Thursday, July 26, 2012

This box sure is soapy...

I'm adding a new blog to my list of people to keep up with, Health on the Run, mainly bc when I stumbled onto it, the first thing I read was her opinion piece about #surviveon35 and I really appreciated it.  Living in a place that is somehow simultaneously still the wild wild west and also an intensely red state (in more than just temperature), I get really frustrated with the politics I'm surrounded by.  Without tipping my hand too too much, I will just say that I...don't agree with a lot of what happens around here.  And apart from the insane decisions of our unqualified governor, one of the things that bothers me the most is the homogeneity of the political discussions, especially around finance.
Ok, it makes me laugh that when I google "arizona governor crazy", 
the second result is her own home page!
Way way too many times I've heard people here saying things like "I started out with nothing, and look where I am now!", and "if I can do it, so can they!"  Uh, no, 'they' can't.  Want proof?  People are still homeless.  I can't tell you how much it bothers me that people somehow frame poverty as a problem of motivation; I certainly don't want to fall into the very trap I'm complaining about and speak for people living below the poverty line, but if I was living in a shitty neighborhood worrying all the time about the safety of my kids and how I'm going to make ends meet on $1500/mo and whether I'd be fired from my $7/hr job if the bus dropped me off late again...I'd be pretty damn *motivated* to do something better.  I have a really hard time seeing how motivation would be the main bottleneck there. 
     I really think a simple look at the numbers, or (god forbid!) a quick conversation with someone in this situation could disabuse us of our pie-in-the-sky bootstrap ideas.  Of course we look at people like Oprah or whoever the celebrity hero du jour is and say, yes but obviously people *do*, but the whole point is *that is the exception*.  That's why it's notable.  That's why we tell those stories over and over and why they inspire us, because we know innately it's not the norm, not an easy thing to do.  Looking at that number again, the federal guideline for "poverty level" for 3 people (say that's a single mom and two kids, just to put a face on it) is currently $18,530/year.  $1500/mo, it doesn't sound outrageously bad at first...until you realize it takes 51 hours per week at a $7/hr job just to make that paltry amount, and you're bringing home just $375/wk for all that labor.  Child care? Transportation? Health care? And, by the way, make sure you're socking away some savings, because you want to get out of there, don't you, and on to something better-?  How can you expect things to get better if you don't plan for the future?! 

So I really agree with Lauren's analysis (link above)- it's really not enough, and I think possibly even counter-productive, to bring awareness to poverty, nutrition, and the politics of funding them by having a few people step slightly out of their comfort zones for one week.  I mean, you can do anything for a week.  I've done crash diets that lasted longer than that.  Who will come up with the best ideas, who will make the tastiest meals?  What will their experience be-?  To me the real question is: how does this exercise shed light on whether we reasonably think $35/day is enough, do we need to provide more to those in need whom those programs are designed to serve, and what other help or services do we need to add on so that money will go as far as it can?

I know I am on a (maybe not even a clear) soapbox here, and it might be interrupting your day.  I'm sorry.  I just think, as one of the huge contingent of white, upper-middle-class, overeducated native-english-speaking Arizonans, it's a responsibility to recognize the gigantic, wild advantage I have over everyone who lacks even one of these characteristics.  White?  More likely to be hired, less likely to be incarcerated, you'll get into university more easily even if your record is the same as someone of another race. (Affirmative Action? Exactly.)  Middle class or upper-middle?  Chances are your parents were too, or had some opportunities that brought them there before you were born- either way, you're more likely to have had some access to them (ie they were emotionally available and/or home from work sometimes), a decent education in a school where you weren't afraid for your life, possibly had someone make meals for you out of real food occasionally, if not daily- you probably also had some kind of education about health and nutrition in school, as well as the ability to pay attention to it due to having had enough to eat every day you turned up on some form of regular transportation.  Chances are your parents didn't have debilitating mental illness, or if they did had access to some kind of care that allowed them to continue functioning in the middle-class working spectrum, thus enabling you too to stay there.  Educated?  We spend so much time goofing around and partying in college that we forget just how much that degree is worth; just the bare fact that you were able to spend however many years delaying your entry into the workforce is a huge clue that you're in a "luxury" category, in the grand scheme of things.  Even if you were able to work your way through college, don't discount the incredible advantages you must have had in order to make that work- maybe your job(s) paid more than $7/hr, maybe you were able to qualify for loans, maybe your previous education was good enough and consistent enough that you were even able to read well enough to get into school...And a native english speaker?  Srsly.  I marvel every day that people are out there, struggling over bigger hurdles than I have, *in some other language*.  What?!  I mean, plunk me down in France, even, with a subsistence budget and no other resources- I'm not completely confident that my college-educated ass could wrangle a simple job at Le McDonald's in time to save my kid from starving to death.  I think about that every time people say "they're in our country, they should learn to speak the goddamn language!"  Yeah, and just how long do you think that takes, hoss?  Again, is the problem *motivation*, do you think people *want* to live in a place where they don't understand anyone and work menial jobs cleaning toilets and touching your dirty dishes-?  Well, actually I guess they do, because they're doing it- which just makes the point that they either don't have a choice or whatever the alternative is is actually *worse*.  WORSE.  Is anyone feeling a tingle of compassion yet-?  Bueller?

