And Another Thing…

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Irony, thy name is NPR

I have absolutely no regrets about going back to school get my MSW. It has been a mostly pleasant experience, i’ve enjoyed the work, learned a lot, and I have made some great friendships in the process. However, like any other educational experience, one must take the meat and leave the bones.

For instance I have learned a great deal about behavior, mental disorders, public policy, statistics, research, and families. This is the meat. On the other hand, I have also had to resist indoctrination (in some classes and among some peers) about how the rich white cabal that secretly runs this country does everything in their power to continuously oppress women, non-whites, and every other person besides the destructive and over-privileged rich white male. Being a white male, I have yet to experience the phenomenon that my professors keep talking about where the world is handed to me for no other reason than my being a white male. This, obviously, is the bones.

I don’t deny that times are hard. I don’t deny that the power-brokers of our nation are pathetically out of touch with the working class. I don’t deny that honest, hard-working people sometimes get hosed. All it takes is a catastrophic illness or being downsized by their employer to push a lot of families into desperate financial straights. I believe that poverty is largely cyclical, passed on from generation to generation like a curse. I don’t even deny the existence of residual, institutionalized discrimination, although I don’t believe it is as widespread or prevalent as some would have us believe. And I believe that any civil society must make provisions for those at the bottom in the hopes of helping them transcend their circumstances. This idea goes back at least as far as the Old Testament, when God commanded the Israelites to leave some of their crops unharvested so that the poor would have access to them.

However, I also believe that people must participate in their own survival. I believe that any honest work, even work that is below one’s capacities, is more honorable than not working. I believe that welfare, while sometimes necessary in the short-term, robs people of their dignity and self-respect in the long-term.

It is with these thoughts in mind that I present this story from NPR. Read the story below, giving special attention to the part at the end where it talks about buying groceries, then click underneath it for a picture of the folks profiled in the article. One hopes that NPR photographers will be more careful about how they take pictures of the subjects of articles in the future.

For Some Ohioans, Even Meat Is Out Of Reach

Her father worked at General Motors for 45 years before retiring. Her mother taught driver’s education. Nunez and her six siblings grew up middle class.

Things have changed considerably for this Ohio family.

Nunez’s van broke down last fall. Now, her 19-year-old daughter has no reliable transportation out of their subsidized housing complex in Fostoria, 40 miles south of Toledo, to look for a job.

Nunez and most of her siblings and their spouses are unemployed and rely on government assistance and food stamps. Some have part-time jobs, but working is made more difficult with no car or public transportation.

Low-income families in Ohio say they are particularly hard-hit by the changes in the economy, according to a new poll conducted by NPR, The Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health. Two-thirds of lower-income respondents, or 66 percent, say paying for gas is a serious problem because of recent changes in the economy. Nearly half of low-income Ohioans, or 47 percent, say that getting a well-paying job or a raise in pay is also major problem.

‘I Just Can’t Get A Job’

Nunez, 40, has never worked and has no high school degree. She says a car accident 17 years ago left her depressed and disabled, incapable of getting a job. Instead, she and her daughter, Angelica Hernandez, survive on a $637 Social Security check and $102 in food stamps.

Hernandez received her high school diploma and has had several jobs in recent years. But now, because fewer restaurants and stores are hiring, she says she finds it hard to find a job. Even if she could, she says it’s particularly hard to imagine how she’ll keep it. She says she needs someone to give her a lift just to get to an interview. And with gas prices so high, she’s not sure she could afford to pay someone to drive her to work every day.

People tell Nunez her daughter could get more money in public assistance if she had a child.

“A lot of people have told me, ‘Why don’t your daughter have a kid?'”

They both reject that as a plan.

“I’m trying to get a job,” Hernandez says. “I just can’t get a job.”

Hernandez says she’s trying to get training to be a nurse’s assistant, but without her own set of wheels or enough money to pay others for gas, it hasn’t been easy.

‘What’s Going To Happen To Us?’

Most of their extended family lives in the same townhouse complex. The only employer within walking distance is a ThyssenKrupp factory that makes diesel engine parts. That facility, which employs 400 people, is shutting down and moving to Illinois next year.

The only one with a car is Irma Hernandez, Nunez’s mother. Hernandez says that with a teenage son still at home, the cost of feeding him and sending him to school is rising, and she can no longer pay for the car.

She’s now two car payments behind.

“I’m about to lose my car,” she says on her way to pick up one of her daughters to take her to Toledo. “So then what’s going to happen to us?”

So Nunez and her daughter are mostly stuck at home.

The rising cost of food means their money gets them about a third fewer bags of groceries — $100 used to buy about 12 bags of groceries, but now it’s more like seven or eight. So they cut back on expensive items like meat, and they don’t buy extras like ice cream anymore. Instead, they eat a lot of starches like potatoes and noodles.

