Monday, August 13, 2012

Have You Ever?

Have you ever gone without food for days? Not because you're on some "fasting" diet, but because you have only a little food, no money to buy more, and two growing children who need the food more than you do.

Have you ever worried about how your kids would do their homework if the electricity was turned off, hoping you'd be able to pay the bill before the electric company cut you off? So the food you just bought for your kids didn't spoil?

Have you ever had to swallow your pride and ask a non-profit organization to help you pay the deposit for a new apartment, so your kids could have a roof over their heads, and so you didn't lose your parental rights because you're living on the street? Or have you ever had to push back paying your rent so you have gasoline in your car, so you can make it to your job, to avoid being fired, so you can pay your bills and feed your kids? 

Or have you ever had to hide your car at a friend's house until you got a paycheck, to avoid having your car repossessed? Or gone nearly two years with no health benefits, because you can't afford the COBRA payment from the job you lost, and can't afford a private health care plan? Have you then had to hope and pray every day that you didn't have to go to the doctor for an ailment or injury?

I've done all of these things in the last four years. I'm not proud of it. And I sure as hell never thought I'd be in this position. At one point, not that long ago, just a little over six years ago actually, I was living a charmed life not unlike many of my friends. I lived in a $400,000 home with my wife and two kids, enjoying suburban life (as much as my free spirit was able to, anyway), and outside of a rocky marriage, pretty much happy with my life.

I was the upper middle class. In the waining days of my marriage, I was living in a neighborhood surrounded by people who wanted lower taxes, and loathed anything to do with welfare or food stamps, because the people who relied on those things were obviously not working hard enough to better themselves. They expected people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. And at the time, I guess I was too naive to know how close I was to becoming the person who my neighbors saw as the enemy. The sponge to their hard earned liquidity.

And then the spiral happened. I've chronicled this plenty in previous blog entries, so I won't rehash my trip hitting bottom. But I do want to point out that the political climate in this country has gotten more extreme in that six years. We've now become a country of "haves" and "have nots," divided by class more and more as each day goes on. The middle class is disappearing faster than Congress's approval rating.

And on a regular basis, via my online addiction, Facebook, I'm reminded of my situation through such reposts as "If you're on welfare, you should be drug tested, because I'm drug tested to get my job. REPOST if you AGREE." Or "If you can afford cigarettes, beer, and a fancy car, you don't need food stamps or an unemployment check."

Or one that just last month that appeared all over Facebook, seen in the image above, dubbed as "The Five Best Sentences You'll Ever Read." I took personal offense to the image, as it not only stereotyped our "safety net" recipients, but also demonized them as abusers of the system, stealing from the prosperous. I had some tough words with friends, and probably took it too personally. But you see, that's the only way I CAN take it. Because I HAVE been in those shoes.

I have no disdain for anyone gaining prosperity in life. I'd love it if everyone I knew had more money than they knew what to do with. But as our country struggles to recover from the worst economic times since the Great Depression, wealth is just not a reality for most of my friends. In fact, in the two and a half years since my store opened, every single one of my employees has struggled during the last few days of each pay period, sometimes literally having no money to spend. And most of them have two jobs.

What I DO have disdain for is the demonization of poverty. Because poverty is NOT a stereotype. Poverty does not discriminate. Poverty will take down people with important job titles, people who drive fancy SUVs, people that live in large mansions, and even people who attend GOP Fundraisers to support a Tea Party candidate. Poverty is something that can easily happen to ANYONE. I know this firsthand.

Ironically, many of the people who are demonizing those living in poverty espouse their strong Christian faith. Last time I read The Bible, I don't recall Jesus advocating turning your backs on the poor or weary. Yet they wrap themselves in the Scripture, the Flag, and their Stocks and Bonds Portfolio, and point their finger at the poor, condemning them for their laziness, their selfishness, and their ability to steal money from them via our "Socialist" government.

The hatred grows for the poor, yet when there are people who dare take on the "One Percent" through the Occupy Movement, the wealthy portray the protesters as intolerant, violent youth who are too lazy to get jobs. This country is tearing itself at the seams with hatred. And make no mistake, it's happening from both ends of the political and economic spectrum. But me, I'm down here, with the little guys. So that's the perspective I can best relate to. I may have more easily related to those demonizing the poor back in 2005. But time has a way of changing things.

So to my friends, I ask you to do just one thing the next time you want to point the finger at those relying on the Government for assistance. Please find me and point the finger directly at me. 

Please point at me, post your "REPOST" on my wall, whatever it takes. Because my friends, I AM the lower class.


Justine said...

Powerful, Steve. Thank you for your bravery and honesty in reminding us.

chad johnson said...

I am and have been living like this for over a year now. I eat 1 meal a day and if I am lucky, it's not noodles. I was laid off over a year ago and people who I thought were friends ( and people I didn't even know) said it was my fault. I was told I was lazy and enjoyed getting paid for not working, and they were tired of working and paying for lazy tools like myself. I have since found a job and I am still told it's my fault for not making more money. I have been told in a round about way that I am ignorant and lazy because of this. I could go on about it. OH, and these people claim to be christians and republicans. They also said there should be no such things as food stamps or unemployment. There are some very heartless people in this country.

Mindi said...

