Friday, January 11, 2013

Poverty Isn't About Getting Your Nails Done on the Taxpayer's Dime

Photo by JD Hancock via Wikimedia
I know it could be worse. Millions of people across the planet are starving, dying, and living in misery. I have a roof over my head, water and electricity. I'm not writing this to garner sympathy. I am writing this because every time a friend or family member makes a remark denigrating the "takers" in society, I feel humiliation. And anger. Lots of it. I am writing this to vent.

A little background on me. I was raised on a farm in ND. I was a marine. I helped build a successful landscaping business with my now ex-husband. Eight years ago, divorced but not financially struggling, I made some bad choices in my life, and I ended up with a young son to raise by myself. I went to college, earned an A.D. in radiography, and certificates in C.T. and M.R.I. I worked during college until it was no longer economically feasible to continue. I would not have survived without food stamps.

Media stereotypes

Some of the media has been very good at perpetrating class warfare with not-so-subtle stereotypes. Who hasn't heard the story of the welfare queen and her Cadillac? The stories of people buying food with food-stamps, while talking on their fancy phones, and then getting in their brand new SUV? Yes, there are people who scam the system, but they are the exception, not the rule. Though the number of people receiving food stamps has risen over the last few years, the number of Americans receiving cash benefits has fallen over the past 15 years, from 12.6 million in 1996, to 4.6 million in 2011. Most people who receive help from SNAP, (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) are either the elderly, disabled or working poor and their children. 80% of households receiving SNAP had some form of income. Only 8% of families receiving assistance with food also received cash benefits.

The poor pay no taxes?

A lot has been made of the 47% who pay no federal income tax. That number includes the elderly and disabled, the working poor, students, some members of the military and disabled veterans.They DO pay sales tax, payroll tax, gas tax, taxes on electricity and phone service, vehicle tax, license tax, etc. The list goes on and on. The poor pay a greater percentage of their income on taxes, the wealthy the least.

What is poverty really like?

Poverty is NOT going to the beauty salon before you head to the welfare office. Poverty is keeping your hair in a pony tail because you can't afford a haircut. Poverty isn't driving your luxury vehicle to pick up your SNAP card. It is praying that your car keeps running until you get your tax refund. It is the sinking feeling when you see a note on your front door -is it the water or electricity that has been cut off? It is telling your son you're "camping" when you cook hot dogs over candles and bring out all the blankets to keep warm. Poverty is the despair you feel when there are no presents under the Christmas tree that you cut from the woods. Poverty is the shame of having to ask for help.

Poverty is trying to keep alive that little ray of hope that someday, somehow, somewhere, things will be better.

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