Born Poor

Anyone with ears or eyes has seen people discussing government spending. The economist, teachers, politicians and the mystical middle class all weighing in on the pros and cons and statistics and surveys about how much we are or aren’t spending and why it’s good or bad.

America is struggling to bring down our deficit. Most of us know that debt isn’t good. And ours is currently $14,172,957,589,856.62. Whoa. So we have to make changes in government spending. But how?

Or really the first question is: What do we cut?

While it’s fun to quibble from our political stands making assumptions about the other side’s intentions and how big and little and cute government can be, I think that the best way to decide what to cut is to answer the following:

If you were a baby born to the poorest of the poor, what would you want? What would you need in order to survive? To thrive?

And that’s what the government should provide. A minimum. A safety net for the child born into poverty. It doesn’t matter how his parents got there. He didn’t pick his parents or his hometown. He just got pushed into the world he’s in.

(Yes, I am a huge fan of the political philosopher, John Rawls, and yes, this is pulled from A Theory of Justice. John Rawls as defined by the dictionary: (1921—2002 ), U.S. philosopher. His books A Theory of Justice (1971) and Political Liberalism (1993) consider the basic institutions of a just society as those chosen by rational people under conditions that ensure impartiality.)

Well, let’s be rational! Yay! Let’s pretend we are born into a very poor family. Regardless of how our unemployed, unskilled, unwell, or slacker parents got here, we are born. Or for the parents out there, imagine your child was born to these parents. What would you want for Little {insert child’s name here} to have?

I would want shelter. A baby doesn’t need five rooms. But he needs a roof. And some heat in the winter. Some indoor plumbing.

I would want access to health care for my children. Little E and N need shots and will occasionally get sick. They will also need someone to assess them developmentally since delays that are treated earlier have much more successful outcomes. So a doctor who is familiar with children and their development would probably be the most efficient at it.

The baby needs food. My mom may not breast feed so there needs to be another option. As she grows older, she will need assess to regular semi-healthy food whether my family can afford it or not.

Children need education. Little {insert your child’s name} can’t better himself if he can’t read and write. He don’t need to attend a fancy school, but he need some option that isn’t money-based since he was born into the poorest of the poor.

And maybe that’s it. We stop at food, shelter, basic health care and education. We have a minimum that no person can fall beneath. And that is not based on the whims of charities and individuals.

I, personally, would go farther in my minimum because I believe that children need love and nurturing. And parents who are working three jobs to afford the little one room apartment or who are addicts or who are in abusive relationships need more support to be able to be available to their children. So I would add a minimum wage and some basic health care access for adults including access to mental health.

And this is if the child develops within normal range. What if they are autistic, bound to a wheelchair due to a muscular dystrophy or have a speech impediment? How does that child get a wheelchair? Get therapy? Get appropriate education for the family? Don’t we want this child to have enough support to be a productive member of our society who doesn’t need government intervention?

It’s easy to sit in our warm homes that we worked hard to buy and maintain and glance at our clean and well-fed children who run around happily singing their ABCs and think: The government spends too much.

But how do we, as individuals and families, get to the point where the government didn’t need to help us? And how can we get the child, who is not lucky enough to be born into our warm home and family, to that point?

Before we answer, we must understand what poor means in America. We must listen to stories of what it looks like to grow up in Appalachia or in the projects of our local city. We must learn the realities before we can picture ourselves and our children faced with the obstacles. Perhaps, begin with: There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in The Other America by Alex Kotlowitz.

And then let’s discuss where our government should spend our money.

Read More