I took the pledge at http://www.ncjustice.org/?q=budget-and-tax/pledge-talk-about-poverty because too many people think people in poverty did something bad to get there.
The truth is that people in poverty are NOT lazy. In fact, many work two or three jobs and still don’t make enough to make ends meet. All many people can find is part-time work, and those jobs don’t come with benefits like sick days, vacation time or health insurance.
More people than ever are getting government assistance. Do you know why that is? It’s because we’ve seen a dramatic decline in workers’ rights, so wages have been going down for most people. So many good-paying jobs have been shipped overseas and replaced with low-paying service jobs that people who once donated to charity now depend on it to put food on the table.
Poverty rates have risen at a record pace, and the number of people living near the poverty level has shot up as well.
The poverty level for an individual is just over $11,000 a year. Try and live on that. You won’t be able to.
Even if you work full-time at minimum wage, you only earn $15,080 a year, based on a 40-hour work week. In nearly every city in America, you need twice that to live independently.
President Lyndon Johnson believed that if we really met the needs of just one generation, we could all but eliminate poverty. But his vision of the Great Society was derailed by the Vietnam War, and no one has had the political will since to even suggest that people in poverty deserve a hand up.
People in poverty often lose hope, and once someone has lost hope, they care a lot less about the rights of the wealthier people who seem to flaunt their good fortune.
Poverty causes crime. It breeds diseases that could be eliminated by proper nutrition (such as Type 2 diabetes).
People in poverty have shorter lifespans because of the stress they endure trying to provide for themselves and their families — not to mention their lack of access to health care.
People in poverty are not lazy; they are not mooches. Any one of us could land in the same place in a matter of months. Few Americans have enough savings to last longer than six months without an income.
Imagine if you got sick and it took a year to get approved for disability. This is not far-fetched; it took my son three years to get disability. You likely would lose your house if you’re lucky enough to own one. And even with disability, you income would be reduced drastically.
Imagine your job was shipped overseas and the only job you could find paid just half of what you used to make. How long could you survive at your current level?
How about if that new job didn’t have health benefits and you got sick? Would you be able to find a doctor who would bill you? If so, how long do you think that doctor would wait to be paid?
Meanwhile, how do you afford new clothes for your children as they outgrow the old ones?
Then what happens if your son falls down and breaks a tooth?
Now your auto insurance is due and you need that car to get to work, but you’re two months behind on your utility bill. Which do you pay?
You’ve already maxed out the credit cards in hopes you can pay it all back when a better job comes along.
Then the car breaks down and you fall another month behind on the mortgage.
Are you a lazy bum?
None of this scenario is far out. I know people these things have happened to. I have seen people foreclosed upon in similar circumstances.
I’m really tired of hearing we can’t afford to make people’s lives better. There is plenty to go around. Right now, the people in the top 2 percent are hoarding far more resources than they need to have. Their greed has become a pathology, and it needs to be addressed.
We need to make noise — a lot of noise — about poverty and our desire to eliminate it.
Please, go to http://www.ncjustice.org/?q=budget-and-tax/pledge-talk-about-poverty and sign the pledge. Then talk about poverty and the damage it is doing to human beings who deserve better.
Leslie Boyd, a former newspaper reporter, is president of the health care advocacy nonprofit, WNC Health Advocates, founded in memory of her son, who died in 2008 because he couldn't access health care. E-mail her at leslie at lettersfromtheleft dot com or follow her on Twitter @leftyletters1, visit Letters from the Left on Facebook. For more information about WNC Health Advocates or to read Boyd's health care blog, visit wncha.org.