an “open letter” published in The Washington Post. In that letter, Edelman quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt’s powerful admonition: “Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the constant omission of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.”

I’d then remind my pen pal of a conversation that I had with another colleague nearly thirty years ago. The colleague had been invited by then-President George H.W. Bush to serve on the commission to plan the Points of Light Foundation. “Points of Light?” I asked emphatically over dinner one night. “It sounds like a bait-and-switch, a flowery label used as a ploy – a ploy to reduce government support for those who need it most–to get people “off the government dole.”

My pen pal will bristle at that assertion, just as my other colleague did that night. But I’ll be prepared to bolster my argument by drawing on another passage from $2.00 a Day (p. 102).

“Private charity in America is often viewed as the little engine that could. It chugs along admirably, providing billions of dollars in aid to the poor each year…. Yet, even in America—and even for those who are adept at gleaning all that private charity has to offer—it can’t even begin to replicate, much less replace, what the government does. Private charity is a complement to government action, something that bolsters the government safety net.”

Charity is important. Self-help efforts are vital. But government support is the cornerstone. It’s not the cornerstone now – and that needs to change in a responsible, progressive way.

How so?” my pen pal will certainly ask. In response, I’ll offer three steps as proposed in $2.00 a Day (see Conclusion: Where, Then, From Here? Pp. 157-174).

The first step is to scrap the term, “reform.’ Welfare needs to be replaced. That’s not a new idea, I’ll tell my pen pal. It was the cornerstone of David Ellwood’s influential thinking from twenty years ago. It needs to be resurrected.

The second step is to ground a replacement strategy in four American values: 1) autonomy of the individual, 2) the virtue of work, 3) the primacy of the family, and 4) a desire for community. Basing policies on those pillars will go a long way toward integrating the poor in society, rather than separating them from society – the unfortunate reality that exists today.

The third step is to put in place policies that accomplish three outcomes: 1) provide opportunities for all to work, 2) enable parents to raise kids in a place of their own, and 3) strengthen the financial safety net so that people never go without.

I have faith in what Eden and Shaffer propose, I’ll say, because I believe it’s the foundation of good public policy.

He’ll scoff at that declaration! I know he will. Why do I think so? One reason is what I learned from reading a provocative article written recently by Kevin Quealy, published in The New York Times. Quealy talks about how political elites influence public opinion, especially with regard to topics that are complex, technical, or off-the-radar screen.

The political elites to whom my friend pays attention don’t talk about poverty. They talk about cutting taxes, bolstering corporate America, reducing government regulations, managing budget deficits, correcting trade imbalances, curbing terrorism, bolstering defense … but never, ever about poverty.

Poverty has been handled. It’s being dealt with by non-profits, churches, and philanthropists. “We in America are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land. The poor-house is vanishing among us.” Herbert Hoover, August 11, 1928.

I’ll tell my friend that he’s misguided, that America needs to respond in a prudent, humane way. America can’t possibly be great if people are living on $2 a day.

Don’t you agree?

Frank A. Fear is professor emeritus, Michigan State University. Frank is a frequent contributor to the LA Progressive and also writes about issues that intersect sport and society. You can read him at The Sports Column at http://www.thesportscol.com/category/frank-fear/  He is a long time independent and active with Independent Voting.

***

A Letter from a Friend in Response

Hi Frank,

What can I say?

I think your article is brilliantly written in the most honest, clear and down to earth way. A humane and compelling format/conversation with “the other”. No demonization. No negating. Very intimate and political, touching and smart-a powerful personal/political organizing piece!

You locate poverty (the unspoken and criminally ignored white elephant in our country and in the world) structurally and not as a new phenomenon that we can just blame on one party – or the other – or on one leader or the other.  Poverty is institutionally located within a quagmire of ongoing unjust, inhumane policies that have and are destroying millions of lives, families, children, every day. And as you say, which must be thrown out and replaced-not reformed.

As a longtime political activist, I see the – up from the ground -National Independent Political Movement (IV.org) -working in concert with the many groups and individuals nationwide to build together to bring about this change!

Between your distribution networks and ours, I hope your piece reaches endless numbers of people hungry for a humane and sane direction to follow in this period.

Thank you Frank.

Kindest regards,

June

junehirsch solo

June Hirsh is an organizer with IndependentVoting.org. She lives in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

***

 Please Join the Politics for the People Conference Call

With Kathyrn Edin

We will be discussing:

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Sunday, December 3rd at 7 pm EST

Call In and Join the Conversation

641-715-3605 and passcode 767775#

 

  • Independent Lens

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 354 other followers

  • Featured Links

  • Categories

  • Facebook

  • Links