by LJ Frank
“I knew what I wanted. Ever since I was a child. I studied, worked hard all my life, earned a couple of college degrees and became a teacher. It was my chosen career path until I lost my job when the administration made cuts because of politics. They didn’t need my expertise. I lost hope,” the middle-aged man told me as he sat on a metal chair at a long makeshift table sipping his soup at the local soup kitchen.
Becoming impoverished invades and infects the body like an incurable plague that eats away our humanity. It’s replaced by anger, frustration and a feeling of betrayal after years of working. “Do I strike out at someone or something, or do I end my life?” He asked. (He ended up taking drugs to numb his existence.)
I listened to a man and woman in their late fifties whom I met in my treks across America. Both had college degrees and both respected former teachers with news clippings kept of past awards. They were let go for unexplained reasons and now considered too old to retrain. “Hard work and education is a lie,” the woman said, as she turned away. How much and what kind of poverty is enough to warrant consideration for action? *
I walked further down the street of the politically conservative southern city and witnessed countless people of all ages under bridges, next to railroad tracks and laying in alleys. It could have been any city. No city is spared though some get more media coverage depending on the politics and the associated agendas. “Get a job” is moronic to the intellectually and spiritually distraught. “Why continue?” It’s a daily thought voiced and only silenced through the person’s death or a job that gives them a sense of dignity and self-worth.
A youngish woman standing by the roadside held her world belongings in a trash bag and nearby what looked like a campground spread over a couple acres with assorted tents, small trailers, pickup trucks and a rusted yellow school bus. At first I thought it was a campsite. It was a refuge encampment of people some of who stated their ancestors have lived in the region all their life, “My great, great, grandfather fought in the Civil War,” a bearded man angrily told me. “I worked all my life.” His voice became silent then he mumbled to himself.
I looked around as so many were older veterans who couldn’t fit in upon returning from the field of battle. They hated themselves for begging. Hope and the dignity is all they seek. There were young children with their mothers, and for a moment I thought I had stepped back in time to the 1930s. Except we’re not in a depression though it feels like we are but a few steps away. It’s springtime 2019.
Poverty is not consensual contrary to urban myth. No one consents to become impoverished. Poverty is the real pornography in a world of riches. Like the violence of war the returning soldier whose character is dismantled while being told the opposite, poverty of the human character begins when no job or mental health resources are available. “Get a job” is a worthless phrase in a society built on wealth where a good education, a career building social network and knowing the right person has become mandatory to make a living for increasing numbers. It’s competition in a culture where competition is treated in a form of god-like dimensions. Competition is salvation.
The 20th century is past. The new face of poverty means working doesn’t curtail becoming impoverished. Rather, poverty slowly dismembers the human spirit, heart, soul and mind. The homeless veteran, the physically disabled or emotionally unstable, the penniless senior citizen, jobless adult, over-educated person sitting in an alley wondering why she was even born – this is the true violence and pornography existing in America today. One wonders about the true nature of will and environmentally controlled behavior.
There are no altruisms to being impoverished. I’ve never met a happy impoverished human being or a smiling soldier who has experienced the front line of a battle after killing someone at arms-length, and finds himself in the street in Chattanooga, Memphis, St Louis, Dallas or Atlanta. The list is endless. “Poverty has been institutionalized like racism,” an old black veteran in his eighties sighs while sitting in a park smoking a cigarette stub he found on the ground. He said he was from Pittsburgh.
We are conditioned early on. How do we recondition our mind and our culture? For poverty shreds the human heart of whatever nobility it may have possessed, as a youth. Along the journey in life something went wrong. The internal wiring was no longer working to the impoverished man or woman’s benefit and things got out of control. They snapped. “Everything I tried was in vain,” a mother told me.
The roots of poverty is found in all political systems but enjoys prominence when wealth is purposefully shared among the fewest. Greed and power are brothers. Wealth perceived as intelligence of a higher order is promulgated by the wealthy to the masses. With the mental “Book of Revelations” image of “streets paved with gold,” everyday things can get intellectually and morally vacuous. Wealth only indicates a person’s social and financial connections, inheritance, competitive nature, the ability to manipulate and their overall resourcefulness. The not so resourceful are left aside. The traits of wealth are shared to the wannabes standing in line.
Most people in the street are no different from those not in the street. Most who are still mentally healthy want to work. “I would love to be accepted as a viable employee…I’m intelligent, I have a degree,” a woman with cerebral palsy explained to me.
The politics of wealth act as conditioning agent. No matter what country I traveled to in the world and no matter what religions or cultural standards espoused – poverty remains the enemy of the human soul, spirit and heart. It robs us of our humanity and hope becomes a hoax.
As long as there is one impoverished woman, man or child, we all are impoverished and imprisoned in an intellectual if not moral wasteland.
What are the choices? What is occurring? **
- The 2019 data swings back and forth depending on how poverty is defined: According to the 2016-2017 US Census interesting data presents itself (approximately 3% of the total US population of 327 million live in poverty which equals over 9 million).
- Between 2016 and 2017, people with at least a bachelor’s degree were the only group to have an increase in the poverty rate or the number of people in poverty. Among this group, the poverty rate increased 0.3 percentage points and the number in poverty increased by 363,000 individuals between 2016 and 2017. Even with this increase, among educational attainment groups, people with at least a bachelor’s degree had the lowest poverty rates in 2017.