Angelica Hernandez and her mother, Gloria Nunez

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16 Responses

  1. Adam G. says:

    That’s both sad and funny. I listen to NPR a lot on the way to and from work, and last week they followed a family around the supermarket. One fellow was showing how they had to cut back, and pointed out that where they used to buy Kraft (the name-brand) they now had to resort to buying something else.

    I’ve seen real poverty. I lived in Brazil and saw good, hard-working people struggling to get by. I’ve had people knock on my door asking for a plate of food (not money, just a plate of food). I sat in a nice mall in Brazil during Christmastime one year snacking on a full stomach when I stumbled across an article in the paper about a boy’s daily routine of digging through the city garbage dump for food to feed his mother and younger siblings.

    Times are tight right now and energy prices are high, but obese Americans don’t need to tell me about their hunger.

  2. odgie says:

    Adam,

    Thanks for kicking in. Every time I hear tell of the crushing, often fatal poverty in other nations it makes me wonder what we in the States are really talking about.

    In addition to your experiences in Brazil, I have heard horrifying stories of life in Haiti. The worst I ever heard is how many Haitians will cross the border into the Dominican Republic, live in literal dumps, and still say that they are better off than they were in Haiti.

    It’s not all that different than the way that American Christians whine about persecution, when our brothers and sisters around the world are being blackballed from employment, imprisoned without trials, and otherwise ostracized or executed for their faith.

  3. Micah says:

    Thats why I don’t complain too much. If I start to feel that creeping need to whine about whats going on. I realize that hey.. I have a job and eat, maybe too much. So things are smooth as far as I can see…

  4. andy says:

    Well, I know I’m very well blessed, so I hate get preachy to those who are less blessed in the $$ department…but I simply don’t buy the no car = no job rationale, except for those who are disabled or really live in the middle of nowhere. When my car got to be more hassle than it was worth I sold it for what I could get, and now either share with my wife or ride my bike. While in law school I commuted over 10 miles by bike (and here in Nova, it was faster than driving!). A bike can be had for less than $100 up front and usually no more than $10 or so a month for maintenance. Biking would also help with, um, other issues.

  5. odgie says:

    Micah – I hear you. I complain more than I have any reason to.

    Andy – I should probably get in on the biking action.

  6. David B says:

    Seeing how it was an NPR report I tried adding sound effects as it went on, just like they do on All Things Considered. For this article I added a car that wouldn’t start, a TV with Jerry Springer on in the background, and a bag of potato chips opening.

  7. Roland says:

    That article cracked me up. I may have to link to it on my blog. Funny stuff.

    I agree with ya in most respects but just don’t think that welfare is the role of Govco. I simply do not like being forced into charity at gunpoint. Private organizations always perform better than Govco, even agencies like the United Way who have such large overhead do things better than Govco ever could.

    I agree that most of us don’t know real poverty. I agree that simply cutting back from Kraft shells and cheese to the powder kind if not really poverty.

    On another note, it really frustrates me when I see the kind of society we live in when 20 somethings just have to have that huge house, that $300 cell phone and the fancy new car. What happened to saving? What happend to waiting? I know people in thier early 30’s who always seem to have the best of everything, live in these huge homes, go out to eat all the time…and it makes you wonder just how much they give at church. I know..I shouldn’t think that way but sometimes, it just creeps up on you. Are they sacrificing their giving just to have it all now? Seems they HAVE to have the new cell phone, the new washer, the new this or that NOW, not later. I also wonder just how much debt they are saddled with and how much savings they have for emergencies.

  8. odgie says:

    Roland – I am often shocked by the “have it now” mindset, especially when it comes to McMansions. And I suspect that they are sacrificing the very things you mentioned: freedom from debt and a rainy day fund, along with charitable or church giving.

    The government interceding for those in need on a limited, short-term basis doesn’t bother me in the least. What bothers me is people who put more effort than most jobs require into staying on the welfare rolls and bleeding the system.

    I think that your issue with yuppies goes for a lot churches too. How many needs could we be meeting if not for the all important new PA system, fellowship hall (read: gym), and Multimedia system?

  9. Roland says:

    But odgie….those things are needed to “reach the young people”.

  10. odgie says:

    Roland – So i’ve heard, so i’ve heard

  11. Roland says:

    Have you noticed that though? Everything we do now in the church is aimed at young people. I guess the philosphy is screw the adults! lol

  12. odgie says:

    Roland – It goes along with “to reach the lost”

  13. Roland says:

    There is also that thing about edifying each other. Once you “reach the lost” you don’t just drop them off at the door and go out for more. I am all for evangelism but we also need to tend to the sheep. At times, I feel that too much emphasis is put on reaching out and not enough on healing the broken people who are already “found”.

  14. odgie says:

    Roland – Too true. However, edification and building up new believers is not as glamorous as evangelism. For far too many churches, it really is a numbers game.

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