We all know The Daily Show with John Stewart is meant to be funny. However, it also reveals uncomfortable truths. Such was the case in an interview between Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi and Fox News contributor Todd Wilemon. In discussing the long-term impacts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Wilemon, talking with Mandvi about the poor being unable to afford healthcare, threw out this wonderful gem:
“People like a free lunch. And I’ll be honest. If you’re poor, stop being poor. Get a GED, have a job for over a year…”
Escaping poverty isn’t nearly as simple as Todd Wilemon likes to think.
Hmmm. Todd Wilemon likely thinks, “That’s so easy, it’s truly wonder more poor people don’t do it.” But let’s look at this. It is a fact that if you don’t have a high school diploma or GED, you are very unlikely to have access to any opportunity. You might be able to get a job (and that’s a big might, as nearly every job now requires a high school diploma), but you can’t advance at all. However, the cost of a GED is becoming unaffordable. This year, the cost of taking the GED went up to $120. They did cost $50 to $70. Todd Wilemon, and others, likely see $120 as nothing. To those in low-income situations, it’s prohibitive.
That doesn’t take into account the time needed to study for it now, which is often time that low-income earners can’t afford to take.
And of course, there’s generational poverty, which people like Todd Wilemon and others seem to ignore. That is a major sociological problem. It’s not economic or merely a matter of saying, “Hey, I don’t like being poor. Think I’ll do something about it.” Generational poverty is especially difficult to overcome. Yes, we hear stories of this person, that person, “my mother,” and “I didn’t want to,” and they seem to be frequent. They make people believe anybody can escape generational poverty. Except that most can’t.
Being poor is entirely by choice, according to people like Todd Wilemon.
Conservatives have this idea that being poor is the result of some type of character flaw or moral failing. The wealthy are virtuous, they got to where they are with hard work, and by the sweat of the brows, clawed their way up to the top of the income ladder. The poor, on the other hand, intentionally missed out on something. Whether that’s education, or knowing how to look for the good jobs, knowing how to keep a job, or just simply choosing to suckle off the government teat, the conservative mindset boils down to this: It’s entirely their fault.
Our social safety net actually seems to trap people into poverty, but the answer isn’t to get rid of it. It isn’t to cut it to pieces. And it isn’t to say, without any sympathy at all, “Just stop being poor,” as Todd Wilemon so callously said.
When faced with the healthcare situation in Knoxville, Todd Wilemon was struck dumb. He honestly seemed to think that Aasif Mandvi was talking about what he saw in a real third-world country. Wilemon’s reason for the situation in Knoxville is that “some people fall through the cracks.”
Todd Wilemon’s remarks on The Daily Show shone an uncomfortable spotlight on how he sees the poor. They are “some people [who] fall through the cracks.” They should “just stop being poor.” But that’s typical for people like Todd Wilemon.
Here’s the video: