Monday, December 9, 2013

Rich Man, Poor Man

There have been a lot of articles about poverty and wealth floating around the Internet the last few weeks.

Dave Ramsey posted on his blog, 20 Things the Rich do Every Day (an article by Tim Corley) and then Ben Irwin came back with a post about 20 Things the Poor Really Do Every Day.

If you haven't read it, Linda Tirado wrote a haunting, gut-wrenching article about poverty that went viral a few weeks ago.  The article is titled, This is Why Poor People's Decisions Make Perfect Sense.   Then Angelica Leicht wrote an article stating that Ms.Tirado's article was a work of fiction.  Then Ms. Tirado comes back and tries to prove it's true. 

All this Internet talk got me thinking a bit about poverty and wealth, so I thought I'd post my own jumbled thoughts.

Regarding Tim Corley's article about the habits of the rich...well on about 16 of those points we fall on the rich side of things, yet we certainly aren't rich.   As Ben Irwin said, those habits are more likely to be a result of being rich than a cause of wealth.   Actually, most of them are more a result of being educated than of being rich per say.

His #17 point reads:  84% of wealthy believe good habits create opportunity luck vs. 4% of poor.   
Well, of course they think that..they're rich. It's human nature.  It's the "can't happen to me" mentality.  It's the same mentality that whenever I hear or read about a stillbirth or baby death I immediately start wondering the cause and scrambling to find it. I'm desperately searching for a reason to say that can't happen to me, I don't have that disease, or I don't do that, so that can't happen to me. 

Instead we should be saying...there but for the Grace of God, go I. 

Just like our physical health, our financial state is mostly a matter of combination between luck and our decisions. A person's physical health is probably due to both their genetic make-up and their health habits (diet/exercise).   And even health habits can be due to luck....I eat healthy because I was blessed to be raised by parents who eat healthy....who turned 1/2 of their 1/2 acre plot into a vegetable garden and did the whole organic thing before it was cool.  A person who grew up with nary a green vegetable crossing their plate is not as likely to start eating boatloads of kale as an adult. 

And, the same thing goes for wealth, numerous studies have shown that the economic position a child has is highly correlated to his/her economic position as an adult.  Yes, you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get out of poverty, but even then people who do that are most likely gifted with certain talents that allow them to do that.  They have the brains and academic ability to succeed in school,  They have family who support them. They get scholarships and go on to higher education.  Children born with learning disabilities or those born into homes where reading isn't encouraged have a much harder hill to climb when it comes to getting higher education and getting out of poverty.

And, even those who manage to become rich through starting their own business probably have a talent and skill set that not everyone has.  Many years ago when my oldest was only 7 months old, I fell prey to one of those work at home mom/network marketing/home business type things  I probably shouldn't say "fell prey" because I wasn't a victim and I don't think those things are all bad.   I even met a mediocre amount of success  (mostly due to luck).   But during that time I read the stories, I saw the testimonials...the people who started making 20,000 dollars a month and paying off their homes and going on vacations.  And, that is great for them...but I think the people who meet success in those endeavours have a certain talent and skill set that not everyone has.  They are salespeople, they have a charismatic personality.  People want to follow them and be with them and listen to them.   When I was actively working that business, I was taught to treat everyone you meet as a potential customer.  And, I just can't do that. I don't WANT to do that.  I don't like selling things.  In fact, I HATE selling things.  When I was a kid, we had to sell candy bars for chorus (why I was in chorus is something I will never know, because heaven knows, I sing like a frog).  But anyway, I actually bought the candy bars I *had* to sell and then threw most of them away (because I didn't want to eat that much candy), but the thought of going door to door and selling them was just too awful.  I HATE fundraisers and selling things and we totally shy away from any activities that involve selling stuff because I HATE it.  So, as you can see, I'm probably not the person who is going to make it rich by starting their own business, because businesses involve selling and I hate selling and I'm not good at it.   But some people like that and are very good at that, and that is their path in life. 

So, yes, one can get out of poverty.  But it's disingenuous to not recognize the obstacles some people face, obstacles that may not be there for others. 

On the flip siede though...I'm not totally a bleeding-heart liberal.  People do make bad decisions, and Ms. Tirado's article did not convince me that those poor decisions make perfect sense.  For example, the most common poor decision that lands a woman in economic poverty is the decision to have sex with a man that is neither committed to her nor to any potential child that might be conceived.  That may not be a popular opinion, but it's the truth.  Better birth control is not the prudent answer, because birth control can fail...and does...frequently...and single motherhood is a major cause of poverty among woman and children.    Obviously some poor, single women have had to leave abusive relationships, and others have been abandoned by their husbands.  But oftentimes people do make poor decisions, and those decisions have long-standing economic consequences. 

