Monday, February 4, 2013

Poverty - Perception is Everything

I read an article about the poverty in Appalachia the other day and thought it was funny that they said the homes (in the 1960s) didn't have "plumbing or sanitation." Say what?

My grandmother kept a very neat house. She didn't have an indoor toilet, but no one, who visited her home, would ever have called her house "unsanitary." In fact, my house is probably a good deal less sanitary than hers, and I have both indoor plumbing AND sanitation. The fact that I have dogs and cats (nasty, dirty critters) living inside my house would have disgusted her.

It annoys me - a lot - when the media tries to spin the poverty issue as if it is a disease that needs to be eradicted. People who don't have money aren't sick, and funneling more money into the system does not make things better for the people the system is supposed to be helping. The more money we spend to fix poverty, the more cumbersome the system becomes, and the more money it takes just to administer the programs. It costs more money to pay for all of the people to do the paperwork than we actually give to the people who get the money. It's become a great, big, huge, unwieldy system that is going to buckle under its own weight, and the people who will get crushed are the people who are always crushed - the ones it is supposed to help.

Poverty happens when a small percentage of people claim ownership of things they have no business owning, and then, charge others for the use of those things. When one has to pay for such basic, necessary items like food, shelter, and water, one must have money, and if one can not afford those things, then, one's quality of life is degraded.

But poverty isn't about not having money, it's about not being able to provide for one's own needs, because someone has taken that freedom away.

The sun is out. It's not warm, because it's winter, but there's a brisk breeze and it's sunny. It's a perfect day for line-drying clothes. I was thinking about that article I read, and about how we no longer have a clothesdryer, and I mentioned to Deus Ex Machina that it was funny, because some time ago, I had some neighbors who did not have a clothesdryer - not because they chose not to have one, but because they were unable to afford to buy one - and I can remember that I considered offering to allow them to "borrow" mine. I think I actually felt some pity for them, because they had to hang their clothes on the line to dry - like that was just some incredible hardship. Maybe not exactly the same thing, but it reminded me of the time that a very well-meaning acquaintance found out we don't have a television and offered to take up a collection to buy us one. I'm certain there were deep feelings of pity involved in her offer. She thought she was doing us a favor, and it was a very kind, but unwelcome, gesture.

We have these crazy notions about what's necessary for quality of life, and among those things are some real non-essentials, like televisions and clothesdryers. I have neither, now, and I don't feel that my quality of life is diminished at all.

Mind you, this post is not me feeling superior to those people who do want those things, but rather a simple musing out loud about the difference between being poor and feeling poor. I wonder how many of the people who lived in Applachia, largely ignored by the industrializing world until the old growth trees were coveted and then, the coal supplies were discovered, would have considered themselves impoverished. Certainly, they had little money, but they probabaly had a warm cabin, and plenty of food, and lots of time for making music and communing with friends and family.

I wonder if we will ever get to a point where we feel sorry for people who are forced to use clothesdryers because they don't have the space (no yard) or time to hang their clothes out where the sun can carress and sanitize the fabric and the wind can whip the moisture out of the cloth.


  1. Wendy,

    It's interesting the examples you give of a dryer and a TV - just this morning I was contemplating the idea of selling our TV to pay for more needful things to be done to our property (or asking the fencing company who placed a bid outside of our cash budget if they would consider it as a barter item toward part of the bill).

    We only bought the TV because we got a great deal on it a couple of Veterans' Days back - we had no need for it and still really don't. We don't have cable or satellite hooked up to it; I haven't even splurged on a digital antenna to see if we can even get THAT. So the only thing we can watch on it is DVDs or downloads on our computers - which would serve just as well, if slightly less conveniently for the whole family to gather around. We only do that once a week or two anyway - normally it's the kids who watch a show, and gladly watch it on an iPad or laptop as well.

    Hmmmm. Gonna have to run this up the flagpole with Manly and see if he salutes!

  2. Melonie, if you needed an additional reason to consider jettisoning the television, you should know that when we stopped using our television and DVD player, the savings on our electric bill was signficant. I was actually shocked by how much we saved.

  3. Wendy: Would you please provide a link to the article you read. Also, would you please clarify what you meant in paragraph 5 - "because someone has taken that freedom away".

  4. Anonymous 4:52PM:

    This is a link to the article.

    If you look at paragraph four, you'll see what I mean by my statement in paragraph five ;).

  5. Our quality of life has improved greatly since we stopped watching TV, we have time for participating in real life instead of watching and no exposure to constant advertising leaves you feeling much happier with what you already have :)
    No dryer here either.

