The Disease called Poverty

Candace, 11 November 2006, No comments
Categories: Life

Here’s what I’d like to know:

For how long can a person be really really poor and still actually one day not live in poverty?

There are plenty of overnight success stories floating around and the ever present protestant work ethic mentality: if you work hard you will succeed. But how many of the success stories are mythical? The work ethic is bogus – plenty of people work really really hard and never get above the poverty line. Having money comes from many things, very little of that is working hard.

Is there ever a point where people have been so poor for so long that they can’t even contemplate how much money it would take to change lifestyles? Does the time come when scrimping and saving and cutting corners becomes so ingrained that new ways of thinking are impossible?

There are stories that float around of people who died and then are discovered to have been rich, but they lived in such a way that no one would ever have known. Did they get so used to being poor that anything else was too alien?

What is the cure for poverty and poverty-mentality?


No Responses, Leave a Reply
  1. Alexandra
    12 November 2006, 4:51 pm

    Maybe this will sound idealistic, but I think the cure is hope. I think having hope can empower people to work for change, stand up to the injustices that contribute to poverty, and demand that those who are not in poverty recognize their privilege and help fight poverty. But I also think that we live in a culture that is so excessive and individualistic, that it’s difficult for hope to survive.

  2. Candace
    12 November 2006, 8:26 pm

    On a society-wide basis I could agree with you – recognizing privilege and thinking beyond one’s own situation would be essential to change. I don’t think this sort of thinking is cultivated – we are conditioned to think about our own careers, our own property, our own needs – rarely do we think about what is best long term for ourselves in relation to our community, our ecosystem, our planet, etc. The book Herland by Charlotte Perkinds Gilman comes to mind, where (among many other examples of non-individualistic thinking) the community endeavoured to replant entire forests to improve conditions for future generations.

    On an case-by-case basis I don’t think it works though. If you take a specific case of a person living who has lived on welfare through their childhood, and find themselves continuing the cycle of poverty, what is hope to that person? What does hope look like to that person?

  3. Russ
    13 November 2006, 1:07 am

    Not complicated: Go to school, learn something, go to college if possible, get a job, show up, keep showing up, stay off drugs and booze, try reasonably hard, keep showing up, when an opportunity comes convert it, keep showing up, do not have children when you are not married, keep showing up, you do not have to be a genius nor the smartest person who ever came by, just keep showing up, stay off drugs…

  4. Candace
    13 November 2006, 9:04 am

    Ahh Russ, you make it sound so simple. But without access to continuing education, a minimum wage full-time job in Ontario today earns a person just over $1000/month ($8/hr * 40hrs/wk * 4wks/month). $12 000/year is below the poverty line. This will rent you a 1-2 bedroom apartment or a shared room and some groceries. Don’t get sick because you probably don’t have benefits. So much for getting a job and showing up everyday. Poverty often precludes access to postsecondary education and the poverty circle continues.

    ‘Don’t have kids without a partner’ sounds good in theory but this implies access to effective birth control and partners who use it properly and consistently. Planning to have kids is also great in theory, but how many people do this? And it ignores that a woman is raped every five minutes in Canada – access to emergency contraception and abortion are also tied to privilege.

    And so a single mom with a highschool education can pretty much expect to live in poverty and this is what the stats show for Canada. Feeding, clothing, housing, and finding healthy daycare for a kid on $12000/year is basically saying never-ending poverty.

    Don’t victimize the victim. Poor people are not poor because of drugs or booze or because they don’t work hard. It’s circumstances and access to opportunities not character flaws.

  5. Russ
    13 November 2006, 10:29 pm

    Candace, you are right, sometimes it’s circumstances, and there is such a thing as a legitimate victim. Many times, though, it’s not the case. Even when it is, many have the capacity to rise above difficult circumstances, but don’t choose to do so.

    I believe a large percentage of those you call victims had choices along the way and made them. There is no denying our streets and jails are full of people who made the decision to snort or inject or ingest drugs or alcohol. Generally speaking, noone tied them down and forced it into them.

    Pregnant young single ladies, aside from those who are pregnant because of rape, were not impregnated by a missing condom. They chose to have sex with someone who could not care for them or for a baby, knowing full well that babies are made that way. Often they go on making more, irresponsibly.

    Not to leave the impregnating sperm donors out of this – if they cut and run then as far as I am concerned, they should be dealt with harshly.

    Many choose to be lazy and simply won’t put out a day’s work for themselves or for their families, whatever the consequences. I have known a fair number of these, and you probably have too.

    I’m all for taking care of innocent children and victims, and taking GOOD care of them, as long as that includes assisting and encouraging them in learning to make good, healthy choices for living, instead of teaching them it’s ok to stay a victim.
    I advocate spending a lot more on the true victims, and a lot less on the rest.

    There are consequences for bad choices, and when we call everyone who is poor a victim solely because they are poor, we promote entitlement and victim mentality. This takes the responsibility out of living, promotes poverty, and creates a cycle that may never be repaired.

    I was raised by a man who had nothing to go on – a raging alcoholic mother, no father, drunks all over the place, and noone feeding him or taking care of his needs. He never spent a day in high school. He made some poor choices and got in a little trouble, sure, but learned from it and rejected the idea of being a victim. He worked hard at jobs not paying well, and as a result, got better jobs that paid a little more, building a reputation of loyalty and dedication that differentiated him from more advantaged people. He didn’t take handouts, but stood on his feet and learned as he took each step forward.

    Results: He’s now successfully retired from driving trucks, well respected, and married 54 years with three productive, educated, adult children with growing families. The thing is, there are millions like him, both men and women, far too many to support a philosophy that all poor people are victims. Life and character are built one hour and day at a time, choice by choice.

    Noone said it was easy. Life’s never been easy for the vast majority of people. But for most, it is possible to move forward. I admire those who start a few yards behind yet decide to march down the field.

    All the best,


  6. Candace
    14 November 2006, 2:00 pm

    Wow Russ, thanks for taking the time to leave such a lengthy comment.

    I agree with you about the sperm donors. Biology is such that there are substantially more single mothers than single fathers. No parent should be exempt from caring for their children.

    I’m going to resist getting into the issues of women and sex and choice. This needs a full post of its own – choice, coercion, survival, they’re all wrapped up together. I want to focus on another part of your comment:

    It sounds like this man has been really important to you. I’m glad he’s happy – but this is not about happiness, it’s about escaping poverty. As much as he may have enjoyed driving trucks he was a driver. Someone else made a lot of money off of his labour. Why? Because they could. Why? Certainly not because they worked harder than he did – sounds like he worked plenty hard. Rich people often work less than poor people. Why? You can’t tell me he didn’t want more money or vacations or luxuries or that he couldn’t have used more money. These questions are the ones that need answering in order to figure out why poverty still exists in Canada, one of the top places in the world to live. Why are there hungry kids and people who can’t buy medicine? It can’t be that all of these people are sabotaging themselves.

    I’m glad things worked out for this man with as little education as he had but don’t try that today. Without high school – without university – you’re looking at Tim Horton’s at minimum wage. He’s the exception not the rule.

    There are significant systemic barriers prohibiting poor people from escaping poverty. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with entitlement: I strongly believe every person is entitled to healthy water and food, healthy living conditions, healthy air, a living wage, representative government, safety at home and away from home – and fact is, poor people have significantly less chance at all of these. Don’t tell me that this is because of choices that they made. It just isn’t true.

  7. Russ
    15 November 2006, 4:39 am


    You cannot believe that every person’s lot in life is solely accidental, random and unaffected by their choices and behaviors. What do you do with my previous examples of willfull drug and alcohol abusers, promiscuous people, and those too lazy to get up and move? What do you do with those who resign themselves to victim and entitlement mentality, and will not work?

    Are all of these just victims of external forces beyond their influence? I don’t see how that could possibly hold water.

    There is a philosophy inherent in your comments about the truck driver and his boss that says an hour of labor is worth an hour of labor, regardless of who expends it or in doing what. Such a philosophy holds that the hour spent by the brain surgeon is worth the same as the hour spent by the dishwasher. It results in the mindset that suggests those horrible business owners (oppressors) and bosses do nothing BUT oppress those poor employees, because after all, the employees should make as much as the bosses and business owners. They “work just as hard”.

    To se how this works in real life, visit Cuba, where those with graduate degrees hope for a job as a bellhop, and where the professor of engineering makes the same $35 a month and a coupon book for rice and beans that the guy who sweeps the gutters (or doesn’t) makes. No problems with awful, nasty rich people or business owners there! Everything is falling apart, and noone has a pot to spit in, but we sure solved the problem of those poor victims.

    Or try Russia, most of China, North Korea, or Eastern Europe. Wonderful places where all the poor people finally got the treatment they were entitled to.

    The very forces that incent people to risk, invest, capitalize and build, are the same forces that raise the entire tide of prosperity and the standard of living. That is precisely why “poor people” in the U.S. have a far higher standard of living than average people in many parts of the world.

    As I said, I am all for taking GOOD care of those who truly are victims. A great culture does that. But “being poor”, in and of itself, does not necessarily make someone a victim. It’s not the determining factor.

    By the way, for every busines owner who is running a successful business and employing people, there are many who lost all they had trying to build a business up from the ground. That means to capitalize, develop and grow a successful business involves real risk of capital – both monetary and sweat equity. Remove the potential return, and who’d bother? Remove the laws of supply, demand, investment, return and pricing, and you start something that will never be finished to anyone’s satisfaction, ever.

    Where’s the healthiest balance point? That’s a valid question, but it’s certainly not all the way to the left, or anywhere near it.



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