When poor people have nice things
Many folks get upset or enraged when someone in the checkout line who has a smartphone pulls out a food stamp card to pay for groceries.
This guest post comes from Andrea Whitmer at So Over Debt.
There's a graphic circulating on some of my friends' Facebook profiles that really gets on my nerves. I told myself I wouldn't write about it, but I saw it again last night and I just can't help myself. The graphic says, "Maybe someday I'll be able to afford an iPhone like the person in front of me at the grocery store. The one paying with FOOD STAMPS!"
Anytime that picture (or something similar) is posted, it gets about 50 "likes" and a long string of comments from indignant people who have personally witnessed a poor person owning something of value. The rage is evident: How dare someone on food stamps have a smartphone! Why should they even be allowed to have a phone at all? Our tax dollars blah blah blah blah.
Here's the thing: We can all think of at least one person who games the system. After working as a therapist for almost seven years, I can think of quite a few. But no one knows the life situation of every single person on the planet, no matter how much they think they do.
A good friend of mine got fired from her job just days after her husband was laid off. Both of them had iPhones on his parents' plan, which cost them $50 a month total. Now, what makes the most sense -- breaking that contract at a cost of hundreds of dollars, or scrounging up the $50 a month in hopes that one or both of them would find another job soon? They didn't have to sign up for assistance; they were both lucky to get jobs before their emergency fund was drained. But if they had, they would have been in the grocery checkout line with iPhones in their pockets. (Post continues below.)
I speak from experience
The only assistance I've ever personally used was Medicaid for my son at two different times during his life. But I will tell you, during both of those times I had cable TV. I had Internet access at home. This last time I had an iPhone (gasp!). I also owned several items that could have been pawned or sold for a decent amount of money.
Was I living it up? No. Not even close. But as someone with two college degrees and tons of ambition, I also never planned to continue collecting that assistance forever. Why should I empty my house of all the things I bought with my own money, only to have to buy them again when the crisis was over? That doesn't make sense.
Now, I could understand it if I had a Lamborghini or two in my garage. But when you're used to a fairly middle-class existence and something happens to you -- no matter what it is -- you assume that your situation will improve at some point. It's not like the poverty police come take all your stuff in the middle of the night. You still own all the things you did before. If you had nice clothes, you'll still have nice clothes. If your cousin bought you an expensive handbag last Christmas, you'll still have that handbag. No one drops off a tattered, dirty wardrobe for you to put on before you leave your house.
I know what you're thinking
I can just hear the comments now. "Well, I know someone who did X and Y," or "I saw a lady buy Z at the mall." I know. I've seen it too. That's not the point.
The point is, some people are in situations that we know nothing about. Some people own nice things from a better time in their lives and choose to keep those things during a setback. And some people make choices after becoming poor that we wouldn't personally make. Talking smack about those people on Facebook isn't doing anything to eradicate poverty, or to change the fact that there is widespread abuse of our current system.
If you get upset when you see a poor person with nice things like smartphones, all I ask is that you consider this:
- Maybe they just got laid off last month and they already owned the iPhone.
- Maybe a family member pays the phone bill.
- Maybe they're picking up groceries for a disabled neighbor with the neighbor's food stamp card.
- Maybe the phone was a gift and it's jailbroken on a prepaid plan.
- Maybe you should worry less about what someone else has and more about yourself.
To many people, I could be considered "poor" right now (even though my bills are paid and I'm saving money). And guess what? I own several nice things. Some of you will judge me for that, and there's nothing I can do about it. But I will continue to be disgusted when people criticize another person's choices, especially when they can't possibly know the full set of circumstances.
More on So Over Debt and MSN Money:
Let me tell you all a story I saw with my own two eyes. While waiting in line to pay for my groceries a young girl could not have been any older than 15 turned to her mother and told her she was pregnant. The mother told her and I quote "Good girl now we will get more money from welfare" Dont any of you even try to tell me that we owe anything to any one out there. What would all of them do if there wasn't welfare. Maybe all of our taxes wouldn't be as high as they are now and business would have more money to create more jobs. Seems to me they would take that $8 or $9 an hour job if there were no more handouts. And one more thing to rant about anyone on welfare doesn't have to eat steak and seafood with there food stamps maybe the Government should run Its own grocery store for only welfare that way they eat cheaper and healthier. Hamburg 'chicken and hotdogs will fill the belly just fine.
I see that a lot of the posts dont get the message - dont judge a book by its cover. I too could be considered "poor" by most of my peers, but like the writer, my bills are paid and I am saving money. But I remeber the days when I had to choose between milk for my baby, or a newspaper to look for work.
Yes there are many who abuse the system, but I just hope that none of the people that posted all the negative comments ever have the kind of life changing set-back that will put them in a grocery store paying with food stamps.
