Thoughts on poverty and homelessness in the U.S.A.

Posts tagged ‘myths about poverty’

Lazy, Poor People choosing not to work

This is a response I wrote to David Sirota’s blog, posted on the site InTheseTimes.com

Yep, they’re a lot like homeless people “choosing” to be homeless…

The Lazy-Jobless Myth is a blame-the-victim mindset that enables us to think we’re better than other people and also releases us from any responsibility we might have to help someone else.  After all, it’s the victim’s own fault, he/she made that “choice,” so it would actually be better if I didn’t intervene…

It’s a lot like the woman who is pretty and open with her sexuality who is blamed for being raped–the implication is that women don’t have the right to be sexually assertive, that if a woman is sexual or sexy, a man has a right to attack her. Yet no one blames a man who is suicidal for being murdered, i.e., “He asked for it. He said he wanted to die, so of course someone killed him.”  The notion is ridiculous because we’ve decided that murder is wrong, but also because we have empathy for the victim–as long as the victim is a man or a person with money.

Similarly, blaming the unemployed results from two ideas.  One is that we are better because we have more money than you.  (Just like saying, we are better because we go to the bathroom differently.)  We congratulate ourselves for having worked so hard and earned our success and make ourselves feel even better by comparing ourselves with others who we’ve decide are obviously inferior.  We have empathy for the billionaire who complains he/she (not so many female billionaires, but I’ll be politically correct anyhow) has to pay taxes.  We’re sorry for the corporation that fails, or is required to pay a fine.  We’re worried that wealthy heirs will have to pay taxes on their inheritance.  Perhaps that second villa in Italy won’t have a new tennis court built behind it after all.  And we’re concerned about this, about the monies wealthy people will lose if they pay higher taxes, but we stress and we strain at the thought of a single mom living in a poor, inner city neighborhood perhaps getting an extra $50 in welfare benefits.  The billions of dollars per year we lose by not taxing the rich and by allowing corporations to outsource labor to third world countries doesn’t concern us because just as we think a man can be open about his sexuality we think the rich hoard all the money.  Essentially, we think the rich are superior, and, therefore, should have more freedom.

But also, as with the woman who’s not allowed to be sexual (while men are allowed sexuality), the concept suggests that poor people should not be allowed to choose what type of work they do. Maybe some who are unemployed are reluctant to take on certain jobs because the salary is too low, because they are in need of benefits not provided by the job or because they know they won’t fit into that work environment or that they simply aren’t suited to that type of work.  I’ve certainly turned down jobs because I knew I’d fail, that the work wasn’t right for me and I didn’t want to set myself up for failure or to work at a job that would result in damage to my self-esteem.

Rush Limbaugh, who earns nearly 60 million per year, will never have to work at a fast food restaurant with a micromanaging supervisor standing over his shoulder criticizing his every move and with customers sneering at him and making rude remarks, nor will he find himself coming home after a long day of being told he was stupid, can’t do anything right by customers, managers or coworkers only to view a tiny paycheck that won’t pay the rent.

The fact remains that most of us do not want to work under demoralizing, dangerous or self-damaging conditions, but we’ve allowed big business to be deregulated so that security precautions are not always followed and so that employers can overwork and underpay their employees.  Large corporations are even taking life insurance policies out on their employees (They call it “peasant insurance.”  Yes, that’s right, I said “peasant.”)  So many companies actually benefit from their employees’ deaths.  If that’s not an incentive to work your employees to death and not provide them with health care benefits, then what is?

Most of us do not want to work under poor conditions (just as most men do not want to be prevented from expressing their own sexuality) but we will condemn others to do so when we’ve defined those others as inferior to us.

Ah, but this blog is, once again, all for naught.  Is there anybody out there?  Does anyone care?

I think the answer lies in what we’re seeing happen to this country.

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