Friday, December 16, 2011

Finance Friday - Guest Post

I have a guest post today ... Halee, my 16 year old daughter. She's on the Speech Team this year for the first time and she's doing amazing. I mean, can you imagine a junior in high school signing up for essay writing? public speaking? and subjecting herself to judging on both the aforementioned?

I'm a totally proud Mamma!

Her speech is in the OO category
(which stands for Original Oratory).
She choose the subject,
she stands up and presents it
she competes with this speech.

With her permission I'd like to share it with you today as a part of my Finance Friday series:

Picture this. There are two families standing in line at Wal-Mart waiting to buy their groceries. They both have children. Both of these families have working parents. They both are dressed in regular clothes. Both of these families have a house, a car, pretty much all of the essential things needed for a solid lifestyle. At sight, you would assume that both of these families are normal and about the same. The difference? The card in their hand. The second family standing in line is paying with food stamps. Why? Because they are living in poverty. Poverty. It’s really quite a simple word; however, it has a huge meaning. It has a meaning that’s quickly making a large impact on our society. More people than ever are now falling below the official line of poverty. But mostly, those people who are falling below the line have are giving a new face to poverty. Today we are going to better understand the most recent poverty statistics, we are going to explore what the face of modern poverty looks like, and finally I will suggest to you the shift in societal thinking that is required to understand this new face of poverty.

According to Webster’s dictionary, poverty is the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions. In other words, poverty is not simply a lack of income, it is also a lack of certain things by cultural standards. But how far can we take this? Obviously, a child whose parent cannot feed him or her dinner tonight is in an extreme poverty situation. But what about the child whose parents are working, but their paychecks don’t cover their living expenses. His food situation is also unstable. There are levels to poverty. This is obvious just by the two examples I’ve given you. However, the statistics that I have quoted today clearly indicate that poverty is on the rise, and is more common for many Americans. So then is Merriam-Webster suggesting a child with food, but no video games falls into this category of poverty simply because they don’t have socially acceptable possessions? Regardless of how you feel about poverty, and who should be classified as low income, the reality is many people are suffering and struggling to make ends meet.

You would be surprised to learn that the US Census Bureau in 2010 reported that an additional 2.6 million people are now classified as living below the line of poverty. That’s an increase of 15% in just one year. According to the New York Times, as of today there are 46.2 million people in our country who are struggling because they live below that official line. The Heartland Alliance reports that 1.5 million of that number live right here, in our own state. 13.3% of Illinoisans are struggling. And just like our national average, that number increased by 24% in the last decade. So why is poverty on such a drastic rise? Well, of course financial experts continue to argue about the effects of our current recession, but more importantly the reality people need help. The reality is, people can’t buy food. The reality is that this is a real problem for real people. It’s more than a piece of paper sitting on the desk of a congressman.

Obviously there are a few reasons for this huge deficit in American society today. Number one, a major reason is the bad economy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics almost 13.9 million people are unemployed. Who’s to blame for the unemployment? Everyone can try to place the blame on other people but that still doesn’t solve the problem. The government has tried multiple things to solve this never-ending problem. One is a progressive income tax. There are also public assistance programs which include medicare and food stamps, for example.

So what do you think of when I say the word poverty? Do you imagine a homeless person? Do you think it’s a child orphaned in the foster system? Is it a family living in public housing? Yes! But so is a dual income married couple earning minimum wage. One of the greatest things that we need to understand is that the face of poverty is no longer the face of a starving child in an abandoned alley. Poverty according to our own government guidelines includes both people who look like they need assistance and people who don’t. Formerly, middle class white preppy looking families are struggling and are applying for help in ever growing numbers.

A recent segment aired on NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams which highlighted two families from Idaho. They both work. They both have kids. And they both have empty refrigerators. The journalist Kate Snow reported that a lot of Americans are angered by this new face of poverty. The families they highlighted had SUVs, houses full of things, but this is simply a reminder of better days. Now they face the harsh reality of living paycheck to paycheck. These families have to wait until the first of the month early in the morning when a certain amount of government assistance is added to their bank account through a program called SNAP. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and is available to families who qualify based on our government’s standards of income. Particularly, in light of our recent recession, many families who are on SNAP, had more than enough 5 years ago. But now, they struggle to make ends meet. So when you see them, they don’t look like the typical face of poverty. And yet, they are not able to put food on their table. This is frustrating to many Americans. Some Americans don’t understand that the face of poverty is changing.