I'm begining to wonder just how much unreported welfare fraud there is since so many people seem to know so many recipiants that continue to game the system. I mean, it is a crminal offense to cheat the system at best costing you your welfare, if not getting you prison time, so one would think those opposed to welfare fraud and being exposed to so much of it would be making a ton of calls. Unless of course it's all BS
OT: People that complain about such things generally hate welfare itself and are just looking for reasons to invalidate it. Yes, they damn well expect you to sell your personal possessions, leach off your family, and subsist on dog food before you even dare to ask them for their tax dollars for help to get by. Even very basic concepts like "it was a gift" or " I'm borrowing it" or even god forbid "I saved what little money I could for a long period of time to get this" go over thier heads. And while maybe some are running scams, I'm still something of a god fearing liberal, so I'd rather it be on their head they took advantage of my good nature, than have it on my head that I've turned my back on someone in need.
I did stay at home with my kids until they were in school.
I did go to work to help pay the bills.
When my husband said, "Hurry up let's get divorced so that I can marry my girlfriend."
I did reduce my work hours so that I could get a degree because my job would leave us in poverty.
So now we are in poverty. America despises me.
They just changed the rules. Since I am pursuing a four year degree, I guess I would be one of those "college students misusing food stamps."
If you have never tried to get food stamps don't assume that you know anything about it.
You have to provide proof of everything, you have to work, provide proof of work, proof of support, bank account information, leases, utilities, car information. Then they say, "Oh you can get $100 a month."
I don't want anything from you, America. Your kids will make fun of my kids because they are wearing old ripped up jeans and old sneakers to school. You won't let your kids visit my kids because we live in a bad neighborhood, they only place in town I could afford. You badger me to volunteer, when I don't have any time because I am working and studying. You demand that I cough up all the activity fees because I don't have the heart to say to my kids, "Sorry, we can't participate, we're poor." Leave me alone. Being poor is not a sin. I would be content. It's another thing to be poor and have everyone inspecting everything you do, criticizing and demanding things from you that you can't give.
Happy Fourth of July!
Thank you for this article. It bothers me a lot when I see people posting onlne about how dare a broke person have a cell phone...ummm...so they have no need for a phone for safety, to arrange a job, or to communicate with the outside world?! First of all-if there were less people on "welfare" guess what? The money wouldn't go back to taxpayers-trust me the rich and the politicians would find someplace else to put it. And the majority of people who get government assistance are NOT minorities and are people who just fell on hard times. For someone who has goals and ambition in life-government assistance is NOT enough. Both my husband and I recently graduated from college and still can't find jobs. I get unemployment now because....I had a job for years that recently laid off people. If I never worked or contributed to society I wouldn't be eligible for the benefits! We get food stamps that last only a week and a half but are thankful for them because we wouldn't be able to really eat without them. I have a Coach purse, 2 flat screens (just sold one), and a laptop but they were bought when I had a job and the Ipad and Iphone were gifts from family. So how about people MYOB and take care of themselves instead of caring about what others do that don't really affect you!
There are a lot of "maybes" listed in this article, and they are no doubt sometimes the case. However, if you've ever volunteered in a food bank you know that the majority of the people who come in are smoking, reek of cigarettes and/or beer, and are either texting or talking the entire time. Many even complain about what you give them. It was an eye-opener for me, let me tell you. It also called into serious question the need to give to these people. I was so disgusted after a few months I knew it would be better if I left before I said something I shouldn't. I was very disillusioned. I wanted to help people but came to the conclusion that as long as you help, they have no incentive to help themselves.
This is not to say there were no serious and sincere real needs, but they were few and far between.
As an ex-police officer that worked a side job at the homeless shelter and after living in India for 4 years, I am totally jaded. I've seen people trade food stamps for football game tickets while their 70 year old mom babysits their kids, people send their kids into grocery stores to buy food (candy bars and soda) and turn around and take the change to buy beer, I've seen people turn down construction work at $10 an hour (that was in 1995) M-Th and then pummel each other on Fridays to earn beer and crack money for the weekend. I've seen people cry to the church for clothes for a job interview then 2 blocks over trade it for a needle or beer. I work for a residential cleaning company and have employees quit right and left (making 12-15$ per hour) because they can make more money off the system than working full time. It doesn't matter if it is the home buyer bail out, medicare/medicaid or anything else. Our Government is broken across the board and every aspect of it affects those who live according to the code! Pay their bills on time, work full time, etc etc. It doesn't matter whether they over spend or not. When you can write a check on a closed account for goods/services and a judge throw it out because of a typo, it's wrong. Plain and simple. The moral code in this country is severely lacking and those who have a conscious continually pay the price. After living in India for 4 years and seeing all the human righs violations and the intense poverty, we don't have much poverty here. So yes, it is our tax dollars paying for all the abuses across the board!
While one should consider that a person with nice things who is “poor” might be in one of the situations you note above … In reality most are not ! Most people spend way too much ! Most people are barely prepared for any disaster and live way above their means … If you do not own your car and cannot pay your credit card in FULL each month the reality is YOU ARE OVERSPENDING !!!
Then when something “unexpected” happens …
as if companies never go out of business, people don’t get sick, accidents don’t happen, people never get laid off etc…
.... Everyone has a hand out for government assistance !!!
GET REAL - Stop making excuses - Stop Overspending !!!
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