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Bear Trap

June 27, 2021

File:Bear trap.jpg

Bear trap.  Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society.
(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Imagine you are a single mother in your mid-30s, with two children.

Minimum Wage

You have worked since your teens at thankless, minimum wage jobs.  Never mind that they serve a worthwhile purpose.

Only 1 in 5 of the jobs economists view as “good” are available to people without a college education [1A].

Unpaid Child Support

The father of your infant son is resisting child support.  Approximately 70% of the nation’s $15 million in unpaid child support is owed by parents who make less than $10,000 annually [2].

Support will not be retroactive, in any case, as the court managed to lose your paperwork.

Limited Financial Aid

Your older son (whose father is incarcerated) is about to enter college.  The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world; incarceration rates in low-income areas are far higher than in wealthy areas [3].

Your son has aspirations, but not enough financial aid to cover tuition.  The cost of college tuition has outpaced financial aid [1B].  The young man is hoping to find a summer job.  If not, he will have to take out student loans.

Even then, he may not stay in college.  The six-year graduation rate of students with a low-income background is just 31% [4].

Student Loan Debt

You have tried for well over 10 years to complete your own education, racking up enormous student loan debt, but making little progress.

Inadequate preparation by low quality “inner city” schools, childcare issues, and the pressing need to support your children have all played a role [5].

If you were to pass away, your federal loans would be forgiven.  However, you do not have student loan insurance [6].  Private loans would be enforced against your home on your death [7].

Illegal Flipping

After scrimping and saving for years, you paid top dollar for that home, a recently refurbished older property.

What you did not know was that the price was inflated as part of a flipping scam in which your appraiser participated [8].  Only superficial improvements were made, though major repairs were needed.

You do not have money for those repairs, and do not have mortgage insurance which might salvage the home for your children in a worst case scenario.

Wage Theft

Your latest employer has been engaged in systematic wage theft.  You are not the only employee impacted.

An estimated 2.4 million people are cheated of a combined $8 billion each year by their employer [9].  Most are fearful of losing their jobs, if they come forward.

Thankfully, a new company is in the process of taking over.  Unfortunately, you will be losing your seniority, as a result.

Medical Debt

Add to all that the fact you have stage 3 cancer.  It is a rare and aggressive form for which there is no standard treatment.

You are on a  painful and debilitating regimen of chemo, at a cost of $30,000/month, incurring medical debt your health insurer does not cover [10].  In desperation, you have applied for grants.

Meanwhile, your insurer has denied payment for your pain medication, and the scans necessary to track the progress of your cancer.

Short Term Disability

You have been approved for your accumulated sick time, but denied short term disability by the new company which views your cancer as a pre-existing condition [11].

If you do not return to work when this brief medical leave expires, your job will be forfeit.  If you lose your job, you will lose your health insurance.  You do not have the money for COBRA.

Long Term Disability

As a last resort, you have applied for Social Security disability.  This will not be sufficient to cover your mortgage [12].  You are afraid of losing your home, and having to live in your car.

You would consider suicide, but for your children and your faith.


If this were a story by Charles Dickens – a depiction of poverty in 19th Century London – we might find it pitiable.  Instead, it is all too real.

This is the bear trap in which the poor are caught.  While they may make some unwise decisions, theirs are hardly lives of ease or reckless extravagance.

If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2: 15-16).

[1A and 1B]  Street Roots, “Poverty:  The biggest obstacle to higher education” by Joanne Zuhl, 4/26/19,

[2]  Baltimore Sun, “Child support forcing poor families further into poverty” by Editorial Board, 5/12/19,

[3]  Wikipedia, “United States incarceration rate”,

[4]  Washington Post, “Why poor kids don’t stay in college” by Jeff Guo, 10/20/14,

[5]  Brookings, “Higher Education and the Opportunity Gap” by Isabel Sawhill, 10/8/13,

[6]  Student Loan Planner, “When It Makes Sense to Have Student Loan Insurance” by Clint Proctor, 3/1/21,

[7]  Forbes, “What Happens to Student Loans When You Die?” by Kat Tretina and Mike Cetera, 1/7/21,

[8]  FBI, “Illegal Property Flipping”,

[9]  GQ, “Is Your Employer Stealing from You?” by Luke Darby, 11/8/19,

[10]  Quote Wizard, “Health Insurance and Chemotherapy” by Bryan Ochalla, 2/6/19,

[11]  Breeze, “Short Term Disability Insurance: everything you need to know in 2021” by Jack Wolstenholm, 4/12/21,

[12]  AARP, “Comparing Adequacy Adjustments to Social Security:  How Well Do They Target Different Beneficiaries?” by Melissa Favreault and Karen Smith, 12/9/20,


  1. Great post Anna..
    It describes the life of so many, who can’t seem to get ahead.

  2. I have always struggled with victims people create with poor choices. I was a part of hiring 43 people in a company one summer (we needed workers) and paid almost double minimum wage. We kept 3. Many could not spell their name, read, and were lacking possibly many skills including coming back to work until the money was gambled, drank or drugged away. some of their kids lived in cars and storage sheds even through harsh winters. Many sad stories. I know of no solution ultimately but knowing God and submitting to his trust and his ways. Jesus changes lives. He really does.

    • You accurately describe the scars sustained by many raised in poverty — the basic life skills they lack. Any job training program must address these issues, in addition to teaching a livelihood such as plumbing or HVAC. Only God, however, can change the heart and bring men and women out of darkness.

      • Amen. Well said, Anna.

      • Thank you, Ann.

      • Yes the scars are deep. In my last employ we had just started hiring people who completed a program from addictions. We quickly realized we needed to do more to have successful employees rather than hope for a good one now and then.

        We were in process of hiring a person to put together an extension to their program while getting paid to work.

        That person was to meet daily then weekly with them mentoring them into a work culture with an expectation of high productivity. I left to retire about that time.

  3. Very powerful Anna. Thank you!

  4. Heartbreaking! How much more so for God. ‘Your kingdom come (in me/others), your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’

  5. So many factors contribute to this never ending cycle of poverty. One could almost do a cause and effect analysis to prove this. Take the single mom with two children for example. There will never be enough money to provide what most of us consider to be essential. Not enough money for good, healthy food, not enough money for college, not enough money for health care, not enough money for adequate transportation, not enough money for clothes and shoes, and on and on we could go.

    The bottom line is poverty is one of the most difficult “prisons” to be sentenced to. There is no parole board to appeal to, no pardon from the governor, nothing but a ball and chain that holds a person back, representing a weight they were never designed to bear.

    If we could ever harness opportunity to motivation we just might make a dent in the poverty issue. Until then, the cycle continues.

    • Little wonder that Christ said the poor we would always have w/ us (Matt. 26: 11). That is not, of course, an excuse to ignore their plight.

      • Anna, this is a well-written post giving a snapshot into the unfortunate life many struggle to endure. Your response stated here is the pinnacle of truth.

        May the Lord open the eyes of believers everywhere to the specific part we are called to do.

      • Thank you, Manette.

  6. Back in the day we used to call this the “interlocking problems of poverty”. It still is the case.

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