It’s clear that a shift needs to happen. We need to; me, and you, and my classmates, and neighbors, and community, all of us need to realize, whether we like it or not, that the face of poverty is changing. Society needs to change its opinion as well. We need to show compassion for these kinds of people. People may argue that there are people who are abusing the system. But, there are also people who have legitimate needs and without the assistance, their children would be hungry. Should we get rid of the system? No, some people need it. Should we fix the system? Without a doubt. But I don’t see that happening, unfortunately, any time soon. Societal thinking needs a shift. Our government needs a shift. If we want change to happen, the change needs to be in our attitude. We need to take away the stigma so that people are less embarrassed. In Kate Snow’s report on Rock Center, the woman featured was ashamed to use a SNAP card at the grocery store. Why is she ashamed? Because society is quick to judge. Should she be ashamed? No. There are 46.2 million people just like this woman. Struggling. Using a SNAP card. Forced to tell their children at home that they can’t afford to buy that extra book at the book fair for them. Overall, many people are struggling.

In the words of Mother Teresa, “we think that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.” Now more than ever, more people are falling below the line of poverty. However, you may not even be able to recognize it. The face of poverty is changing. And society needs to accept this. The solution to this is not having people donate to charity. Yes, this may help, but in the long run the only thing that will really solve this is society beginning to understand that the face of poverty is not what it used to be. The face of poverty is your next door neighbor, whether you realize it or not.

But overall, who decides what the level of poverty is? Has that person really lived in a poverty defined person’s shoes? Just because someone doesn’t have all of the new “material possessions”, does that put them in a class labeled poverty? I think there are different levels of poverty. Obviously, the kids who don’t have much food at home, who have a terrible home life are in poverty. But there’s kids out there who may not be poor, they have food at home, they have a fine home life, but maybe they don’t have the newest gaming system because their family doesn’t have any extra spending money. Does that still classify them as living in poverty?

So a question we have to ask ourselves is what can be done to fix this? Some schools have tried various programs. One they have done in our school system is something called a backpack program. In that they fill backpacks for students who require for free lunch and send them home over the weekend with a backpack of food so they don’t go hungry over the weekend. But is sending a child living in poverty home with a backpack full of food going to stop the increase of poverty? (I think) the answer is no. To solve the ever rising numbers of poverty, it’s going to take a group effort. One person or one thing isn’t going to fix this. And this can’t be fixed quickly. It’s going to take time. This is almost a government issue as much as an issue within the people. These statistics would certainly go down if we weren’t in a recession, if more jobs were available. And also, if you want to see for yourself what the new face of poverty looks like .... well, it looks like me.

That's my girl! My girl!

To Write a Better Story

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  1. This is wonderful! I know from personal experience what this new face looks like. My husband and I are technically considered living below the poverty line. He's in the Army as an E4 and I'm working at Barnes and Noble for minimum wage. There are those times when we have to wait for the first of the month and I'm have to trek to school and work on an almost empty tank of gas. It's either gas or food sometimes.

    This is a wonderful speech. Tell your daughter, I am proud that someone her age is speaking out about this.

    1. thank you!
      I did tell her and she is very moved that you have found her speech.
      I am super proud of her.
      It was special for me to share her speech with you all.

      sounds like tough times for you guys as well.
      hang in there. I like to think better times are ahead!

  2. This brought tears to my eyes and brought back so many memories. Memories of the old food stamps that I had to tear out of a book with everyone behind judging and looking to see what I bought. There were a lot of frowns from judgemental people if I had a snack for my kids in my cart.

    Now my kids are grown and doing well but until my mother passed away last year and left me a small inheritence, I have lived at or below the poverty level for quite some time. But no one knew it except my children. I never looked or acted like it. I held my head high and paid my bills when I could and ate very economically. Now things are better, I'm semi-retired, but I will never forget. It consumed a good portion of my life.
    Cudos to your daughter on such a wonderful article for someone her age, or any age, to write. I, too, am proud of her.
    If you don't mind, I would like to put a link on my blog to this article so more people can read it.

    1. You may absolutely put a link up. Thank you for asking and thank you for your kind comments. It's a humiliating and stressful situation for so many - myself included. Holding my head up,

    2. And you keep holding your head up! Don't ever let anyone make you feel like you're less than them.
      My children have said they never knew we were poor. They remember their childhood as such a fun time. I'm glad I could do that for them.
      I will be posting tomorrow on my blog and the link to this wonderful essay will be there. Thank you and thank your daughter for sharing this. And so sorry for the shameful promoting of my blog. :)


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