"Ahhhh ... the simple life of poor people. Relaxing in the grass outside of my 2 million dollar home." 
(one of my favorite captions from his article :) )

I love reading John Cheese on, and even though it's a comedy site, I think this article of his about being "working poor" makes some great points.  I hadn't experienced or even thought of a lot of them before I read it- I mean, who actually uses all those payday loan places littering the valley?  It seems so stupid to me, like, don't people know they charge you out the ass and you can cash that check yourself at an actual bank-?  Yeah, turns out...not.  Hence, all those payday loan places littering the valley.  This is also a hilarious take on the subject and somewhere (yes, I'm too lazy to go searching for it) he makes the case for internet access being treated as a utility, as so many things now depend on it or are made vastly easier by having it...that's another one I really hadn't thought of, as I sit here in front of a computer, with a computer in my bag, checking my tiny phone-computer periodically for messages...Starting to feel pretty damn lucky over here... 

I'm sure there are a thousand more advantages I also haven't thought of.  Not trying to make an exhaustive list.  I just want to say, there are so many things that go into the politics of poverty that we short-change everyone when we oversimplify and overgeneralize about circumstances we don't understand.  That kind of thinking leads to the NIMBY syndrome- 'not in my back yard!'; the idea that we can just push unpleasant truths farther and farther away from us until they not only don't bother us but don't affect us anymore is asinine and short-sighted.  I understand you may not want to think your tax dollars are feeding some lazy woman who keeps having kids 'so she'll get more from the government' (this is a really common construction around here and again- for me, it doesn't pass the common-sense test...), *but* do you really understand the implications of not providing her with assistance?  Taking care of the lowest economic classes of people is just good crowd-control; at its most selfish, it's a way to keep "undesirables" OUT of your back yard!  Can you imagine how much higher crime would be if more people were actually *stealing to avoid starvation* rather than stealing to make ends meet-?  Or how about this: I totally understand not wanting to be forced to pay for health insurance- but what about the extra cost you're paying indirectly *already* for those who aren't insured-?  I wouldn't say I have any special love for the health-care industry, but these are some good points:

     "American hospitals don't turn away people who show up at emergency rooms...When the system winds up providing free care to people, or is unable to collect on bills it sends out, the costs have to be made up elsewhere. Health-care providers look to make up for these losses by paying employees less, or by charging higher fees to those who can pay (i.e. the insured). In other words, the cost of providing care to the uninsured is already socialized throughout the system and the economy. It's just not being socialized among those who are not insured."

It's a less-visible part of the debate, but one everyone is thinking about anyway, just not saying: 'what does this do FOR ME?  I would argue, providing for others who are worse off *is* providing for yourself.  Funding schools keeps kids off the streets- and off your lawn!  Maintaining social programs for low-income families makes their lives better and less desperate- thus less likely to steal your escalade rims for lunch money.  Providing not just financial assistance but nutrirional education and better access to quality foods costs society money, but it also decreases the incidence of social ills caused by mental illness and infirmity, thus directly lowering your tax and insurance bills each month- that old adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" can be translated into dollars and cents (I almost typed 'sense', ha I should have left it!).  What's good for all of us is...well, does it need to be said?  It's good for all of us. 

You're right, little girl.  Health care, a living wage, and a good education are toys only you should get to have!  Fuck human rights after all! 

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