If you have, make, or want money, and have an opinion on taxes, welfare, the socioeconomic class divide, Occupy Wall Street, "the 1%", or poverty, this is a good article to read: NYT: The Undeserving Rich
The first reason I like this article is because it points out how data is used to mislead people. As someone with training in statistics, data analysis and program evaluation, this pains me. I once had a Director at a Large Software Company I worked at ask me to analyze some data and write a report to support his program/hypothesis. I told him I could analyze the data, but that it may not say what he wanted it to. That is what data analysts are supposed to do. Not massage data into an elaborate edge case that says what you want it to. Data analysts are supposed to be mathematicians and scientists. We are supposed to objectively analyze data and identify significant correlations, trends, perhaps even causalities. We have to observe the results and intelligently communicate them - but we are not supposed to manipulate the results to say what we want them to, or to hide the truth of an issue!
The second reason I like this article is the second section (it really could be two separate articles) about the Myth of the Deserving Rich.
The story goes like this: America’s affluent are affluent because they made the right lifestyle choices. They got themselves good educations, they got and stayed married, and so on. Basically, affluence is a reward for adhering to the Victorian virtues.
What’s wrong with this story? Even on its own terms, it postulates opportunities that don’t exist. For example, how are children of the poor, or even the working class, supposed to get a good education in an era of declining support for and sharply rising tuition at public universities?
It is easy to tell ourselves that the poor are in that situation because they didn't work hard enough or made questionable life choices. In essence, they deserve to be poor. But the truth is that our country has an ever growing population of hard working people living in poverty. If they hit a streak of bad luck - get sick, have a car break down so they can't get to work, get laid off, etc, they may be homeless before they know it. Many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck not because they are shiftless slackers who don't want to work hard - they are living paycheck to paycheck because their job (or in some cases jobs) don't pay a living wage.
According to US Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of Florida, 50 million Americans (including 13 million children) are living in poverty, and there is only 1 job opening for every 3 applicants. A web search tells me that unemployment is at 7.3%, and the US population is 313.9 million, so I'll be the first to admit that I can't get this math to make sense to me yet. Neither do the assertions of the producers of American Winter, that 46% of America is living in or near poverty (what is the definition of "near poverty"?) I am still digging through data to find the truth. But watching American Winter, you cannot deny the brutal reality that working families face every day in America (don't try watching it without a box of kleenex handy). Quoting my friend Lizzie who is actively involved in helping homeless people in her community:
Absolutely anyone can end up homeless. It's easier (and more comfortable) to think its " those people". Distance keeps the very real and scary threat of poverty away.
There are people who are mentally ill and drug addicted on the street, but in some cases they simply began without resources or proper family. The depression, PTSD, and addiction are aquired after a financial ruin. Hope is lost. Sleeping in a wash is a bit of a trick...a little medicine helps you sleep thru the night, a little more takes your mind off how utterly screwed you are. And then...addiction.
Many many Americans are 60 days away from catastrophe. There are former millionaires that are now homeless, people who got too old to work, abuse victims, products of the foster care system, veterans, isolated people, alone people, people who hit a rough patch and had no one to ask for help.
People. All kinds of people, anyone. You. Me. All of us. Not "those people" All people.
OK so maybe the Congresswoman's statistics are inflated and it isn't 50 million people living in poverty but only 25 million. Or maybe the American Winter filmmakers are right and it is closer to 150 million in or near poverty. Either way, it still doesn't mean those people deserve to be there with little hope of improving their situation. We don't have to give handouts, but for $DEITY sake we need to offer people a hand up and a way to get out of poverty. Opportunity and hope should be available to everyone in America, even the poor.
New in my reading queue: Bread For The World. I don't have the same faith they do, but I am interested in their goal to end hunger. It isn't job training or advocating for a living wage, but kids can't study when they are hungry (and that means their future potential is limited) and their parents can't do their best when they are stressed about how they will feed their kids.
I can't fix everything, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't at least try to make one thing better.