But Wes, that's not a picture of America or Americans! You're right, it's not, and that, my dear reader, is the point.
I've been involved in social services for pretty much my entire life, and have run a direct to client charity for an entire county. I've seen a lot in those years, and I want to share with you what I've learned during my time in the industry. Namely, that "poverty" in America is not at all what or as wide spread as people think that it is.
You see during my time in the industry, we required our clients to fill out a "needs assessment" form, and I can't tell you how many times this form led to difficult conversations with people about their choices and why they are living the way that they are. I could write an entire class on this subject, so I'll TRY to be brief and succinct, but those are not my fortes.
MOST PEOPLE'S INCOME IS NOT INADAQUATE, THEIR BILL CONTROL IS
One of the hardest areas that people have to be confronted about is their bill control, or lack thereof. When we ask for bills, they often forget to list certain ones and when we say that they have more than enough money and don't need the help, they finally 'fess up and bring the rest of them.
The #1 culprit? Cable TV. #2? Car payments. Here is someone making $12.00 an hour paying, by choice, a $100.00+ cable bill and a $2-300.00+ car payment. Those choices are often directly responsible for their inability to make "ends meet," and then mix with others to make things even worse.
They are, however, far from alone. When you start looking at their bills, you find that they're often also spending $60.00+ per month on streaming services. So a $120.00 per month cable bill plus $60.00 in streaming services, plus a $250.00 per month car payment (instead of paying cash for a car) is $430.00 per month, and that doesn't even include the increased insurance costs of having car debt which adds another $30-60 a month onto their insurance costs. So $490.00 a month is often discretionary spending that they react very badly to being asked to reconsider.
Then you can add smoking and drinking for many of them. One pack of cigarettes and a twelve pack of beer per week costs $67.08 per month, and if you get a Starbucks coffee every day you go to work that's about $125.00 per month. So for many people, that's $192.08 per month in addiction spending, plus the above discretionary spending means that roughly $680.00 per month is spent by many in "poverty" on things that are completely avoidable. That's $8,200.00 per year. When you're only making $25,000.00, that's 32.8% of your annual salary that is completely arbitrarily spent.
Imagine getting $680.00 per month back in your pocket? Would it make a difference when trying to pay your bills?
PEOPLE'S PICKINESS & PRIDE ALSO CONTRIBUTES TO THEIR "POVERTY"
Have you ever asked a "poor" person why they would buy Air Jordan shoes? How about why they're carrying a Gucci purse? Or why in the world you saw them shopping at those name brand stores?
I can't even begin to innumerate for you the number of times I've been told by someone in "poverty" that they simply "couldn't be caught" in a thrift store, of have heard about how their friends "would never let them live it down" if they knew they shopped at the Salvation Army.
Newsflash, I do, and I get asked all the time how I can afford the clothing that I wear. My answer? I pay an average of $5.99 for a pair of pants and $2.99 for a shirt. I HATE spending money on clothing with a burning and unbridled passion. I know what it costs to make it, and their profit margins are OBSENE so I refuse to participate. I only shop in thrift stores, not because I'm "poor," but because I don't WANT to be poor.
People in America work so hard to not APPEAR poor that they often contribute to their "poverty" by attempting to not appear to be in "poverty." How do I know? Because I've spent a lot of time going over people's credit card records and asking them what they purchased at different stores and why they thought it was a good idea. It's not rocket science, and it's not like they try to hide it either. You should see the look of shock and horror that many of them have when I ask if they've ever considered shopping in a thrift store.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE HOMELESS?!
This is where having a grasp of history is important. Most of the younger people today have no clue that until the second term of Bill Clinton's Presidency, we had "group homes" (a so much nicer name than Asylum, right?) which had both short term and long term programs. Yet he banned the "forced" treatment of the mentally ill in this country and sent the temporary portion of the programs to the local hospitals. That's right, they were kicked out of group homes, thrown out on the street, and then told, "good luck, we hope you make it out there!"
The guy muttering to himself, homeless, disheveled, and potentially dangerous? Pre-Clinton he would have been in a long term mental health facility and wouldn't have been a danger to himself or anyone else, but now? Well, that's a different story. We made them homeless in the name of compassion, with no real prospects of caring for themselves, while knowing that they are unable to get a job. We threw them into actual poverty, and then we said it was a victory for the "rights" of the mentally ill. Yeah, the tent cities lining the streets in California are really such an improvement, aren't they?
There are also those who are homeless by choice. I've met them. They either don't like society's rules or they just don't want to be bothered to work for someone else, or any number of other reasons. Their "poverty" is completely self imposed, and you cannot blame America for it. The number of people who are simply homeless by circumstance are a very small percentage of the homeless population, and they often find and get help very quickly for their condition.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I've been to San Salvador and seen the homeless village at the bottom of the hill leading to the city with its naked children, tattered table cloth doors, and corrugated tin roofs.
I've been to Hwejia and Kirkuk, Iraq. I've seen cities where there is REAL poverty and no prospects of escaping it no matter how you decide to spend your money.
I've been to Teotihuacan, Mexico and the surrounding area. I've seen those who live day to day by whatever they can happen to scrape together from the tourists.
My mother has been to Bori, India and Bangladesh, and has brought back pictures, stories, and descriptions of poverty that would turn your American stomach inside out.
I've seen REAL poverty, and to try to equivocate their reality to the "poverty" in America? It's sickening, it's ridiculous, and it's dangerous.
Poverty is NOT having a 32 inch LCD television instead of a 60 inch QLED.
Poverty is NOT living in a one bedroom apartment instead of a three bedroom house.
Poverty is NOT having to drive a clunker of a car instead of a nice new vehicle.
Poverty is NOT having medical bills to pay, it's not being able to go to a doctor because you're required to pay upfront so you die in the street in front of their office hoping for compassion.
Don't tell me that I need to be "compassionate" towards Americans living in "poverty." I've seen REAL poverty, and not being able to afford a $5.00 per day mochafrappachiathingy is not poverty.
I think the "Western" world needs a big time wake up call. Travel a bit, do some missions work, go help the LEGITIMATE poor, outcast, widow, orphan, and least of these. You'll find that your wiliness to allow people to claim "poverty" over the choices that they make in their lives diminishes greatly.
If an American Citizen is experiencing genuine and legitimate poverty, let's do what we can to help them. I'm all for that, and I've dedicated myself to it in one form or another for over 30 years. Yet, let's also be reasoned in our thinking and not afraid to call people out for their own frivolity and recklessness. Teaching people fiscal responsibility is just as important as getting them out of their hole. One without the other just means waiting to help them out of the next one that they fall into.
Praise God that we are in America, where poverty is never permanent, and help is available in more forms and avenues than you will ever understand. We are not a "poverty" stricken people, we are a blessed people. Unfortunately, we are also a spoiled people, and that really needs to change.