The Poverty Myth: It’s not for a Lifetime

tbs-avalanche-12-2010-102.jpgWhen considering those in poverty it is far too common to think of them as perpetually poor and forever on the public dole. This sentiment has long existed and been perpetuated by claims of generational poverty; families that have nothing and leave nothing for their kids, thus creating a cycle that keeps the kids poor as adults and their kids raised in unrelenting poverty as well. These people are forever a burden on society and forever in need of our tax dollars being redistributed to them in the form of low or free rent, food stamps, medical care and more. Or so the myth goes…

While its true that many in poverty can stay poor for a significant portion of their lives, that’s often not the case. A 10+ year old study found that a significant percentage of those who were in the bottom third of income earners in the 1970s at some point over the following 20 years actually attained a level of income putting them in the upper third of income earners. This illustrates the point that those in poverty and receiving assistance are often only in that financially troubling position for a short time in their lives. 

This makes sense when you consider that many of those who are poor are young adults or young families who have not yet attained the wisdom, experience, resumes or income to keep them out of poverty. But as they age and gain work experience and the wisdom on how to earn and save money they lift themselves out of poverty and often into financial well-being.

The author taking a break at his 3rd radio job in 1986 when my income rose to the grandiose level of $1000 per month.

The author taking a break at his 3rd radio job in 1986 when my income rose to the grandiose level of $1000 per month.

This was certainly true for this author. I have worked in the radio industry for my entire adult life. I began professionally in 1985 as a 21 year old country music DJ and part-time high school sports play-by-play announcer. This auspicious position paid me the awesome sum of $600 per month. A little extra scrambling for more work usually got my check up to $650.00. And that was gross income, paid to me with only one pay check per month. I worked 50-60 hours per week, 6 days per week; thus not allowing me to hold a second job. I was poor. I didn’t qualify for food stamps. At the time I did apply and was told I made exactly $5.00 too much each month to qualify. I lived on Top Ramon, Mac & Cheese, and Cheerios. Oh…and beer. Priorities, right?

Twenty years later my income climbed to a level in 2004 where my earnings put me in the upper 2-3% of income earners. I owned a home, a rental property, and was raising a family. In 2005 I started my own business, Total Broadcasting Service.

Total Broadcasting owner Michael Schuett does most of the camera work provided to customers, both still and video.

Total Broadcasting owner Michael Schuett does most of the camera work provided to customers, both still and video.

And I’m not special. Lots of people can tell the same story.

The myth that poverty is a life sentence has two deleterious effects. If believed by some of those in poverty it helps keep them in need. It also discourages generous giving from many who could dramatically impact the lives of those in poverty. “Why give if these lazy, drug using poor people are only going to use my money to get drunk and high and buy tattoos and other frivolous expenses? I was poor and I lifted myself up. They should do the same.”…or so seems to be the thinking.

When its understood that poverty is more usually a temporary condition Americans can feel more comfortable generously offering a hand up while not seeing it as a hand-out. If someone is too young to have learned and earned you are more likely to see their potential and give them the assistance you probably benefitted from in your own youth. When its plain that a medical condition has prevented a person from working and they lost their income and haven’t yet found a means by which they will eventually support themselves, you can maintain a much higher level of empathy for their plight. Even when someone’s own poor decisions or foolishness have driven them to the poor house, you can feel a greater desire to help them get back to being self sustaining if you have the confidence of knowledge that most people in their positions will use your generosity wisely to change the direction of their lives and improve their situation.

My faith tells me that its my responsibility to help those in need. But if my faith (or yours) didn’t dictate charitable giving, common sense would. Few people, regardless of political persuasion, like the government’s gun to your head (otherwise known as the IRS) approach to monetary redistribution. And frankly its terribly inefficient anyway. But many non-profit charitable and church based organizations provide efficient and meaningful help to the needy. 

One of these organizations in my community is Emergency Feeding Program of Seattle and King County. I met it’s Director, Glenn Turner, this year. He carefully explained to me and others how EFP fills the gaps in food distribution for the needy. Food banks typically only provide food enough to last an individual or a family for 2-3 weeks per month. The obvious problem being that every month is at least 4 weeks. Emergency Feeding Program will help those who can’t provide for themselves over each month’s final 1-2 weeks with carefully constructed food bags tailored to the specific dietary and ethnic requirements of the recipient. They provide 15 different types of emergency food bags to match their clients. Emergency Feeding Program has been doing this since 1977, and are Washington State’s third largest food distribution service for the needy. And they do it through the generosity of people. They have many people who volunteer their time. And many generous people and organizations who donate food and money. You can help them too. And this writer hopes that you will.

Isn’t it easier to help knowing you are actually helping. Isn’t it best to look at those in poverty as merely folks who are down on their luck and with the kind and generous assistance you provide they won’t stay where they are; they’ll rise up support themselves and in the natural evolution of their lives help others; maybe even you, should you someday be a victim of misfortune, poor health or unfortunate decisions. 

We can’t and shouldn’t rely on government to carry us through. We’re a free nation. And we should be free to help those we want to help. And we should help. It’s in our best interest as well as the recipients of our generous money and efforts. 

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Call for Video Production Services: 425-687-0100

Call for Video Production Services: 425-687-0100

As an addendum: Emergency Feeding Program is hosting its first ever Summer musical event to raise awareness and donations. Jazz on the Houser will be from 3-9pm Saturday August 23rd. Click here to learn more: http://www.emergencyfeeding.org/events-wedge-details/354217/1408824000

The fishermen, the hungry man, and the wise man.

