I've been known to joke that we're currently going through our "Character Building Poor Phase" while I work on finishing my education, but the truth is, poverty is no laughing matter. Our 'poor phase' means that Daddy and I live paycheck to paycheck. True poverty means no paycheck. Our 'poor phase' means the roof over our heads covers a small home in need of some minor repairs. True poverty often means no roof at all. In our 'poor phase', "nothing to eat" means the cupboards are only half full and that we don't really feel like eating what's in them. In true poverty, nothing to eat means empty bellies. Our 'poor phase' means we need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. True poverty means no boots.
I've been called a socialist and a bleeding-heart liberal. Why? Because I firmly believe that in a world in which there is a market for diamond encrusted bras and gold-plated toilet seats, there should not be people dying in the streets from starvation. Now I know that many of the people buying those bras and toilet seats worked hard for the money to be able to afford such frivolous luxuries, but I also know that the majority of them were born into a world of affluence in which abundant opportunities were made available to them and doorways to success were opened for them left and right. It follows that most people currently living in poverty were born into a world of despair with few opportunities and in which doors slammed shut as soon as they neared them.
When people talk about poverty, the discussion often and all too quickly turns to blame. Rather than working toward resolving the problem (which, yes, might mean that the richest 1% should loosen their grasp on some of the money that they couldn't possibly need to survive their lifetime anyway) we blame people. While I won't turn this into a feminist rant (although I easily could) we most often blame women. They should get off their lazy butts and get a job. (Who's going to care for their children, provide them with work-appropriate clothes, or drive them to work?). They should get on birth control and stop having babies they can't afford to support. (What about the men impregnating them?) They should get an education. (See: They should get a job.)
In an ideal world, everyone would have ample opportunity to acquire sufficient education to enable them to work to make enough money to support themselves and their families. In an ideal world, 'minimum wage' would be sufficient to live on. In an ideal world, every child would be born into a situation in which his or her most basic needs can be met. This is not an ideal world.
I don't profess to have the answers. It is a complicated and deeply entrenched problem. There are no simple answers. "Get a job, close your legs, and learn you something" are not answers. The welfare system, while run with mostly good intent, is also not the answer. It's a band-aid on a broken leg. Requiring drug-tests in order to receive public assistance is not the answer, and only serves to thrust even more children into poverty and starvation because their parents can't get help.
It's easy to play the blame game while sitting atop a pedestal in our nice warm homes with our nice full bellies while we pat ourselves on the back for working hard to get where we are in life. It solves nothing. Who suffers the most? Children. Born into a situation over which they have no control. Hungry. Cold. Doomed to repeat the cycle.
In a country where "no child left behind" means teaching to tests so as to keep funding available, children who can't get to school are left behind every day. Children who don't have enough to eat don't have energy to focus on their studies; they can barely hear their teachers over their growling bellies. Let's pretend the reason they're in those situations is because their parents didn't work hard enough. Should they be made to suffer and pass a legacy of poverty on to their own children?
I think not.
Some children are born into privilege, while others are born into poverty, and neither group is responsible for their situation. Instead of wasting time blaming their parents, we need to focus on how to provide innocent children living in poverty with opportunities to overcome the hand they've been dealt. We need to stop carrying on about bootstraps and figure out how to get everyone boots in the first place. Not just as a country, but as a global community, we need to get back to our roots and embrace the notion that it takes a village to raise a child.
Dear daughter, you will be brought up with full knowledge of the economic struggles your father and I have faced, and encouraged to appreciate them rather than feel ashamed. One day, we'll show you the tiny house you were born into, and we'll reminisce about how blessed we were to have a house at all. We'll remember how money was tight while I was going to school, and we'll give thanks that there were resources available to allow me to do so (and yes, those resources do include certain forms of public assistance).
We will give back to our community as our community has given to us, and we will help to provide for those who have less than we do. You'll grow up seeing photos of the children we sponsor in other countries, children whose families survive on fewer dollars per month than I make in an hour, and I hope that you'll agree that more must be done to make sure no one in this world goes hungry or homeless.
It's easy to get caught up in feeling sorry for ourselves over the things we don't have. It's harder, at times, to think about those who don't have even half of what we do, and who may never get the opportunity to achieve it. There certainly is a lot of hard work to be done, and not all of it by those struggling to survive in poverty, but by all of us.
--This post was written as part of the One Wee Voice Child Poverty Campaign.