poverty, work, society

Bee's picture
Wed, 12/14/2011 - 08:14 -- Bee

"Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works." --Newt Gingrich

I was born and raised in poverty. Both of my parents worked full-time, over-time, and extra jobs from my earliest memory until the present. They have never accepted government aid or charity. They just work, and work some more.

My children were born and raised in poverty. When my daughter was three weeks old I started college classes and took on three part time jobs. I worked my way through graduate school, worked my way toward a professional career, worked without fail through illness and grief and loss. During the early years I was married to a soldier who never lived with us because he was working and, let me be clear, even with two working adults the family qualified by all economic indicators as poor.

I have struggled, strived, and schemed, working, always working to raise us out of desperation and destitution. I've done absolutely everything "right" - everything my Republican grandparents would have wished - but there was no way to permanently break the crushing cycle. Why? Because the legacy of poverty is extreme.

When I was twelve years old I was diagnosed with a form of cancer only found in people who have sustained massive radiation exposure, and a rare genetic disorder that has no known cause. I live with the consequences of that, in a daily sense, and you know what? It is hard. Not just because of the physical limitations, but because I need health insurance (hence jobs and husbands). In the United States, no matter how much money I earned, I would always be impoverished or on the precipice.

Without private, expensive insurance, I would not have access to the appropriate medical procedures required to maintain precarious health. But when I lived in the US I was literally uninsurable, except through a job or husband. If I was too sick to work, if I couldn't find or keep a husband with health insurance, if the husband got sick or died, the government would not step up. It wouldn't take much effort to kill me; in fact it could be accomplished through simple neglect. It takes a lot of effort to stay alive.

In the United States, the system is the problem. Not the solution.

I'm not alone in this thought or experience: enormous numbers of people are forced into bankruptcy because of the egregious and parasitic insurance industry. Others are trapped in jobs and relationships that restrict their aspirations, usefulness, and profitability, because they need the insurance. Health care reform hasn't happened in a fashion useful to me, and I very much doubt that it will in my lifetime. Not for lack of need, or care, but because the political will does not exist.

But instead of talking about the reality of poverty, and what it means to be poor, we get to hear presidential candidates shit talk our brothers and sisters, wives, husbands, children.

They say we're poor because we're lazy. I say I've never met a lazy poor person, though I have met quite a few rich people who lie and cheat and steal.

The esteemed Republican presidential candidate does not seem to grasp some basic concepts about life, work, or economics. Repealing child labor laws would certainly not have helped me as a child (my absenteeism being the result of cancer, not a bad attitude). My parents were already forced by necessity to take any job on offer, no matter how demeaning or low paid.

My dad is a janitor; Gingrich says we should fire janitors and make kids do the job. I would like to ask him what my father is meant to do? He is sixty-two years old, and has the best job he can find. If he loses it, there is no alternative career path.

When confronted with the intolerably punishing medical bills of their only child, my parents just took more jobs, worked harder. They deserve medals, parades, fireworks in their honour.

Instead, we get slandered. If we're already working as hard as we can, what is the next logical step? The workhouse? Jail?


Seven years ago I decided the only way to survive was to leave. When people ask me why I moved to England I say "I wanted to live in a society where everyone has equal access to free basic health care."