3/24/2006

 

Stripped to the Bare

A hypothetical question, Gentle Readers: suppose you met Bill Gates. Would you ask to see his paycheck stubs?

Or suppose, while talking with financier Warren Buffett, you were to ask him a series of highly personal questions about his spending habits?

Or let's say you asked Condoleezza Rice to tell you what she bought at the store that day, how much it cost and why she bought it?

Chances are, if you even found yourself in a position to ask these questions, Gates, Buffett or Rice would laugh themselves sick, while beckoning for Security.

Yet, the poor have to suffer little indignities like that each and every day.

Anyone who's ever had to go to Social Services (Welfare) for help because they'd been backed into a corner knows exactly what I'm talking about. I've been asked every form of invasive question about my finances, my household composition, my spending habits, my purchases, ordered to supply my bank records, my paycheck stubs, my receipts. Most times, these items have to cover three to six months prior to me asking for help. And not just my information. Mama also has to come up with many of the same things. Just to get help. And each piece of information has to be backed up with forms that must be sent to employers, landlords, bankers, and other authority figures, filled out and sent back to the assistance providers.

It's not just Social Services that perpetrates this. Charities and organizations of all stripes can, and often do, ask for this kind of information by dint of their potentially helping you. Of course, if they subsequently refuse to help you, you've laid your life bare for anyone who wants to see it and go poking through it.

Sounds a lot like being sloppy drunk at a frat party, doesn't it? The end effect is much the same.

It seems that the poor are asked every day to prove that they are poor, to have ready at a moment's notice for whomever asks the evidence that yes, we are on hard times; no, our jobs don't pay us enough to pick us up, and for God's sake, we didn't want to wake up and find ourselves in the gutter.

This goes back somewhat to an earlier post, where I allude to the fact that the poor/homeless are not treated the same as everyone else. We are held to a different standard based solely on the fact that we don't have two nickels to rub together. We've assumed on initial glance to be lazy, stupid, filthy, or wastrels; unworthy to be seen, dealt with or treated in any manner even approaching humane. John Scalzi gets it; in his essay "Being Poor," he brings the condition of being poor home in a way that is succinct and incisive.

To be fair, many organizations and agencies have found themselves burned by people in the past who just want to get over the system, and they've insituted these rules to help weed such people out. But most people who need this kind of help are not criminals. They're not con artists. And, despite what Ronald Reagan said, they are not wearing furs and driving Cadillacs. Or if they are, the fur is a ratty old polyester they got from a thrift store and the Cadillac hasn't had an oil change or bodywork since Reagan left office. There is no need to socioeconomically denude everybody you run into.

I'm reminded of "The Emperor's New Clothes," where at the end, the Emperor is strutting around naked. Today, however, it's not the Emperor that's naked, it's the poor.

And it's awful cold out here.


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*I was born poor. I fervently wish I hadn't been.

Comments:
You should really write a book, this is amazing piece of work you have created. I cannot express my respect for you and your talents right now. I know you are a graphic designer, but I think it's safe to say that you are also a writer.

;)
 
Michael, I don't think you're being completely fair. Of course you have to prove that you're poor if you're asking someone to give you resources that are intended for the poor. That only makes sense. And unless they were asking for assistance, there'd be no need to ask those questions of Gates, Buffett and Rice. They wouldn't be asked of you if you weren't seeking assistance. I think the important thing is for those asking the questions to be kind, compassionate, professional and discreet. And for those seeking help to realize that there's no shame in asking. More people than you might think have been there at some point. Sometimes we give, sometimes we receive. Pass on the blessings... :)
 
You, my friend, are in rare form. Gotta love it.
Been doing some thinking bro, I mnot sure if the Graphic Design is a path you can stay in. When I lived in NYC one of my best friends and my nephew studied that and were unable to find a gig doing that(well freelance gigs they found, but stable stuff, nah). SO now my nephew works at GNC and my friend works for the NY State Unified Court System(essentially a government job).
 
I'm not sure I see how one could possibly prove being poor at all, though I can easily see how this privacy invading bureaucracy rips apart any last scraps of self-esteem one might still have left, in the face of poverty.

While these measures just cover the grounds for "beyond reasonable doubt you're indeed poor" (for those poor enough to qualify but rich enough to have a paper trail to prove it), they do so at a terrible cost of beneficiary morale.

I agree there ought to be better ways of making it costly enough to avert those bent on "beating the system" (into making charity a money making scheme), though I have no idea of how it would be done. :-/
 
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