I've been thinking more about poverty since Blog Action Day, and I decided to examine the topic from another angle.
As I mentioned last week, I've been having some time off before I start my next writing assignment, and during this time, I've been getting a lot accomplished. I still have a lot that I could do in the garden, but I've cleaned it up enough that I could live with going into the winter this way if I had to. And I'm making progress on my novel revision.
Earlier this year, I had a five-week period of having no work. It was during the months of March and April, so it would have been a great time for me to do some of the basic spring gardening work, but I didn't do it. I didn't do very much on my novel either. What energy I had was devoted to trying to find writing jobs and trying to stretch our budget, and at the end of every day, I was weary from dealing with the stress.
Later in the spring, even after we started getting a string of steady small assignments, I didn't make much effort on either my garden or my novel. During all that time, I continued to have a low level of anxiety about our finances and our job assignments because even though we were working hard, we weren't earning as much as we needed to be. And when a person is scared about basic survival, it's difficult to expend energy on non-essential creative outlets.
Compared to many people, we haven't had that bad a year, and to even relate it to survival fear is an exaggeration. Yet the slow year we've experienced did give me some insight into the emotional cost of economic troubles. For people who have to struggle with poverty every day, life is a constant grind. Multiply my experience by two or three times the amount of anxiety, and the result can be paralyzing.
When you're exhausted and stressed out from trying to pay for the latest medical test or make the mortgage, you don't have enough energy to give your life an economic makeover. You're in survival mode and all you can do is try to keep up with your expenses, not get ahead. That's why it's so hard for people who are in poverty to "pull themselves up by the bootstraps." They're living out a real-life monopoly game in which the moment they pass GO and collect their $200, they land on some property with a hotel and have to fork out more than twice times that amount in rent. When a person doesn't have enough resources to start with, the smallest extra expense can seem like a real catastrophe.
Even if we can't feel compassion for the individuals in that situation, let's look pragmatically at the effect of poverty on society. Twelve percent of the U.S. population is below the poverty line. (That statistic comes from the CIA World Factbook.) That means that one in eight Americans is struggling to get by. And if my own experience is any indication, the stress and worry that come with economic uncertainty can rob people of creativity and initiative.
Can this country really afford to blow off the potential creativity and initiative of 12 percent of its people? Personally, I think we need for everyone to live free from the fear of hunger or bankruptcy due to catastrophic illness. I think "spreading the wealth" and providing health care will help us to have a higher percentage of productive, contributing citizens, and that's why I don't mind hearing politicians propose "socialist" policies (although I would argue that they are using the term incorrectly). I think having a strong safety net is not only good for the individuals involved, it's better for society as a whole too.