Thursday, June 11, 2009

Being Invisible in America

On his blog, The Change Exchange, Dave Wheeler writes about the working poor in America and includes quotes from David Shipley's book, The Working Poor, Invisible in America. I was moved by the quotes.

Often times we do not even think of the working poor who arise every morning like the rest of us, go to work at several minimum wage jobs and return home after midnight unlike most of us, and pay taxes like the majority of us.

The invisibility of the working poor always touches me, for these usually have little ones whose lives are shaped by what they see, some for the better, but more than likely a great many for the worse.

What about the children?

Education and healthcare reform are needed for the children, these precious ones.


DB said...

"The reason there are homeless people is because they refuse to work." I have heard that idiotic remark to damn many times. I know of a famiily in New York City that lives behind a wrought iron fence on a staircase that leads down to the basement of a building. Their roof is a series of cardboard boxes found on the street. There are chldren, two at least. The man has a full time and part time job. He works seven days a week. The children go to school. He works as the assistant supervisor for a building he can't afford to live in. Being only the assistant he isn't given an apartment. If the super retires and the building hires him he can move in there. In the meantime, the neighbors take care of the family, making sure they have blankets in the winter, sometimes bring them food and clothing. He doesn't want to move into a shelter because the family will be broken up if they do.

That's just one story of thousands like it in NY and America.

The reason there are homeless people is because they have no place to live, y'all.


Judith Ellis said...

DB - Thank you so very much for that story. What a horrific one. It's amazing sometimes where we find ourselves. I do, however, wonder:

1. Do they have no family members of friends that can help?
2. Is he not a member of any faith-based organizations?
3. How can neighbors feed them in Winter, but not house them?
4. Does the wife work?

I guess these questions can all be easily understood, but from where I sit I could not imagine not seeing to it personally that this family had a place to live SOMEWHERE even if it meant with me, if there are no drugs involved, until they could be housed. Growing up my uncle's church had apartment buildings with thousands of units where such a family could be housed.

I might also add that there are indeed those homeless people that refuse to work. I have even offered some work and they have flatly refused, prefering to live underneath the bridge and collect money from passerbys. These are clearly running a scheme working in another way. I do not give them on brown cent.

Many are also mentally ill. A former governor of Michigan, Governor Engler (R) closed many psychiatric hospitials here which left many patients wandering the streets and living underneath bridges. I have also come to know that many homeless people are drug addicts. But Dave's post covers the working poor as you have done here.

Again, thank you, dear sir, for your story. It puts a real face on the working poor in America. My heart hurts.

DB said...

Judith, I don't know enough about the family to answer your questions. I do know that the apartments around there are very small and overcrowded. There are as many brands of poverty as there are of wealth I suppose. The insane have been turned out to wander the streets. The tragedy of drug addiction can make one homeless if the rent money buys the dope. The guys who live under the bridge and pan handle are not homeless. They live under the bridge or wherever. I've scraped enough of them up off the street to know that they do not consider themselves homeless. They have a totally different identity of themselves in regard to society. I know what I say because for 8 weeks I was a beggar myself. I was crippled and coudn't work. I had a place to live but no money for medical help or food. I got to know some of the bums. I knew one of them quite well. He used to beg around the Columbus Circle area. One day he up and retired to Florida. The whole question of poverty in this country, with which I have become familiar, is too complicated for easy explanations or easy fixes.

Judith Ellis said...

DB - Thanks you for your words, dear sir. They are much appreciated. I completely agree with you that the situation is indeed complicated. But we most certainly have to confront this issue, not only the government, I might add, but compassionate and passionate citizens and communities, especially where there are children involved. Thanks again, DB.

dave wheeler said...


It was 1964 when Lydon Johnson declared the War on Poverty. Decades and bazillions of dollars spent later, we are still trying to mobilize and fight a war on poverty. That amazes me.

DB's comment "There are as many brands of poverty as there are of wealth I suppose." is absolutely accurate and , in my opinion, the foundation on which to begin the process of change. There is no single root cause and the reason the war on poverty has failed is because all the "solutions" are done in isolation. Student acievement is not just about chool and teacher performance. It is alo about the conditions children encounter in the home and communuity. Mr Shipler says "A job alone is not enouh, medical insurance is not enough. If the problems are interlocking, then so must solutions be." Yet we continue to spend billions on programs, polices, and processes that do not work.

I agree with DB and with you Judith. The problems are complicated. But we know what we have been doing for the past decades isn't working and the problems must indeed be confronted. We as individuals and communities have to get involved make those in government accountable for the way our tax dollars are spent. Until we do, what incwntive is there for them to change?

Judith Ellis said...

Thanks, Dave, for your comment and your thoughtful post. I'm especially appreciative of the Johnson quote above. In considering these issues, it always first begins with the individual and how individuals collectively shape culture. We can set program and program after program and still have the exact same problem because the culture around it has not changed.

It is very difficult to break down every moral and ethical standard and wonder why we have such difficulties in society. Duh? There is no sustaining structure or a quickly eroding one. Now, we hide behind the freedoms in the constitution to say and do anything we wish irregardless of the detriment to society.

When our governor, for example, closed down many psychiatric facilities here, I did not rail against him immediately. I wanted to see his plan. Unfortunately, he did not have one. His main reason was to simply and seemingly indiscriminately balance the budget. There seemed to be self-interest there or merely ideological interest that didn’t benefit the people.

I am ALWAYS interested in private and public partnerships. This builds communities to me from the local to national levels. And while I appreciate the big box stores, they have reduced communities to having eyes outside of their communities and this too has broken down community structures that would have looked down on homelessness in our own backyards.

There was also a barter system with local stores that depended on trust and individual responsibility. You felt responsible as the shop owner and shopper to one another. While driving prices down, large conglomerates, big box stores, and large corporate farms destroy necessary community.

dave wheeler said...


Changing a culture is indeed one necessary step to resolving many of our country's domestic issues from drugs to crime to poverty. It has frequently been written that a quality education is essential to breaking the cycle of poverty. Schools however can only do so much as many of the issues affecting student achievement deal with socio economic issues in the home or community. We can however each play a role in changing the "culture" of our community. It goes right back to it takes the whole village concept to help our neighbors and our communities achieve and excel. There is progress in numbers!

Judith Ellis said...

I agree, my friend.