Thank you Steve for being brave enough to put into words a reality check we all so desperately need from time to time. Your story is inspiring, may we all learn and take something special from this blog. God bless you and your wonderful boys as you continue down your journey. Thank you again for sharing :)

J. Otto Pohl said...

I have never gone hungry. In my worst economic moments I always had relatives willing and able to help me. In most of the places I have lived the electricity can be cut off regardless if you pay the bill or not. I have never owned a car. I have never made enough money to own a car. Except for the last two years here in Ghana and the three years I lived in London I have never had health insurance of any kind in my adult life. So between 1992 and 2001 (19 years) I went without health insurance and then again from 2004-2011 (7 years). I have never had to ask an NGO for help. So overall I have been lucky compared to you. Then again I have never owned a house in the US and I have never made more than $20,000 a year. So my high point is considerably less extreme as well as my low point.

Matt Beauchene said...

Steve, sorry to hear of your struggle the last few years. You stated that your neighbors "loathed anything to do with welfare or food stamps, because the people who relied on those things were obviously not working hard enough to better themselves." I won't speak for your neighbors, but from personal experience, I don't sit around with my neighbors and discuss welfare and entitlement programs. It is hard not to be disgusted when I have to balance my expenses against my income, yet see people in line at the grocery store with 4 and 5 kids eating better than me because they get to swipe their SNAP card. No longer is there even a stigma of being ashamed by having to hand the checker food stamps like when I was 14 working at Sunshine Grocery. I don't see people that need a hand up as the enemy, as a matter of fact I have many times given my own money and/or time to help those in need. What conservatives like me see as the enemy is leftists in govt that continue to push the same failed policies since the great depression that have done nothing to improve poverty in this country. The war on poverty, by any measure, has been a dismal failure (unless you consider that we have the wealthiest poor in the world as we continue to redefine ‘poverty’). Throwing good money after bad policy is just plain stupid. I'm just not sure where you gets this idea that those who don't want their money taken are greedy and hateful, yet those who want to take their money are innocent cherubs. Quite contradictory. Were you a liberal while living in the $400k house surrounded by mean hearted conservatives, or did you make a conversion due to your circumstances?

Life Under Construction said...

Matt, I'm on my way out the door, so I'm going to quickly address a few things, but will write more later.

First, let me say that while you say you don't see those people needing assistance as the enemy, you point to the fact that those who are on food stamps don't even have the "shame" or "stigma" attached to being on said program that they once did. A little bit of a dichotomy there. SHOULD there be a stigma attached to it?

You also mention having to balance your spending against your income. The food stamp program has set limits (I don't know what they are, I never was on them, my main reliance was unemployment benefits, another one of those "failed" liberal policies that helped me survive for 9 months of unemployment). How the family with "four or five kids" (Let me guess, were they black, too?) spent their limited amount of money is up to them. If they'd rather have t-bone steaks over mac n' cheese, well, they'll have to live with those choices.

Finally, to answer your last question, no I wasn't a "liberal" when I lived in the $400,000 house, I was a moderate, just as I always have been, and continue to be. To further answer your question, I left the Republican party in 1994 because the Christian Coalition had taken over the Iowa state party, and there was no room left for us "middle of the road" Republicans.

I'm in agreement with one thing you said though. It's stupid to continue to push failed economic policies that don't work. Like "trickle down" economics.

Jeremy Wheelock said...

Good read. Good luck to you in the future.

Anonymous said...

Matt B. Never ever assume that folks on food stamps are abusing the system. People that abuse the system are corporations who use subsidies and make billions in profits. Yet our tax dollars pay for that, and we have hungry poor folks. Holy cow, let the rich eat and the poor starve. Maybe those 4-5 kids are not all theirs. Maybe they are friends or cousins. I get tired of the hollier then thou attitude some people have in this country. Try eating top roman noodles for 2 weeks like the working poor has to do ( me).

Jenn said...

The answer is yes. To almost every one. And a few that are too hard to talk about here. I worry about obtaining enough protein and money for heat for the winter. I worry about my girls going to playdates in several million dollar homes while they have to sometimes wait until the next check comes in to get shoes that fit. That's even with family who try to help us. I hear you. Loud and clear. Here's to better days down the line, my dear old friend.

Bobbi Roberts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

your blog brought back some memories for me. Yes my life is on track now and I am able to help out others in need which is an amazing feeling. It is amazing because I have been at the lowest of the low. Like you I had to depend on some government aid, hide my car to try to keep it from getting repossessed. Unlike you I made mistakes that got my kids taken away temporarily. At the hearing the judge saw that I realized the error of my ways and was ready to give them back to me that day. The problem was I was living in my car that was about to be repossessed and absolutely would not allow my babies ( who were 6 and 8 at the time) to live like that. So reluctantly and with a very heavy heart I had to temporarily let them go until I could get a place for us to live. So yes I have been even worse than where you are at and you're right people that call themselves Christians should not be so overly judgmental of everyone on foodstamps or other assistance. Now with all that said I do agree with the drug testing only because I have seen so many people tweaked out of their minds that DO take advantage of the system and that is not fair to the people who are truly down on their luck and really need it. Maybe there would be more help available to those not on drugs that aren't taking advantage of it if those that are on drugs were taken off. just a thought.

Unknown said...

"The isolated citizen is left feeling that his or her personal misfortune is an exception. The portrayal of society by systems of state propaganda—content, respectful of authority, just, economically secure and free—is mistaken for reality."