No one wants to be poor.
We go to great lengths to not be poor or even seen as poor.
It’s no wonder. We live in a country that shames poor people. If you’re poor, it’s because you did something wrong. You’re lazy and don’t work hard enough. Don’t save enough. You’re a failure.
But the fact of the matter is many of us live in poverty. And if we’re not below the poverty line, we’re pretty darn close. And for those of us who made it out of poverty, we still have family members living at or near the poverty level.
For Black Americans, poverty and race often have a symbiotic relationship. In Indianapolis, 28% of Black residents live in poverty, according to 2017 Census data. Overall, the city has a poverty rate of 20%. While we may not want to admit to living in poverty, the data shows a number of us are struggling financially. The COVID-19 pandemic made an already precarious situation even more tenuous for so many of our family members, friends and neighbors.
It’s not just adults who live in poverty; it’s children too. In fact, 275,000 or 18% of Indiana children lived in poverty in 2018, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids County Data Book.
Like so many Black people, I grew up poor. We often didn’t know the extent of the limitations of poverty because we grow up in impoverished neighborhoods. It’s only until you discover all the opportunities you’re missing because you can’t afford it that you realize the true extent of your lack of finances and the cost of poverty.
We make jokes about growing up poor and are proud of our resiliency. We revel in the fact that our struggle made us tough and taught us how to survive. I think I could’ve done without those lessons and been just fine had I had money. Maybe there are some rich lessons I could’ve learned instead. If having money makes you weak and less likely to survive, why then do so many of us want it?
From education to health disparities to life expectancy, poverty takes a toll on you as Chris Busbee, an Indianapolis resident, so poignantly stated. It affects every aspect of your life. Not having enough money to pay your bills leaves you anxious and depressed. Not being able to take care of your children leaves you ashamed and heartbroken.
People who live in poverty work hard. Most are far from lazy. They work the grueling, back-breaking jobs that leave little time for hobbies and relaxation. If the pandemic better known as COVID-19 taught us nothing else, it should’ve taught us how much we rely on people who don’t even make a living wage.
We live in a country where our legislators and some of their constituents are adamantly against paying someone $15 an hour. They say it will hurt the economy and local businesses. I’m not an economist and I’m not even going to pretend I play one on TV, but it seems like a country that’s always bragging about how rich it is could find a way to make $15 an hour happen. We can find money when we want (American Rescue Plan Act). We live in a country where CEOs are fired and still receive a severance package known as a golden parachute. Walmart and other companies pay their employees so little they must receive taxpayer subsidized assistance. Then we blame the employee for being lazy not Walmart for being greedy. Am I the only one who thinks that doesn’t make sense?
Maybe if everyone made a living wage, we could actually afford the real cost of items and not even need a Walmart to keep prices artificially low. Again, I’m no economist here, but I think there are solutions to ending poverty — if we really want to.
In this week’s edition the editorial team delved deeply into the issue of poverty. It’s hard to miss the role it plays in the work we do and the community we serve. So many of the challenges Black people face are rooted in poverty and racism. Poverty is too big of an issue to cover every aspect in one edition, which is why we will continue our focus on poverty and poverty-related issues in future editions.
Hopefully, we find some solutions along the way.