What Is Poor?

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This morning, I read an article on the government’s report of poverty in America that will be released tomorrow. In this report(according to the article), poor people self reported aspects about their lifestyle; many of which we don’t typically associate with being poor. Things like, oh, more than 75% of people who identify themselves by government standards as poor have a car. More than half even have two cars. Just shy of 100% have a color television, more than half have two color TVs and more than 60% have cable or satellite reception for their color TVs. The vast majority have either a land line or cell phone, and over half have both. Only 6% of the poor meet governmental standings and are considered overcrowded.

“Poor” is such a relative term. If we think of the American poor, we’re most likely to think of those in the innter city or living in cheap housing in undesirable areas of the country.

Yet, if I ask you to think on a worldwide scale and describe the poor, you’re more likely to think of mud huts in third world countries, sub-Saharan African countries in starvation mode from famine or dictators stealing their food, etc.

So, what is poor? Is it relative? To a certain point, yes. So, what do we do about the poor? Again, it all depends on what viewpoint you’re coming from.

Think back to the French Revolution. The French rose up against their oppressors because it literally meant food being taken from their tables and lowering their standard of living.

But are poor Americans really poor? Sure, we’ve seen corporate greed from the likes of Ken Lay, but will the workers of these companies which have been destroyed by corporate greed really rise up like the French did a few hundred years ago? Highlyy, highly unlikely. Why? Well, my opinion is that the corporate greed hasn’t caused enough pain. Sure, some people lost their retirement and that’s dispicable. But did they lose food off their table? Their home? Their cable TV? Their car? Were things tighter for those effected financially? Sure…but not to a point where anyone organized enough folks to start a revolution of any kind.

What’s my point? Basically, we’re spoiled. We’re Americans who, even those Americans who are considered poor, still have amenities which comfort their life more than Americans(even middle and upper class Americans)had 50 years ago.

Should we help the poor? Abso-freaking-lutely! It’s simple good humanitarianism that makes me want to help those less fortunate. But do I help someone in my state who owns his/her home(46% of those who are poor own their own home) or do I try to help those in poverty-stricken countries around the world? For me, let’s go where the need is the greatest. Still, do what you think is right, just be sure you ARE practicing good humanitarianism by giving to those less fortunate.

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  • Kevin
    Reply

    Mr. Engel: Do you contend that America’s poor should deprive themselves of simple amenities that may help them enjoy their lives despite the limits imposed by poverty in order that we who are more fortunate may find it easier to pity them. Your initial premise referred to those identified as poor by American standards. To introduce the poverty experienced by those whose initial fortune brought them to life in the third world is unfair and ill conceived. Why must those of good faith look beyond their neighbor when motivated to good works?

  • Marcus Engel
    Reply

    Kevin, I have to break your questions down into smaller ones, but I’d like to give you my response. As they are now, there are too many variables in each to give a single, efficient answer. Here goes!

    Mr. Engel: Do you contend that America’s poor should deprive themselves of simple amenities that may help them enjoy their lives?
    ME: Not at all! Where it seems you and I differ is in what we consider simple amenities. A color TV with free basic channels is simple. Cable television is not. Cable is going to run the average household $50 per month. Over a year, that’s a nice hunk of change. Simple amenities are plentiful-and cheap. That’s what makes them “simple.”

    despite the limits imposed by poverty in order that we who are more fortunate may find it easier to pity them.
    ME: I’m not 110% sure I understand. Are you asking, “Marcus, do you want the poor to have absolutely nothing? Then, it’ll be easier to pity them.” or, “Marcus, do you want the poor to have amenities so it’s easier to judge them?” This is the best I can discern from your statement. To answer this… No. I’m simply stating that, even for the poor, America is a pretty great place to live!

    Your initial premise referred to those identified as poor by American
    standards. To introduce the poverty experienced by those whose initial fortune brought them to life in the third world is unfair and ill conceived.
    ME: My simple point is the same as the last comment. Being poor in America means you have plenty to eat, a roof over your head that (by the study) you probably own, you have several forms of entertainment and a few forms of technological communication (cell phones, internet access, etc.) I’m not sure how this is misconstrued as staring further down the poverty pike at the poor of the third world…?

    Why must those of good faith look beyond their neighbor when motivated to good works?
    ME: You’re very right. As the old saying goes, “Think Globally, Act Locally.” The problem is, when I read a report such as this (self report to the federal government) and the poor of this country are self-admittedly not doing so bad, it causes me to pause. If I am to donate my hard earned money to help humanity, won’t my donation go a great deal further in a third world country? After all, only 2% of the American poor stated they sometimes don’t have enough to eat. I can’t imagine the stat in sub-Saharan Africa is in the single digits, can you? American poor are in very little danger of losing their lives due to their impoverished condition. The same cannot be said for the poor in third world countries.

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