Michael Schuett in a river

The Author hooking something

This is an essay written and originally posted on-line for a small select audience in May 2009. It’s timeliness remains appropriate.

 

 

A hungry man sat along side a vast river in the early evening sun. His clothes are old and worn. He watches the fishermen returning to the shores from a day of harvesting God’s plentiful waters.

The hungry man has no boat, and he doesn’t know the craft of fishing. He knows of no craft for which he can adequately feed himself or his family. For in his youth opportunities passed him by, as he passed them by. And though he caused no harm to anyone and though he wished no one any ill will he was left with a sad existence of hunger and despair.

One day a liberal fisherman who happened to be a Democrat saw the hungry man sitting along the shore. The liberal Democrat thought how sad that this man should sit along the shore hungry while all these many other fishermen brought forth God’s bounty from these blessed waters. The liberal Democrat correctly thought “there are plenty of fish to go around. Nobody should go hungry”. So the liberal Democrat surveyed the shoreline and spotted the conservative Republican unloading his boat. As usual the conservative Republican was bringing forth a hall of fish greater than that of anyone else along the shore; for the conservative Republican had toiled many years to earn what he had and to buy the best boat and to procure the finest nets, and to hire the best workers. So naturally he regularly brought in the most fish.

The liberal Democrat, wanting to help the hungry man, walked away from his own day’s catch and marched righteously to the dock of the conservative Republican and grabbed up an armful of fish, He then loudly proclaimed for all to hear “You have more than enough fish Mr. Conservative Republican. I am taking some of your fish to give to the hungry man there on the shore so that he will be hungry no more”,

Well, the conservative Republican was most upset. How could this liberal Democrat righteously and arrogantly come and take that which is rightfully mine. But seeing that the eyes of many others were now upon him, and fearing that he would somehow seem greedy to those who witnessed the liberal Democrat proclaiming that he would give the fish to the hungry man, the conservative Republican fisherman said nothing. Instead he harbored his ill feelings for having his possessions stolen from him. And he became embittered.

The liberal Democrat indeed did take the armful of fish to the hungry man. He then jumped up and down, waving his arms to attract the attention of anyone else along the shore who was not already watching him. He then said loudly, “Here Mr. Hungry man. I HAVE BROUGHT YOU FOOD. Through MY generosity you will now eat.” The liberal Democrat then walked away feeling quite good about himself, never to be seen again by the hungry man.

A week later the hungry man was again along the river’s banks hoping for the generosity which had been bestowed upon him the previous week to come his way again. Sadly, the liberal Democrat was nowhere to be seen and the hungry man feared he would go with no food. As the final fishermen completed their days work and indifferently walked by the hungry man to their homes, the hungry man spotted the conservative Republican. As was the norm the conservative Republican was one of the last fishermen to wrap up his days work for he again had a very large haul of fish and such bounty required hard work.

As he walked toward the hungry man in the direction of his home the conservative Republican noticed the hungry man shyly smile at him and extend his hand in the direction of the prosperous fisherman. Still bitter from having his hard-earned reward diminished the previous week by the liberal Democrat who took from his catch, the conservative Republican tersely said to the hungry man, “I will not give you any of my fish. Why is it that you don’t go fish for yourself instead of sitting here all day doing nothing? Why is it that you should be hungry again this week instead of fixing the situation with which you found yourself last week when the liberal Democratic fisherman took from me and gave to you?” The conservative Republican then walked away more embittered than before. The hungry man went hungry.

The next day the hungry man was again beside the river bank, for he had no place else to go. He had no trade. He had no family. A wise fisherman approached the hungry man and gave him one fish. Having witnessed the false generosity of the liberal Democrat and the embitterment of the conservative Republican the wise fisherman wanted to help the hungry man and boldly told the hungry man what he intended to do.

“You are hungry and that is unfortunate. But you are hungry because of the opportunities you failed to take advantage of in the past. So your hunger is of your own creation. If you wish to toil as you have in the past you will remain hungry. But if you wish to learn and work you will never be hungry again.” Never being hungry again did interest the hungry man so he humbly paid attention to the wise man.

The wise man continued. “This one fish I give you will only feed you for today. If you do not change your circumstance yourself, you will be hungry again tomorrow. This fish will give you sustenance and strength to carry on tomorrow. When the sun rises in the morning you will meet me at my boat and you will work hard for me all day. You will sweat in the hot sun; you may develop calluses on your hands from throwing and pulling on the nets; you may even get sea sick being that it will be your first time in the boat. At the end of the day you won’t feel very good. You’ll be tired. But you won’t be hungry, for you will take with you that which you reap from the river. And you will have learned how to fish.”

So the hungry man did work hard the next day. He sweated, blisters developed on his hands, and he vomited from having sea sickness. The wise man let the hungry man fish with him for the whole week and as the days passed it became easier for the hungry man. At the weeks conclusion the wise man told the hungry man “I can no longer take you on my boat for you have been taking place of another man who I must honor by keeping employed. But you now know how to fish.” The wise man’s final gesture to the hungry man was to give him an old worn fishing net.

“Take this and fish from shore. It’s not as nice a net as my others. You won’t catch as many fish from shore as from a boat. But if you start early and work late you’ll feed yourself, and you will eventually earn enough to buy a new better net, and in time your own boat. And you will catch more and more fish.” Then the wise man admonished the hungry man and said, “If you return to sitting along the banks hoping for the generosity of others you will again be hungry.”

The hungry man took the words of the wise man to heart for the foolishness of his youth had left him and now because of the wise man he knew how to fish. He started early and worked late and he prospered. In time he became wise. In time he taught another man to fish.

Comments are welcome. Thanks for visiting.

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