Why Do We Hate Poor People?

copyright © 2008 Forgiven. The Disputed Truth

Why is it that when we encounter poor or homeless people they make us cringe? Why do we want to make them disappear into shelters or remove them out of our sights? Since the Reagan revolution we have instead of being at war against poverty, we have been at war with poor people. They litter our streets like so many abandoned cars at a salvage yard. Why has it been so easy to sell the false narrative that people are poor by choice and that if they would just work harder they wouldn’t be poor? I think that our reactions to the poor says more about who we are than who they are. Let’s face it there have been poor people throughout recorded history, so what’s the big deal? The big deal is not that there are poor people, but that there are poor people we could help and don’t.

The reason I think we hate poor people is that rather than reminding of us of the blessings we have received, they instead remind us of our vulnerabilities and our insecurities. They remind so many of us that we are only one missed paycheck or one serious health issue away from their lot and it scares the hell out of us. We need so badly to believe that this could never happen to us, that we are so insulated from them and their fate that it could never be our fate. When the reality is too frightening to consider we create these illusions to placate ourselves. The greatest illusion is that we live in a society that if anyone is willing to work hard enough they can overcome the poverty of their birth. We regale ourselves with these fables of rags to riches, never considering the reality of these tales. The reality is a far cry from the false narratives being maintained by those who would keep us ignorant of the truth.

We are constantly fed the fairy-tale of the poor kid who signs a million-dollar sports contract, the million-dollar recording contract, or the Ivy League scholarship. And for those who have desires that steer towards more iniquitous pursuits we even have the “gangster” or drug dealer chronicles. In other words there is money and wealth to be had by all except the most slothful of our fellow citizens. How prevalent are these scenarios in modern America? The truth is that very little has changed for poor people, the majority of children born into poverty will remain in poverty. How can they not? They are provided with in many cases inferior homes, schools, and sometimes parents. The deck is stacked against them from the moment they take their first breath.

Sure we occasionally give a few dollars here and there with moral superiority and discuss how unfortunate those people are. All the while hoping they would just disappear and not remind us of how tenuous our hold on the American Dream is. Not only do they remind us of our perilous situations they also remind us of our conspicuous consumption and how truly far we have bought and sold the lie of more is better. The truth of this is in the fact that many of us believe that today’s poor are not really poor. We look at poverty in the third world and convince ourselves that those are truly poor people, the ones here are just whiners.

Robert Rector, a Senior Fellow at Heritage and a leading force behind welfare reform, similarly argued that federal studies should highlight the consumption-rather than income-of impoverished households. Many poor families do not record ‘gray area’ earnings because the federal wage threshold provides a disincentive to report joint income or informal earnings. Also, purchasing power varies across metropolitan, suburban, and rural communities. Rector’s study, which utilizes data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, demonstrates that many allegedly impoverished households live in decent-to-comfortable conditions, making poverty somewhat different from John Edwards’ “terrible condition struggling against incredible poverty.”

Rector’s report shows that the “typical,” median poor household owns a car, air-conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a washer and dryer, a microwave, two color televisions, cable or satellite television, a vcr or dvd player, and a stereo. The typical poor family’s house is in good repair and the family is able to afford both food and medical care throughout the year.

With living standards such as these, poverty in America may actually be an enviable state compared to living standards in other nations. According to the Census Bureau, 15.2% of immigrants live in poverty, whereas only 11.9% of natives are below the poverty threshold. Rector claims that 1 in 10 of immigrants in poverty is likely an illegal immigrant, but estimates remain vague; the U.S. census declines to ask immigrant responders whether they have documentation. Heritage Organization

So being poor in America is an enviable state? The Bible says, “Blessed is the poor”. How many of us actually drive by a poor neighborhood or a homeless person and say, “Boy, those folks are really lucky”? I wonder if the author of that report is willing to exchange places with one of these lucky poor people? The reason we need to deny their pain and hopelessness is so we can deny our greed. If poor people aren’t really poor, then I am not actually consuming too much. The world is made up of balances, there is only so many of anything. In order for someone to have more, someone has to have less. We assuage our guilt at ignoring their plight by criminalizing them or demonizing them. We don’t want them around us or bothering us. The thing I don’t like about poor people is that they are so needy. They are always asking for stuff.

We hate them because of what they tell us about ourselves and our lives. How we can live in a country that thinks nothing of spending over 700 billion for wars and war machinery, billions in corporate welfare, and every year we cut programs to help the poor. They don’t need early childhood intervention, better schools, or financial assistance. What they need is a swift kick in the butt to get them motivated. It’s no wonder that children born poor suffer from stress related brain trauma. Despite popular opinion being poor even as a child is stressful. We bombard the airwaves with these images of consumption, we tell our children you are not cool, hip, or anybody if you don’t wear these shoes, these clothes, or have these things. Then we act surprised by their actions to get them and call them animals and lock them up. And we’re the civilized ones. There, but for the grace of God, goes I.

Many of us believe that wrongs aren’t wrong if it’s done by nice people like ourselves.  – Author Unknown