But again....there but for the Grace of God, go I.   Because I was raised with loving parents and old-fashioned morality that has served me well. 

I will admit, I don't have much personal experience with poverty...not really. I was raised middle-class and for most of my adult life have been middle class, but for a few years while my husband was in law school, we were economically poor and qualified for public assistance.  However, we never lived the lifestyle Ms. Tirado is describing.   We were educated, had safe housing, working vehicles, the knowledge and ability to cook real food and and the ability to get whatever we needed  And, while we didn't have dental/health insurance we were blessed to not have any major dental/ health problems during that time.  So, I will freely admit, I don't know what it's like to truly live in be forced to live in unsafe housing, to truly not be able to buy food, to be really sick and unable to afford health care.  I don't know...and anyone else who's never been in that place doesn't know either.   We say we are poor...but that really means that we can't afford to take vacations or eat out, or eat all organic, grass-fed, free-range food, or give our kids lots of extra activities and lessons.   I have no idea what it's like to not be able to afford safe I can only imagine how horrible that must be and how such a situation could drive someone to make poor decisions. 

But, we have been technically poor...and I will say that public assistance programs ARE enabling.  We actually ate better back then than we do now with a typical "middle-class" income. Government assistance programs may be necessary and helpful and I'm glad they exist, but they definitely DO enable people and help KEEP people in poverty.   Because, when you get something for free, there is less of a motivation to work to earn more money so you can pay for it.  If someone can work at McDonald's and maybe earn enough to pay rent, and use food stamps and get free cell phones and all that, then there isn't the same motivation for them to go back to school get a degree and work towards a higher paying job.   Yes, the majority of people on public assistance DO work..and that's a GOOD thing.  But are they all working up to their potential?  Is the public assistance enabling them to stay at lower paying jobs, rather than working to move upward? I'm sure that answer is different for everyone, but for some people it is clearly yes (while for others, it is clearly no).  

So, what's the answer?  I don't know.   I realize I have not made any major points here.  As I said before, I clearly believe public assistance is necessary, otherwise there would be a lot more starving children out there.   But, I still don't think it is the best answer.  Giving people more and more free stuff doesn't necessarily help them, but sometimes it is what is needed.  I have a friend who met an impoverished mother a few years ago and every since then has taken the family "under her wing" and helped them out in various ways.   That is true Christian charity, and that is what more of us (no matter how much money we have) should be doing.   Because when it all comes down it, when it we look at others in various terrible situations - whether due to their own poor decisions or not - all we can really do is pray for for them, do our best to help them as much as we are able, and say there but for the Grace of God, go I.    

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  1. Good post! I enjoyed your perspective.

  2. This is a little off topic, but I can't help but see similarities between this issue of poor and rich and the issue of natural birth vs. interventions. Stick with me... You said "I don't know...and anyone else who's never been in that place doesn't know either." and that's exactly how I feel with faced with a natural birth advocate who is shaming me for having a c-section when she doesn't know what it's like to labor for 36 hours and push for 4 hours. How can you say I shouldn't have had a c-section and it wasn't necessary? You have no idea! I would have loved to go into labor naturally, before my due date, and labor for 5 hours (and not feel the contractions! I always laugh when women say this!) and push twice. To me, that's a luxury. Dare I say it, it's kind of like being rich. But me? I'm very thankful for interventions. I've had friends who have lost their babies at birth and I'm so so grateful that my daughter and I are safely here, thanks to modern medicine. Like you said, "There but for the grace of God go I." We really need to view the blessings in our life as God's doing, God's gifts. My blessings might not be the same as yours, but God is a good God, regardless. Praise Him! Let's not be so smug about the blessings in our life like they're all our doing. Even if it's because of some talent we possess or hard work we've done, it's still by the grace of God that we have these talents or we were able to work hard at it, you know?

    Whew, sorry if this is completely all over the place! Great post, Amelia.

    1. Wow...Ellen. So sorry to hear that you have felt shamed by a natural birth advocate..that's crazy! You are so right...having easy labors and delivaries IS a blessing. I've had all natural births, but I don't think it is anything I's just because I've been blessed enough to have small babies and big hips (well maybe the big hips isn't such a blessing. LOL) and to go into labor before my due date. However I know that's basically just luck...not anything I've done. I'm awfully glad that birth interventions exist for people who need them.

    2. Sorry, didn't mean to make it all about me! I just was struck by the similarities between being on government assistance and interventions during birth. Both are not ideal, and both can be abused maybe, but whose who have never experienced either of these scenarios should judge those who have. Does that make sense?

    3. Yes..that does make a lot of sense.

  3. Wow, I missed every little bot of this internet chatter. Thanks for the summary and for your always valuable perspective.

    1. I only see these things because I am Facebook. Without Facebook I would basically miss everything. LOL


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