I walked out of my poker game a few months ago and have not been back - well, stormed out would be more accurate. I was angry and loud as I left. What caused my eruption was another player's insistence that poor people are lazy folk who don't try hard enough to succeed.
Why did that make me so angry? Part of it was how he said it: "po' people", imitating a Southern accent he doesn't posses naturally. He repeated that several times, making me angrier each time. He mixed in a few references to Obama, making it plain to me that racism underlay at least part of this. That certainly contributed to my anger.
But most of it is that such attitudes are just plain stupid.
It would easy for me to have the same attitude. I began my adult life as a high school dropout with a crummy job. But, through hard work and a lot of luck, we ended up living very comfortably in the top 5% of U.S. income for a good part of our life. It would be easy for me to sneer at those who live from paycheck to paycheck and struggle to make ends meet. I made it, why couldn't they?
It's because I benefitted from privilege. It's because I'm smart and it's easy for me to understand things that befuddle others. It's because I've been lucky and healthy. It's because I worked hard, yes, but that's probably the least of it: plenty of people work hard and do not succeed.
There's a cartoon I linked to below that explains some of that. It doesn't tell the whole story, though. It graphically explains the benefits that come from not being born poor, but it misses other things. People can get sick or have congenital problems that affect their ability to work. Not everybody is smart enough to have a good paying job.
Adding to all that is plain old dumb luck. Most of us experience some good and some bad luck, but some people get more than their share of one or the other. Yes, yes, sometimes we do make our own luck and I know that as well as anyone, but there are things we simply cannot control. While privilege and talent can buffer a lot of bad luck, it doesn't take much of it to destroy the hopes and dreams of those starting on the bottom.
For example, I made a business mistake once that put me $100,000 in debt. I recovered, but do you think a minimum wage earner could? My wife's working career was cut short by illness, decreasing our expected retirement funds greatly. We survived that too, but what if we both had been sick or injured by accident? What if I had more ordinary intelligence? What if my mistake had been greater?
Our children were healthy and bright, What if it had been otherwise? How much of our income would have been sucked away by that? Suppose I or my wife had died or we had divorced? Would we still have been so well off?
Sometimes people do well for part of their life but then become unemployable because of illness or because their skills have become irrelevant and unneeded. Some are lucky enough to be at or near retirement age when that happens, but others are not. Some folks worked hard all their lives and expected the promise of a pension to fund their retirement, but became poor when others decided not to keep that promise.
Most poor people are struggling against the tide. I detest those who think that their own success was from their own will alone and that anyone should be able to rise out of poverty.
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More Articles by Anthony Lawrence © 2015-10-07 Anthony Lawrence