Several years ago, I attended a children’s summit, a daylong meeting of advocates with the objective of coming up with some simple programs that would help families in poverty.
I was in a group with two women who lived in public housing, and two acvocates, both of whom had advanced degrees, one a PhD in education and the others a Master’s, in social work, as I recall.
One of the two women living in public housing said new mothers there, none of whom could afford nannies or doulas, often were overwhelmed. I mentioned a county I had read about a few years earlier that hired a couple of public health nurses to visit new parents and make sure they were coping, offering advice and comfort. Having them visit new parents twice in the first weeks cut emergency room visits by more than half. And the benefits kept escalating. A business that was thinking of relocating, expanded instead because the owners loved the program. The increased taxes that business paid helped fund the expansion of the program. That attraced another employer and another, and soon, more programs for families were added. It was an unqualified success.
The other public housing resident said a single visit from a nurse would have helped her have confidence in her ability as a mom and likely would have helped her to continue to breast feed her baby.
The two women with advanced degrees put a lid on our enthusiasm immediately. This would require a study, they said. I told them I could find them studies that had been done already, and maybe we could get a postpartum doula into public housing. The two advanced degrees rejected that and wrote up our team’s report without any input from the women who knew from experience what they were talking about, and a decade later, there’s still no doula in public housing.
These experienced women came to us with a fabulous idea. I had the research to back it up. But the advanced degrees decided none of us knew what we were talking about,
“Studying” a problem in this way can be the perfect method to not deal with it. We’ll listen to the ideas of people experiencing the problem, people who know what would help, and then study it to death.
Right now, nearly half of Americans live in, or are one small disaster away from, poverty. The minimum wage is about one-third of a living wage, and it hasn’t been increased in 12 years. Rents are unaffordable, and corporate interests are buying up all the available housing stock. We have enough empty housing to offer every unhoused person a decent place to live. But we feed the corporate maw instead of hungry humans.
Right now, climate change is destabilizing the poles, and our entire ecosystem is facing collapse, but we continue to study the problem, allowing the fossil fuel barons to destroy the planet and condemn humanity to extinction.
Right now, we allow tens of thousands of people to die every year from lack of access to health care, and we blame the victims for not having jobs that offer “insurance” plans that pay outrageous profits to Big Insurance and deny the needs of patients. These policies aren’t offered to part-time employees, and millions of employees are only offered part-time work so they won’t qualify for these shitty plans.
We won’t cancel student debt for hardworking Americans, but we will cut taxes for billionaires.
We have phone apps that teach children how to fall into debt, and then we refuse to offer help when starvation wages and predatory lending put people into a hole so deep they’ll never be able to dig out, and then we blame the victims for not being able to manage their money.
We need to tell the truth about poverty:
Poverty is not a moral failing, it is a public policy choice, and it kills some 250,000 people every year.
People can’t save their way out of poverty. In case you haven’t figured it out, you can’t put away any money when all you have still isn’t enough to pay for rent and groceries.
People who have no home are not “housed” by a 4′ X 10′ wooden box without electricty or plumbing. They deserve a home — a place with a kitchen and a bathroom and a space to relax. We should stop commending places that offer these coffin-sized boxes to get unhoused people out of the cold.
Everyone deserves nutritious food. Stop thinking that box of off-brand macaroni and cheese you dumped into the donation box at the grocery store as anything less than a hearty screw-you to a poor person.
If you have enough so that you can drop off your child at school in the morning and then pick them up at 2:30 without losing an hour’s pay, you’re probably more privileged than you realize.
If you can take a sick day and still pay your rent, you’re probably more privileged than you realize.
If your car needs new brakes and you can pay for it, you probably have more privilege than you realize.
If the power goes out and it’s not because you didn’t pay your bill, you are privileged.
And if you have this level of privilege and you’re not screaming that we need to take action so that others have enough, you’re part of the problem.
There is enough. Everyone deserves to live with dignity.
Do something about it. Vote. Advocate. Agitate.