Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Pat LaMarche Headshot

Contempt for the Poor

Posted: Updated:

If you work with the poor in the United States it's very easy to believe that this country doesn't like "those people." According to the National Poverty Center nearly fifteen percent of the U.S. lived in poverty in 2009. It's counterproductive to detest 1/6 of the population especially when that translates into loathing fifteen and a half million children.

I work in a homeless shelter and daily learn stories that prove few folks in power think about the poor when they are making the rules which effect them. One of my residents is a sixty-four year old woman who works at a fast food joint. She makes minimum wage and seldom gets more than twenty hours. She's been poor her whole life and always earned minimum wage. Consequently over the years she's allowed "little things" like her dental health to decline and now has no teeth. Because of this she is not selected for counter work at her job and cleans the lobby three to four hours a day.

The budget issues which have made federal and state lawmakers use as justification for cutting basic necessities to the needy resulted the elimination of her state subsidized health insurance because her income exceeded $415 last month.

She stood in my office -- still dressed in her uniform with the famous cheeseburger logo on the left breast side -- and asked me what she was going to do. I muttered, "Join the other 45 million American working poor that have no access to healthcare and then sign up at the poverty clinic in town." I could have told her to quit her job and qualify again, but she's already living in a homeless shelter, she'd never get a home if she did that.

I asked her if her employer appreciated the subsidies it received from the community when shelters and clinics kept their work force in place. "You're right," she shouted, "if the minimum wage was a decent wage I wouldn't have to live here." According to the Taco Bell food chain, which is not number one but they're up there, they sell 2 billion tacos a year. If each taco were five cents more they would have a hundred million more dollars with which they could increase their workers pay. Imagine what the burger joints would be able to do with five cents a cheeseburger -- including provide healthcare.

Homeless Advocate Diane Nilan has a extensive list of homelessness causes in her book "Crossing the Line: Taking steps to end homelessness." But the three main causes are low wages, and healthcare and housing priced out of the reach of the poor.

But it's not just a disregard for low wage workers that makes the country seem self loathing. The education laws don't help. When you are homeless it's hard to keep your kid in school. Actually, that because being homeless makes it hard to do everything. And holding a family together and making sure the kids stay healthy and stay in school is exponentially tough when homeless. Many of our nation's individual truancy laws demand fines and/or jail time for parents with children who miss too much school. And for the child the punishment is often suspension from school.

Let me type that again. The punishment for truancy is being barred from school: reinforcing many barriers to education.

And the last little proof that the lawmakers at-worst don't like the poor and at-best don't consider them when writing laws; is that in many states if a parent cannot provide an adequate home for his or her children those kids get put in foster care. The non-profit Foster Care Alumni of America finds, "The U.S. spends $22 billion dollars ($5 billion from the Federal government and the balance from state/county governments) to provide services for children and youth in foster care. This averages out to $40,000 per child."

Even for a family with just one child, it's a lot cheaper to just give a homeless family a home than to take their kids away. And yet that's what's done.

Come to think of it, the U.S. doesn't just seem to dislike the poor. The U.S. appears to dislike the taxpayer as well -- subsidizing power retailers and fast food joints, clogging the courts with kids who have difficulty getting to school and paying many times over the cost of an dwelling to separate families because they have none -- really wastes tax resources.

Register To Vote