According to Charles Blow’s article in The New York Times this morning ,“…the No. 1 reason people gave for our continuing poverty crisis was: ‘Too much welfare that prevents initiative.’”
I’ll bet you never thought I had come close to welfare, with my two M.A.’s, a couple of successful careers, multilingual, well traveled. Some people even find me forbidding because of my accomplishments and education. Yet I came within a hair of being on welfare.
It’s a long and complicated story (they all are), but at the dramatic breakup of my first marriage I was left with no home, no car, no job, no money in the bank, and two kids to support. My mother offered me and my two small children three weeks of hospitality, but what good would that do me? Even if I could find a job within three weeks, I could not leave my children unattended.
At just that point my aunt bought a new car and gave me her old one.
Just before a scheduled visit to the welfare office several days later another stroke of blind luck came my way. A friend of a friend heard my story and offered the upper floor of her home at a modest rent, which my mother paid for several months.
The family money was the difference for me. My aunt could afford to give away her car, and my mother was not inconvenienced by paying my rent. (She would have been more inconvenienced by having two small children around.) The family money comes from my great grandfather’s success in the late 1800s and has padded the lives of several successive generations. Without her financial cushion, maybe my mother would have been more forthcoming. She would have felt the bite of despair at some point. She had spent her adult life as a homemaker and in her gut probably did not quite click into my childcare dilemma. Maybe she thought I lacked initiative, though I have never suffered that lack.
Needless to say (though sometimes I wonder), my own experiences have given me a basketful of compassion for the dispossessed.
I could coast through life on my outward appearance of comfort and success, but in the face of what people are suffering these days, that does not seem ethical. Disdain of the poor is not only unseemly, but hypocritical. Outwardly successful people don’t talk about their days fishing quarters out of the couch to buy dinner for the kids just as they don’t talk about their abortions. They don’t want to be disdained. This just makes things worse for the poor.