Friday, October 5, 2012

Broke vs. Poor: Continuing the Conversation on Poverty

As some of the members of CUMC have said on our Facebook group, it's important to understand what we mean when we talk about poverty. I suggested that I might be considered "almost poor" when I realized that I qualified for food stamps. But Christian Piatt over at the Sojourners blog has made a distinction between "broke" and "poor." He writes,
"Broke is a short-term condition; poor is an inevitable way of life. Broke is asking friends or family for help; broke is having no one else around you in a better state than you’re in to even ask. Broke is buying ramen and rice for a while; poor is imagining what it would be like not to feel hungry or worry about having enough to feed your kids, every day of your life."
I think Christian's distinction is great, and I think it's what we were trying to articulate in our Facebook discussion. Based on his definition, I'm considered broke and not poor. But I would shade it even more. For instance, I have a friend who is poor and homeless. She lives in a trailer parked in her friend's driveway. She doesn't necessarily go hungry, but she does eat very cheaply (no meats, few produce, ect). Her son often asks why there are no meatballs in the spaghetti. And yet she doesn't qualify for food stamps. Her car insurance and gas eat up a huge portion of her income. My friend tells me her parents won't help her. But if I offered to give her some of the canned goods in my pantry, she wouldn't take them.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that socioeconomic status, like gender and race, is socially constructed, and therefore is not a static thing, that is, it's "fluid." What makes a person poor? Who is poor and who isn't? The answer to these questions is situational more often than we would like to admit. The way to respond to poverty is not to dissect it, it's to do something about it. Sojourners suggests we should get political and press our politicians to address the issue of growing poverty in America. For some, it's more up their alley to take action locally, by donating food to a food pantry, serving at a soup kitchen, or donating money to local charities. But for all of us, we must first respond with compassion and care for those who are poor. As God cares for those who are poor, hungry, disabled, and elderly, we must care also. The first step is to care enough to do something about it. The next step is to actually do it.

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