Poverty and Decision-Making

This week, two members of my organization (Children’s Law Center and Bethesda Cares) posted blogs on the Huffington Post about the decisions people make when they are in poverty.

Judith Sandalow writes about a woman making the choice between buying medicine for one son and paying a school fee for the other so he can graduate. Both the fees are important- critical- for her childrens’ well being. But she only has $50, barely enough to cover one. So which one does she choose?

Amy Freeman writes on the flippant response she had to reading a woman in transitional housing, “having to give up manicures,” because she was so poor. At first she scoffs at the comment (a reaction I would similarly have), but then hears a more nuanced perspective from some of the social workers at Bethesda Cares. Her coworker responded, “Overspending isn’t owned by any economic class. Look at the housing crisis. Look at all the middle-class people who bought houses they couldn’t pay for, cars they couldn’t afford. Why are people with less money any less likely to overspend? And why do people with money get so sanctimonious when those with less make the same mistakes?”

These articles both hinge on the same supposition that is constantly made in the back of our minds: if you’re poor, you did something to deserve it. It’s tempting to think that it was a set of decisions that brought someone into poverty. It’s heartening even, because you yourself would never make those choices.

But the reality- the soul-crushing, heart-wrenching, back-breaking reality- is that poverty isn’t something you fall into, it’s something you don’t get out of. It’s a self fulfilling cycle that leaves other humans with so few options, so few outlets, that every moment is spent on a razor-thin edge, one decision from losing everything.

It’s easy to judge someone else. It’s always harder to consider their options truthfully and respectfully.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.

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