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Poverty is a circumstance, not a choice

By: Lacy Hilliard
Staff Writer/Photographer

I recently read a blog in which the blogger wrote a series of scenarios that vividly describe what it’s like to be a member of the American ‘working poor.’ Shortly after reading that blog, I read a New York Times article by Andrea Elliot entitled “Invisible Child.” The article told the story of an 11-year-old New York City girl named Dasani who has spent her short time in this world living in homeless shelters with her parents and her seven siblings. The shelter is infested with rodents, mold, and asbestos and is also home to sexual predators and drug addicts (including Dasani’s parents) and offers nothing in the way of safety or comfort. The many reports made by the shelters residents about deplorable conditions and abuse at the hands of the staff go unanswered.
With the holiday season in full swing, it seems that stories like Dasani’s and others who live lives of misfortune often take center stage. But long after the pine needles fall off the Christmas tree and the twinkling lights go to rest in tangled heaps in storage buildings, families like Dasani’s still wake up hungry and cold.
There are various levels of poverty in the United States. However, it seems to me that regardless of circumstance, so many people are quick to believe that if you’re poor, you’ve made some sort of mistakes in life that sealed your financial fate. While in the case of young Dasani, her circumstances are largely a result of her parents drug addiction, there are many people throughout the United States that are hardworking, drug-free adults that have to wonder each week whether or not they will have enough food to eat or a roof over their heads by the end of the month.
It’s so easy to say “Well if you got a better job, you wouldn’t be poor” or “If you go to college and get a degree, you will get a better paying job.” If only it were that simple. In today’s economy, many people with higher education credentials are struggling to find jobs in their field. Others may not possess the educational foundation to even make higher learning feasible. There are still high school graduates each year in the United States that are unable to even read what’s written on their diploma.
It’s easy to judge those that live in poverty due to drug addiction (like Dasani’s parents) or laziness. But ask yourself, who would choose such a fate? Does any child dream of homelessness, sickness and starvation? When you ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, have you ever heard one respond “Poor”? Something has happened to these people throughout their lives that has shaped their unfortunate futures. Many grew up exactly the way they are living as adults, some are mentally ill, some lack the tools to get a decent job, all are victims are circumstance.

I’m not saying there aren’t people out there that have been offered help and have thrown opportunities away. I know there are. I’m saying that there isn’t a single person on the face of the planet that would dream about living the way the poor are forced to live — even if their very choices have put them there. “Stop having children you can’t afford” some may say to women like Dasani’s mother. But have you ever paused to ponder the reason some women that can’t afford more children continue to have them? Maybe it’s because they’re elated by the unconditional love their children show them; love and a sense of worth that was perhaps absent in their lives pre-motherhood.

The answer is education. The answer is compassion. Remember that if you’re a successful person that was born into a less-than-desirable situation, you’ve probably had some help along the way. If not, then you were born with a gift that allowed you to rise above your circumstance. Some people aren’t so lucky.

Yes, we live in a country where opportunities abound. But so many lack the tools to reach for the stars. Some merely know how to survive. Please remember as you sit down to your Christmas feast that some families in the United States are shivering next to a single flickering candle, just trying to make it through another day. As they look into their children’s empty eyes that beg the question “Why do I have to be hungry and cold on Christmas?”; ask yourself, is poverty a choice?