What about the
undeserving poor?

WARNING:  I use one cuss word in this post.   

(But I use it really well.)

Our culture tries to separate poor people into two groups:

  1. The Deserving Poor
  2. The Undeserving Poor

The “Deserving Poor” generally includes:

  • Children… but only until they turn 18.
  • People with disabilities… unless they did anything to contribute to their disability.
  • Elderly people… unless they should have saved more for retirement.
  • Women more than men… unless they didn’t leave their abusers fast enough.

The “Undeserving Poor” includes anyone who did anything to contribute to their situation.  (Or didn’t pull themselves up by their “bootstraps” quickly enough.)

Rarely do we explicitly talk about the two categories.

The distinction, though, is built into everything:

It affects almost every governmental policy.

Welfare systems ruthlessly seek out the so-called “able bodied” to expel them.

It affects how we donate. 

It is REALLY easy to fundraise for sick children.  It is almost impossible to fundraise for drug treatment programs.

It affects how we treat people.

Homeless folks routinely have things thrown at them by strangers in passing cars.

Once you start looking for it, you will see this distinction everywhere you look.

But, guess what?

The separation between the “deserving” and “undeserving” is total BULLSHIT!

It completely misses the messy reality of the human experience.

It ignores the massive systemic factors that contribute to poverty.

It forgets that EVERYONE makes mistakes, but only poor folks are deemed “undeserving” for theirs.

The myth of the “undeserving poor” is probably the most common form of dehumanization that exists today.

So, here is my challenge to you:

  • The next time you see a “bum” on the street, try to imagine what that person was like as a child.
  • The next time someone points out a “crackhead,” try to imagine the pain that person’s mother is feeling right now.
  • The next time someone says, “She is just a prostitute,” try to imagine the terrifying path that led her to this situation.

Every time we dehumanize another, we lose a piece of our own humanity.



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