Come Meet the Face of Poverty

Disclaimer: Yes, I recognize the potential ad misericordiam below. Hope you’re in for the long haul; WhatDougRants may better fit this post. 

[If you follow me on Twitter (@WhatDougSays), you may be familiar with this introduction already.]

For a class, this week is devoted to a poverty simulation. Each student is allowed to live on 3 dollars a day. A meal in the student cafeteria is equivalent to $1.25 (with the understanding we wont eat more than an average meal, despite the buffet style of the cafeteria). Any snacks/drinks we consume, any gas spent, any activities requiring money, are all to be recorded and kept under 3 dollars a day, with special exceptions allowed—but only if the proper paperwork is filed. We’re not supposed to benefit from the “charity” of our friends. (How many individuals in poverty have family and friends provide such charity?)

If you’ve done the math, we are allowed 2 meals a day with 50¢ left over each day. At a glance, this seems crazy, unhealthy, and maybe impossible. Welcome to poverty. A place where all the money is dedicated to food—there’s no money for anything else. While my university’s cafeteria food is nothing to brag about, I’m certain most in poverty would view it a feast.  Obviously, this simulation doesn’t take into account many other things. It’s only meant as a small insight into the experience of impoverished individuals.

It hasn’t been 12 hours since I was handed the assignment, and I have experienced a series of disturbing and intriguing reactions.

First:  Several friends have counseled me on ways I could scam this simulation. Most involve smuggling food from the cafeteria. While I recognize the intended joke, I find it intriguing many people at my conservative Christian university bemoan welfare recipients scamming the government, then encourage me to do the same thing in order to live a bit more comfortably these next few days. Just something to think about.

Second, and the most infuriating: “Go buy a TV! That’s what welfare people do!” Again, I recognize this individual may have been joking, but this is only the most recent of a series of statements I’ve heard or read that reflect the same underlying premise found throughout much of the conservative society: those in poverty and/or on welfare are  lazy, deceitful, alcohol/drug addicts, immoral, baby making for more benefits, at fault for their situation, and a drag on our economy.

Most of these accusations are made people so far from poverty, their salary could be cut in half and they still wouldn’t be close. How some one making millions could point fingers at welfare recipients, call for cutting back welfare, and then turn around and complain about the government raising their taxes, is beyond me.

In fact, if you’re reading this (myself included), I doubt you have ever had much encounter with poverty. Maybe some of you have, and I would love to hear from you about your experiences—leave a comment below. However, I doubt those in poverty have much time or access to internet. But I heard this blog’s layout looks great on the new 900 dollar iPad.

But, like many of you, I haven’t experienced poverty either. And I wouldn’t pretend to presume I understand their experiences in a way that I could properly present them to you. Thankfully, I don’t need to. The link below is an essay titled “What is Poverty?” written by Jo Goodwin Parker. This “was published in America’s Other Children: Public Schools Outside Suburbs, by George Henderson in 1971 by the University of Oklahoma Press.”

As the old cliché goes, I have always firmly believed it is wrong to judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. This is only an inch. Stop judging, and come meet the face of poverty:

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