Thursday, September 27, 2012

Poverty's Face

How about this? Here’s a new rule - you can’t say anything about a group of people unless you can call to mind somebody in that group whom you know and after calling their face to mind you think that you would be able to say what you were about to say as you look directly into their eyes.

Have you ever been to the University Plaza Hotel in Springfield, Missouri? You might have been there for an event of some kind, or a dinner, or maybe a “conference” type of deal? If you haven’t, you likely know the kind of place it is - big fancy hotel, ornate lobby, a bunch of meeting rooms, big “ballroom” for banquets and stuff like that.

I know a guy who works there whom I will call “Chris” for this article. I know Chris really well. He is not my friend by any means. However I am well acquainted with him, since I have been intimately involved with his life for over two years now.

Chris works at University Plaza Hotel; he washes dishes. Do you have a general idea of how much a banquet facility like that charges per plate? If the hotel sells three meals, that takes care of paying Chris for his entire minimum wage shift, and then some. And they could almost cover it with two. Two plates - you and the person sitting next to you - Chris’s check for the entire day.

Chris rides his bike to work, because he and his girlfriend cannot afford to keep a car. He is strong, he works hard, he never misses a shift. He is almost always tired. I cannot begin to comprehend the stress he must be under.

They had been renting a house. The plywood of the front porch slopes away from the front door. Every doorway from one room to another in the house is crooked. The foundation is cracked and crumbling. The roof is a disaster. To my great shame I confess that I would never ever live in a house like this.

Actually they don’t live there anymore; they could not afford the rent, even on such a house. So there’s a motel in north Springfield that basically changed their name from “Motel” to “Apartments” without doing much of anything else that I can tell. Now Chris and his girlfriend live there, in what’s called a “studio apartment,” but is really just a motel room with a curtain hung across the middle to divide the space if desired.

So that’s Chris. He is not lazy. He does not have an inflated sense of “entitlement,” a word that politicians have rendered almost meaningless. What Chris wants is a standard of living that would allow him to get married and raise his son, to be healthy and just be able to live a decent life.

It is Chris’s face that comes to mind whenever I hear anybody say something about “the poor.” Admittedly I do not have as much experience working in impoverished communities as some do, but nevertheless I have a lot more than some. And I always think about Chris when somebody starts in on how “all they do is scam the system” and “you know they’re just looking for a handout” and “I don’t want something I earned to be given to someone else because they should have to earn it” and so forth.

Of course there absolutely are people who choose not to work and make a career of going from charity to charity getting aid. But in all honesty my experience has been they are an extremely small percentage - like in the single digits.

I always wonder about people who so blithely write off “the poor” as just lazy good-for-nothings, or as somehow inherently dangerous, or as moochers living ungratefully off the hard work of others. In particular I wonder how much time they have spent in impoverished communities. I wonder if they've ever been inside a house that they would never dream of living in. I wonder if they've spent any time getting to know the person they deliver that pretty food basket to, or do they just drive up, drop it off, and dash away.

I wonder if they have a “Chris” whose face they call to mind when they talk about the poor.

And I wonder if they would really have said what they just said if they did.


Roy Robinson said...

Extremely well said. Maybe this could be sent to the Republican leadership.

bridger said...

Good post. I am sure an example of someone "milking the system" could be found as well. I believe the point is to help those who need help. God says if someone asks for clothes, give him your jacket too. I'm not sure it is our place to decide whether someone is "worthy" of help or not.
I also believe it would be great to find someone like Chris who has not found a job at all and help them find work. Chris and people like him have the God-given desire to take care of his loved ones and to make his life productive. let's have less discussion about why and who we should help and have more helping going on. It's personal, not political. Thanks for the post.

ndrwcn said...


di2009 said...

I work with the poor population. They have the same desires for their children as the rest of the world. Most of them work and strive to better their lives. I too get angry when I hear all the low income refered to in such negative ways. I wonder if our nation has lost compassion.

bob said...

There are always examples of the hard working guy that are being held down or the scam artist. Personally I believe it has more to do with choices. I work with several guys who are constantly in money troubles. Now they make a good living but because they choose to drink too much or drive while drinking or any number of other poor decisions they struggle. Either way it doesn't matter The reason people talk about entitlements is because the policy of rights does more harm than good. What I mean by that is when you start saying someone has a right to this or a right to that the government ends up underwriting these rights. Thus people start claiming they are entitled. Many or the so called rights end up trapping people in a life of the lowest common denominator. Nobody even us evil Republicans wants anyone to suffer we just argue about the best way to advance society.

Andy, I don't know why you would feel shame to not ever want to live in a hovel. Actually that is what separates the people who rise out of poverty form those who don't. The desire to improve ones lot is a powerful motivator.

Curious Joe said...

A couple of questions are worth addressing:

Is Chris employed full or part-time?
Is Chris a full or part time student?
Is Chris capable of working a second job?
What is Chris' age?
What is Chris' past employment history?
What education, training, or skill sets does Chris possess to find employment above the level he is currently working?
What is Chris actively doing to achieve his goals?

Same questions for his girlfriend.

Respectfully submitted,