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The Poverty Police: Who Determines What 'Poor' Should Look Like?

Judging whether a person deserves help and their level of need based on their possessions is faulty and misguided.

So I have been seeing a photo of an old blurb from some unknown publication circulating around Facebook recently. The paragraph-long story reports on a woman’s stolen purse. The basics: The purse was valued at $400, her wallet was valued at $200 and she said there was $800 in cash in the purse. There were also food stamps cards amongst her belongings.

I am sure you can imagine the onslaught of angered, fist pounding protests. “How dare she walk around with such an expensive bag when she is living off the tax payers?” Yes, the poverty police have been out in full force on the comments sections of some Facebook pages.

I tried looking for the original article and can only seem to find mentions of it on right-wing blogs and message boards. I have no idea the validity of this story, the legitimacy of the original publication or what information may have been left out of the clearly well-researched story and its few sentences.

Regardless, we all know the tales of moochers taking advantage of the system and the fraud within these social programs. It’s there. It does exist. And there needs to be strict consequence and enforcement when it comes to the oversight of entitlements. I talked about that in a previous piece I wrote on Wisconsin’s FoodShare Program.

Some people speak as though liberals, progressives and other supporters of these programs accept and even embrace the fraud and manipulation of our system. I would dare to say that we may just hate it more than the other guys. There is nothing worse than when a few bad apples spoil it for those who are deserving, qualified and grateful. We cringe when we hear these stories and we want the system to work better so that there is a truly efficient way to help the people who need it most. The last thing we want to worry about is the baby being thrown out with the bath water simply because a few naughty babies pooped in the tub.

With all that being said, people need to stop thinking they can assess the nuances of an individual’s life by examining only their possessions. People need to understand that it is not our place to determine the proper etiquette for being poor. And people need to acknowledge that we have in this country a section of society considered the “new poor.”

There are thousands of people in this country whom merely a couple years ago were living large and enjoying the luxuries life in America has to offer. People with nice cars, big homes and handfuls of gadgets have suddenly been sucked out of their comfort zone to sit on the poverty line.

From 2007 to 2010, food stamp and welfare recipients who have PhD's have tripled. The same can be said for those with Master’s Degrees. People who were retired and living off their pensions and investments find themselves homeless. And across the country, 55% of the people considered to be poverty level live in the suburbs.

Poor doesn’t really look the same today as it once did. And when a person loses their job, has an investment that tanks or declares bankruptcy due to an illness – there isn’t a required protocol mandating they start wearing tattered clothing and sell all of their belongings.

Mitt Romney and his buds think that nearly half the population in need of some sort of entitlement is a result of them being irresponsible and lazy. Not only is this offensive but it is amazingly ignorant and out of line. These people can easily be your sister, mother or grandfather who has fallen on hard times just like a huge portion of our population. The reason more people are using food stamps is a simple - because more people need them.

Whether or not a woman has a $400 handbag is irrelevant. Personally, I gag every time I hear one of my friends talk about spending this kind of money on any one item. I won’t spend more than twenty bucks on a purse – ever. But if those friends were to lose their jobs and needed some help getting back on their feet, I would not think they are less deserving because they have some Gucci (is that even an admired brand anymore, I wouldn’t know) in their closet.

Do I ever have $800 in my purse? Hold on while I catch my breath from laughing. Hell, I am lucky if I have that much in my checking account. But how do we know that she wasn’t on her way to pay the rent. How do we know she didn’t just get back from selling a couple other purses to help pay the heat? How do we know her family didn’t just loan her some cash to help her out? Fact is, we don’t. And we should never presume to know the specifics of someone’s life obstacles or financial situation based on how they look on the outside.

It’s funny – the right is always saying how rich people are so persecuted because they have nice things. They say we begrudge them their deserved riches out of jealousy and our own lack of ambition. Romney should be able to have 12 cars and seven homes without the shame of simply being rich. It is no business of ours how someone spends their money, right?? Isn’t that what I always hear?? Well guess what, that same restraint of judgment should hold true regardless of class.  

Blair Nielsen October 08, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Mitt Romney and his buds think that nearly half the population in need of some sort of entitlement is a result of them being irresponsible and lazy. HRG. If you are referring to his 47% comment let me help you understand what he ment. These people donated big money to be there and he was telling them he won't waste their money trying to get their (47%) vote. You see he is running on lowering taxes and they (47%) don't pay payroll taxes. He said nothing of them being lazy or takers. I think he apologized for using the word "victim" but at the time he wasn't using a telepromter, he was being secretly recorded. I hope this helped you understand. Mr. Obama is destroying this country you can't see that? I'm just glad my WWII veteran father isn't here to see it. This isn't the America so many of his friends died for. Romney/Ryan 2012
Greg October 08, 2012 at 05:51 PM
I don't care how "someone spends their money", as long as they earned the money. Cheating has become a way of life in this country and entitlements have gone way past being a safety net. If you are taking government money, I can and will judge you how ever I want. If you don't like it, good, get off of the system. I do understand that there are people that do not have the capacity to be self supporting, but this seems to be more the exception than the rule. Those that take because they feel entitled are the ones that do the most disservice to those truly in need. Liberal finger pointing is always easier than seeking the truth.
Avenging Angel October 08, 2012 at 07:49 PM
I think one of the best observations was the "invisible" depression. In the 1930's, we saw people living in tents, standing on long soup lines, wearing tattered clothing. We knew we had a depression and held politicians accountable. Now, the failed administration has swept their failure under the rug through the use of welfare, housing and food stamps. The depression is invisible, so the abject failures in Washington claim success.
Heather in Caledonia October 09, 2012 at 09:26 PM
Heather, no, it's none of my business how someone spends THEIR money. It's my business how they spend MY money. I have some friends on various types of assistance - a couple of them have degrees. It sure is difficult to get by sometimes - don't I know it. What we should be looking for, though, is that this does not become a way of life for able-bodied and able-minded people. There is no stigma on receiving assistance, so some people are less likely to assert themselves to find another job or "lower themselves" to working a job they believe is "beneath" them. I'm all for these programs being available for those who need a few months to get back on their feet after a serious setback. Also, for those who are too physically and mentally disabled to support themselves fully. I am NOT in favor of people spending years on this system just because they can. Sell the handbags, ditch the house, find a job. I've been so lucky to have family to help us (non-financially) in hard times, but we have made serious cuts in our lifestyle to accommodate the income we are making. Life is not all about money and possessions - you don't need a $300,000 house and Gucci bags to be happy. When the folks in the ghetto have better cars, TV's and cell phones than I have, it sure makes me wonder... :)

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