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One Size Does Not Fit All

In Recent Headlines on April 13, 2010 at 12:08 pm

A few interesting things have been happening on the way to my convictions. I have discovered that I don’t fit in with a straight party line.  I’m not even sure there is much of a party/celebration/festival. Currently, the outlook is somewhat grim, though I wrestle my rose-colored glasses on daily.

Supposing Internet quizzes are accurate, I took a quiz this morning that determined my political leanings. I’ve been labeled repeatedly and embraced the rhetoric that I am a “liberal”, sometimes qualified by “loony”. Imagine my shock to learn that I am a centrist. Yes, my plot mark is slightly to the left, but I am a solid, middle of the road centrist.

Political Centrist

If this chart doesn’t prove it, I don’t know what else does! (font = snarky)

The point of sharing this chart is quite simple, I have been told that I’m a “loony liberal” so often that it must be true. It reminds me of when I was pregnant the first time and everyone said “you’re carrying like you’re having a boy”. When the doctor told me she was a girl, I said, “Really?”

You see, I think a lot of us get caught in the label game of stereotypes and assumptions about each other. Because I believe in sharing my blessings, caring for the poor, protecting the least among us, I have been marginalized. The fact that I worry how to pay for it and wonder what can be given up instead so we can take care of each other is rendered irrelevant.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a reader who wanted to know what I thought about Star Parker’s book, Uncle Sam’s Plantation.  Ms. Parker contends that government assistance to poor families is akin to keeping them enslaved. She is a former welfare recipient. This week, she announced she is running for Congress.

Honestly, I find her categorization of poor people completely reprehensible. It is easy to stereotype. The fact that she was once a welfare recipient who now is a writer for the Republican party isn’t a likely career path for most inner city poor. It’s quite easy to be smug and attempt to incite indignation when you’re getting paid to do so. How many other poor folks have been yanked by their bootstraps out of poverty as Ms. Parker has? Frankly, I find her assumptions quite patronizing.

Who wouldn’t be angry about a bon-bon eating, non-working, baby-making, unambitious person on welfare? Except that isn’t what the numbers say. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of assuming someone receiving public assistance is lazy and unambitious, instead of really looking at the reasons. Almost as easy as labeling me a “loony liberal”.  We’ve been told repeatedly that is what people on welfare do (or more accurately don’t do), so often in fact it begins to sound true.

In actuality, working poor is more the reality. The points in Ms. Parker’s book are (to borrow from a review of her book), 

…a list of Republican talking points from a Sunday morning news show, NOT a manifesto for helping the poor and people of color in America today. The benefit of these steps would be to give more money and power to those who already have it, and make those without money and power the scapegoats for the system.

In an interview with urban studies researcher and author Katherine S. Newman,

Newman shows how the “family values,” so frequently invoked in suburban America are also fervently cherished by the working poor, who endure the trials and tribulations of hard, unremunerative work precisely to preserve their families. It’s become a commonplace to imagine the inner city as composed of multi-generational families sunk in dependency, fissioning into criminal fathers, dissolute mothers, delinquent teenagers, and abandoned children.

Sorting the facts from the emotion laden bullet points is no easy task. But a perusal of the numbers, not editorial pieces intended to tug heart-strings, ought to sober every critic of people who are forced to rely on some level of public assistance.

An unemotional breakdown of the numbers reminds us of exactly where our dollars are going.

11%

It’s interesting to me that only 11% is allocated to Safety Net programs…

…programs that provide aid (other than health insurance or Social Security benefits) to individuals and families facing hardship [including]… the refundable portion of the earned-income and child tax credits, which assist low- and moderate-income working families through the tax code; programs that provide cash payments to eligible individuals or households, including Supplemental Security Income for the elderly or disabled poor and unemployment insurance; various forms of in-kind assistance for low-income families and individuals, including food stamps, school meals, low-income housing assistance, child-care assistance, and assistance in meeting home energy bills; and various other programs such as those that aid abused and neglected children.  A Center analysis shows that such programs lifted approximately 15 million Americans out of poverty in 2005 and reduced the depth of poverty for another 29 million people. [bold mine]

That doesn’t sound like slavery to me, Ms. Parker. It sounds more like helping our brothers and sisters.

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  1. Amen! I have no idea how the stereotype of the “lazy” poor person came about (probably the same way racist stereotypes have–by people with severe cognitive distortions who are unable to think rationally), but it is purely maddening, particularly for those of us who actually work in the social service industry. Ah, armchair quarterbacks. So fun.

    It’s pretty common for people to want to disassociate themselves from aspects of their person they find shameful. It would seem that Ms. Parker is attempting to do so here. Poor families are made to feel as if they are less than human. No wonder Ms. Parker wants to distance herself from such an identity.

    However, there is validity to the claim that many social services create dependency. It’s not because people are lazy or choose not to work–it’s because the system, frequently, punishes responsible behavior. If you squeeze your pennies and build a savings like we are all supposed to do, you can have benefits reduced or eliminated. The justification is that if you have money, you should use it, which doesn’t allow for the poor person to ever get ahead. There are some programs that will cut aid to families if a father is present, regardless of if he is working, thus punishing families for remaining intact in the face of poverty.

    All of the above is the fault of the program and an uneducated public that doesn’t demand more for its citizens. But with rampant negative stereotypes about poor, it isn’t likely to change soon.

    Also, those who complain about safety net programs make me wonder–why are you a part of this Union? Why does your individual liberty trump the whole? If you want anarchy, fine (although many anarchist movements take better care of their communities than any formal government does), but if you want to be a part of this Union known as the United States of America, could you please take a moment or two to consider the totality of this nation and not your own selfish desires?

  2. Thank you for adding such value to this discussion. There is so much to say about this topic. Right now, I’m urging my readers to make a call to Congress this week.

    Please call your senators and representative at 1-800-326-4941 by 5 p.m., Friday, April 16, and urge them to protect and strengthen key tax credits — the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit. These tax credits make a big difference for low-income workers and their families.

    http://www.offeringofletters.org/2010/act/call-congress?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialmedia&utm_campaign=tax-day-initiative

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