  6. Wendy: Thanks for the link. I like to check out articles that bloggers refer to so I can see not only their point of view but what the writer of the article was trying to articulate. I went back and reread your post and my conclusion is you oppose the government policies and programs that have robbed the people of self responsibility. I do see the need for a welfare program but not to the extent it has reached today. My father died in his sleep (9/57) when I was 16 and we were financially poor. My father was unable to buy insurance as he was diagnosed at age 8 with Type 1 diabetes. In fact, insulin was discovered that same year (1923). My mother only received cash welfare for 2 months and back in 1957 it was considered a loan. There were no food stamps, food pantries, free clothing giveaways, or any type of help with heating, electricity, rent subsidies and a host of other programs available today. My mother was totally embarrased to have to ask for help. By January of '58 she had a full time job working in a sweater factory doing piece work. We never went hungry, were dirty. She came home and cooked/baked from scratch. No microwaves, preprocessed food like today. I was told by the social worker to quit school, get a job to financially help my family. I had just started my senior year. I was fortunate that I had a great business teacher who helped me find a secretarial job at $..37 1/2
    per hour. I went to business class in the a.m., picked up homework assignments and textbooks on Monday before leaving for work and had to turn in those assignments just like all the other students. Tests - I had to turn in my textbooks and do them at home on the weekends. I worked from 1 to 5 in an office. I was the oldest at 16 and had 2 brothers 10 & 13 and a sister who had just turned 8 when our father died. We were always instilled with the need to be self reliant and responsible. Poverty has been with us thru all the ages. It isn't just Appalachia. The writer could have just as easily chosen Philadephia, Detroit or any number of large or small towns thru out the world. The problem of poverty cannot be blamed just on government policies. History reflects that governments are just a pathway used by groups of people and other institutions who worship wealth above all else. I'm currently reading copies of The Farm Journal and Farmers Wife magazines from the 30's and 40's. Same old stuff but also the articles in these magazines reflect the values of people such as yourself. Yes I have a TV, a dryer, microwave and I do use them. I also was the first person in the development I have lived in for almost 35 years to have wash lines and a garden. I'm 72 years old, married with 3 married sons and 3 very young grandchildren(granddaughter who will be 7 next Sat. and 17 month old twin grandsons). I still garden, can, freeze and dehydrate and hang out my wash. There are times during the spring and fall when my allergies do not permit this. I am a home sewer/quilter and an avid book collector. I live in SE Pennsylvania.

  7. Anonymous in SE Pennsylvania - You are absolutely correct, the author of that article could have focused attention anywhere, and if I hadn't lived and didn't have family from that exact area in southeastern Kentucky, and didn't know the region or the people, I might feel differently about those kinds of stories than I do. One of the reasons that the region had attention drawn to it was that the coal miners, who had been abused by their corporate employers for too many decades, decided to fight back. The miners went on strike in an attempt to unionize, and the coal companies actually fought back ... with guns. During the fight, the miners actually took it all the way to New York City, where they picketed the power company who owned the coal mines where they worked. The movie "Harlan County USA" brought a lot of it to light, and Harlan County, Kentucky gained the nickname "bloody Harlan" during the first battle to unionize in the 1930s.

    I don't blame the government (entirely) for poverty. In SE Kentucky, the people there were always cash poor, but before coal mining polluted the soil, the air and the water, people could, at least, feed their families with whatever garden they could grow and whatever food they could hunt, and they had a place to live - even if they only had a very small holding. My grandparents raised their eleven children in a four-room house on a five acre homestead. Like your experience, they never wanted for anything, because they were, mostly, self-sufficient with a big garden and animals they raised for food. My grandmother was incredibly frugal and creative, and nothing got wasted.

    My biggest problem with the government is that they COULD do something about the extreme hardships caused by poverty, but choose not to. For instance, instead of bailing out the banks, they could have forgiven mortgages, and at least, allowed people to stay in their homes. Instead of subsidizing big coal, big oil, big agriculture, and big pharma they could subsidize micro farms or things like small community-sized or residential-sized power generation equipment, but instead, they give all of this money and tax breaks to HUGE corporations that, ultimately, take advantage of the people who have the most to lose and the least to give.

    Yes, to quote Andrew Lloyd Webber, "there will be poor always ...", but a savvy government, a government that is truly FOR the people could do a lot more FOR the people than give them food stamps and welfare checks. The government could prohibit corporate abuses of power, but they have chosen not to, and those corporations have destroyed millions of lives as a result of their greed.