A picture of you standing in front of your dirty car doesn’t mean that your car has always been and always will be dirty – or that it’s dirty because of some personal failure of yours. Nor does it mean you’re the only person around whose vehicle may become less than sparkling. But that is the impression many have of people living in poverty in the U.S.Certainly a snapshot, a single moment in time, doesn't explain much. But in reality few sane people base their opinions on a single freeze frame of an event. Rather they look for patterns and signifiers of behavior. Lets look at the "dirty car" in a more realistic way: You are standing by your car. It is dirty. You are dressed in expensive clothes, expensive shoes and a fresh cut. It could very well mean you that you value your clothes and personal appearance more than you do the state of your car. Say that you have been observed with the expensive clothes frequently but the car tends to stay unwashed. That would certainly indicate that you have a low regard for your vehicle. Say that over the space of 4 weekends, you are observed hanging out, shopping and doing other social things and your vehicle stays dirty. It would be reasonable to assume that you do not value the looks of your vehicle since one had a month to clean it and did not. Say that in addition to having a dirty car, the place where you live has an uncut lawn, needs painting and has litter about. It would be reasonable for the observer to think that you simply do not care about appearances. While poverty can strike anyone (the number one cause of poverty being an unexpected large medical bill) there is ample evidence that some (many) people who are poor are poor due to their own behavior and thinking. To shame people for observing such a thing simply is not fair, nor does it help those who are in poverty due to their own behavior. You buy a house you cannot afford? Why should you be bailed out? You bought a car you cannot afford the payments on? Well that was your fault, not the dealer who happily took your money. The dealer didn't put a gun to your head and demand access to your bank account and signature. You're broke but have a shoe habit? Excuse me while I don't give a damn. You're broke and buying pre-cooked meals? Oh, OK. Oh you like to get your party on every weekend? Do you. You're broke but have a lace front? Weave? Oh. Ok. Excuse me while I keep moving along. Oh you have a child you can barely afford and are having some more? By a new man? No wedding? Oh, excuse me while I put my sympathy back in my pocket. Oh you're unemployed and sitting at home watching TV? Oh ok. So that. These are a few examples of behaviors that will get you broke (or more broke) quickly. It isn't mean to point these behaviors out. Some people are broke/poor due to circumstances beyond their control. Some not so much.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Emily Cleath on poverty: