Let’s Talk About Poor Shaming, And Why It Isn’t Okay

Classism is a problem in America. This is nothing new; after all, we all remember the kids in school who were made fun of for wearing off-brand clothes and shoes, who couldn’t afford to be a part of certain activities. I even remember that, for awhile in middle school, people used lines like “You get your clothes from Goodwill” as an insult. So, classism is something that is so deeply ingrained in our society that it is simply accepted, even among children, who, by nature, are generally much more accepting than adults (unless they have been taught to be otherwise).

Image Credit: Wikipedia via Creative Commons

Image Credit: Wikipedia via Creative Commons

Now, the above-mentioned examples of shaming poor people are bad enough, but there are much worse examples, some of them on a level that affect much bigger parts of people’s lives. For instance, there is the luxury apartment building in Manhattan that installed a “poor door” to separate people who paid less for their rent-controlled apartments from wealthier residents. Another such building in Queens installed a “poor fence” to keep residents who paid less from accessing the entire balcony. That same building also does not allow use of recreational facilities such as swimming pools and basketball courts by the residents who pay less. Imagine having to explain this to guests who visit your apartment, and how embarrassing that would be. Well, that is just what these people have to do. It is reminiscent of Jim Crow laws in the segregated south, but, this time, the wall is up due to class rather than race. It is also perfectly legal.

Now, one could argue that anyone who can afford to live in a luxury apartment building in New York City at all can hardly be classified as “poor.” They may be right; after all, the less you make, and the more government assistance you receive, the worse the discrimination gets. Want proof? Try buying a car or a home, or getting a loan if you don’t earn at a certain income level, or if your credit report is less than perfect. And who can escape the constant complaining from the right about people who receive SNAP or other forms of assistance from the government? In fact, Youngcons.com just published an article shaming a woman for being on welfare for twelve years. It goes on and on, and is so deeply entrenched in the American psyche that it has become a socially acceptable norm to think less of poor people.

Well, what people who shame poor people don’t understand is this: poverty is a cycle. It is a cycle that is very, very hard to break. Most poor people were born into poor families, and they remain poor for life. Many poor-shaming types argue that anyone can pick themselves up out of poverty if they try hard enough, but that just isn’t true. These days, if you do not go to at least a two-year college and receive an Associate’s Degree, you aren’t getting a job that pays above minimum wage. Minimum wage is barely enough for people to survive, much less actually save any money on top of monthly expenses. In fact, most people who work at minimum wage jobs actually qualify for government programs like SNAP and Medicaid. The only way to get away from that is to go to college, and college costs money. Money the poor do not have. So, the cycle continues.

People might also argue that poor people should be innovative and start their own small business instead of working for other people. Well, again, have you tried being poor and getting a loan of any kind, much less a small business loan? It is very hard to do. Further, thanks to the corporate takeover of America, small businesses rarely make it; in fact many that have been around for decades are closing. There was a small convenience store that had been in my hometown of Rock Hill, SC for five decades that was bulldozed last year. A massive Quik Trip stands in its place now. Aside from the survival of the business itself, there is the survival of the people who want to start it while it gets off the ground. They live paycheck to paycheck as it is. So, how do they work to survive and get a business off the ground at the same time? That doesn’t work.

The thing is, the mantra that poor people are simply lazy, do not try hard enough, or want to freeload off the government is simply untrue. Poverty is a cycle, and it is a cycle that is nearly impossible to break. So, do what I have done over the years and thank your lucky stars if you aren’t poor, and, if you are, realize that it isn’t your fault, no matter how much classism you might experience. If you make judgments about people who don’t make a certain amount of money, try to remember that you don’t know their stories, and that it likely is something they would rectify if they could, but often they can’t. They are just trying to survive to see another day.