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Endless Grind – The Working Poor, Part 2

December 12, 2012

In 2010, 5.3 million families lived below the poverty level, in spite of the fact they had at least one family member employed for half the year or longer.  These are the working poor[i] – the men and women with one or more jobs whose combined income will not cover basic necessities like food, clothing, and housing.

The challenge of simply staying alive places untenable burdens not only on wage earners, but the children and elderly they are attempting to support. Heroic efforts by those trapped in the cycle of poverty often make no perceptible difference.

Housing

“ ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head’ ” (Matt. 8: 20).

Like the Lord, Himself, the working poor have difficulty finding a place to lay their heads. In almost every case they pay more than the recommended 30% of their income on housing. The small amount they make will not stretch far enough, so the threat of homelessness is ever present.

Eviction is commonplace, effectively depriving families of most of their worldly goods, when a landlord does not make retrieval feasible, or funds are not present to allow for relocation in a timely manner.

Families are separated in the process, sleeping on a friend’s couch or floor one night and elsewhere the next. Despite the existence of governmental agencies and non-profit organizations, even finding temporary shelter – let alone affordable housing, in livable condition – can be a daunting task.

Fraud is not absent from housing either. Supposed “rental agents” have been known to obtain money from potential tenants under false pretenses – bearing no relation to the property in question at all.

 Debt

“ ‘And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’ ” (Matt. 6: 12).

Unfortunately, repeated hopeful attempts to pursue higher education can result in enormous student loan debt. This will, in turn, drive up the cost of financing a vehicle or home. Financing rates for the poor may be as high as 23% or more.

 Many people amass credit card debt, even paying for weekly groceries on credit. When credit is no longer offered the adult in a family, cards are often obtained in the names of children, who may acquire debt before they can walk. This is not viewed so much as a scam, as a means to survive.

 A Juggling Act

“If you have nothing with which to pay, why should he take away your bed from under you?” (Prov.22: 27).

While it may seem inconceivable to those without pressing financial concerns, funds in a working poor household can be so low there is not enough for a bus ride to work (or school), on a given day. Vehicles may be repossessed for overdue payments or impounded for lack of insurance. This is catastrophic to families already living out of their vehicles, for lack of any other recourse.

Since there are never enough funds to go around, finances are a juggling act. Bills are paid in part, paid in alternate months, or deferred entirely. A few dollars go toward electricity. The remainder of the electric bill is left unpaid till next month. This month the rent gets paid. Next month it does not. All the while, late fees and penalties accrue.

In the Face of a Barrage

“ ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land’ ” (Deut. 15: 11).

In the face of this barrage of ills, it is virtually impossible for the working poor to retain employment for any substantial length of time, accumulate savings against a crisis, and maintain a positive outlook on the future.

Conservatives tend to blame the plight of the working poor on excessive government intervention, while liberals blame it on inadequate government intervention.

A comparison of European welfare programs shows that governments spending a higher proportion on unemployment insurance, social security, family assistance, and other specialized subsidies (food, housing, healthcare, childcare, and/or transportation) can pull people out of poverty, even when wages remain low[ii]. This, however, requires reduced spending in other areas, for example, national defense.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act passed in 1996 succeeded in moving millions in the United States from welfare to work. Social engineering is, however, a risky undertaking with unintended consequences.

The decisions we make are more than a matter of politics or bookkeeping. There are real lives at stake, deserving of our best (and most selfless) efforts. May God guide us in this, as in all things.


[i] The statistics referenced in Parts 1 and 2 of this article were obtained by the US Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

[ii] Oxford Journals/European Sociological Review, Vol. 25, Issue 4, “Welfare States, Labour Market Institutions and the Working Poor:  A Comparative Analysis of 20 European Countries” by Henning Lohmann.

READERS CAN FIND MY VIEWS ON ABUSE AND ABUSE-RELATED ISSUES AT ANNA WALDHERR A Voice Reclaimed, Surviving Child Abuse  http://www.avoicereclaimed

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