America (red and blue), you are pushing all my buttons this week. Let’s have a chat. Let’s begin with the most basic question: “Who are the poor?”
Actually, it may be easier to answer the question of who the poor are not. To begin with, the poor are not a distinctive, discrete class. Not an ethnicity, not a race. Not some secret society whose mysteries are impenetrable. Not some strange alien species bent on invading our home territory. The poor are not a monolithic block of partisans, either. Hell, they’re not even the same people from year to year. But, mainly, the poor are not something “other” than us.
Hopefully, this is not an earth-shattering revelation for most of you.
And yet, there is so much rhetorical energy spent in this country on painting just that picture...
In America, we tend to think of “the poor” as a distinct, discrete class – a “them” – and tend to speak of the poor, the middle class, and the wealthy as fixed segments of the population...
Census statistics could conceivably bear this idea out. Looked at from year to year, the percentage of the population that could be classified as “poor” remains relatively stable. However, when we track the life of an individual throughout its course, we are presented with a very different picture.
Since 1968, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) has studied the economic situation of nearly five thousand Americans household... According to the findings of the PSID, over the course of a lifespan, by the age of 75, nearly 80% of Americans will have lived at least one year, and most likely more than one, at or below 1.5 times the poverty line. Not just 47%, but nearly 80%. Poverty is a systemic issue. We are all part of the system. We are all at risk of paying the price. Who are the poor? We all are... If we are the poor, then the responsibility falls to us to contribute to the end of poverty. Not only is it the right thing to do, but now it falls well and squarely into the realm of our own self-interest and sense of self-preservation (just in case “the right thing to do” is not a compelling enough argument for you).