Saturday, April 21, 2012

Trickle Up Poverty: Part One

During this election season in which we find ourselves, much has been made about unemployment rates, taxes, increased reliance on government assistance, and the growing disparity of wealth.  Occupy Wall Street & the "99%" have become part of our language. One recent Wall Street Journal article cited a 70% increase in Food Stamp utilization since 2007.  Funding for crucial programs continue to face unprecedented challenges. Almost 13 million Americans are out of work. News headlines have predicted $5-6 per gallon of gasoline in the near future.

Truly, we are living in very challenging economic times. The scarcity of resources seems to be constantly on the minds of almost everyone these days. The sad fact is good paying jobs are increasing hard to find. Even for those with college degrees. Our national economy is in serious peril, and the American people have not had to face these sorts of stark and dismal realities since the Great Depression.

I happen to live in a community that had been largely known for its manufacturing-based jobs. These were considered "good-paying" jobs from which people at one time could expect to retire after working a few decades. However, the majority of these factories have long since closed their doors. Many moved across the border or to China, while others could no longer compete with the industrial giants who have the advantage of cheap, foreign labor. I was also born & raised in this same community: Marion, Indiana. Growing up here, as I did, was probably not the typical experience. My parent's generation lived during a time in which one could find a decent-paying relatively quickly if they lost a job. There was the strong notion that if one worked hard to pursue the American Dream, there was little question that it was attainable.

However, I experienced poverty first hand during my childhood. There was barely money for the barest necessities, and even those were sometimes non-existent. Growing up poor is neither fun nor for the faint of heart. You quickly learn the distinctions between yourself and those with means, and it's often pointed out in rather cruel and disheartening ways. Especially between kids. However, at this point in my life I can truly say I would not change my childhood experiences. In retrospect, although it was not an easy nor always a positive experience, there were a few important and irreplaceable lessons I learned along the way. I hope, if anything, it has given me a deeper personal perspective and a sense of empathy for those less fortunate and who have missed out on "life's lottery."

I learned the value of a hard-earned dollar, and how to stretch those dollars well beyond what was believed possible. But beyond the monetary issue itself, a far more significant and poignant lesson of poverty left an indelible impression on my life. There really are things far more important than money. And these things led to an understanding of character and integrity. I hope and trust these never escape my attention.

Say the word "poverty" to a group of people and there will be quite a difference in opinion about what it means. Comparatively speaking, what is defined as poor in third-world countries is much different than what most Americans could ever conceive. On the other hand, many Americans find it hard to acknowledge there are people in their own communities who go to bed hungry or are without a home. Furthermore, there is a sizable disagreement as to who falls into the categories of "haves" versus "have-nots."

When people discuss the issue of poverty, arguments can quickly explode about irresponsible behavior, disregard for education, poor work ethics, big corporations and the exploitation of the working poor, self-efficacy, exploding government entitlements & welfare rolls, the apathy of the affluent, greed, self-discipline, unfair tax burdens, government waste/mismanagement, inherited wealth, Capitalism versus Socialism, and so forth.

This post is the first in a series I have decided to write on the topic of poverty. I think serious and robust discussions should take place about the key issues surrounding poverty. Just as importantly, we should understand that poverty is more than just a financial subject. It is much more pervasive. It is often generational. It is also a way of thinking. My goal is not to incite unwinnable debates. However, if we desire to reduce poverty and lessen its impact in our communities and on our world, we have to look at it in differently. Businesses/employers, managers, government leaders, law enforcement, educators, human service organizations, and tax-payers (among many others) should understand we all have a vested interest in improving the lot of those who live in the margins of society.


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About Me

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I work for a Community-Based, Not-for-Profit agency. I have worked in the disability field for over twenty-five years. I am the father of two boys, and have been married to my teenage sweet-heart for 23 years. I live and work in the same town where I was born & raised.
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