Ok, so this is for the people who know damn well that poverty exists in Canada and like reading things that validate their beliefs, or perhaps for the people who think that having a good argument might stop the poverty-deniers from spreading their nonsense. Or perhaps it’s just for the people who have heard the ‘there is no poverty in Canada’ argument and are open-minded about hearing what it really going on.
Here goes. Yes, compared to some other places where running water, sanitation and even radio is a luxury, we have it good. However, it doesn’t matter how many computers and televisions you have if you have no food in the fridge. Call it poverty, call it less-wealthy, but it sucks ass, and it impacts not just those people experiencing it first-hand, but everyone in society. Poverty, or whatever you want to call it in this country, involves health problems, it involves poor education, and it involves money being spent on hospitals, police, prisons, doctors, social workers, and other people whose job it is to put band-aids on the problem.
If we take away those band-aids, people will not just get off their ass and get jobs and become productive citizens. That’s just bullshit, sorry. We all need to be concerned about poverty, and we need to be doing a lot more than we are now. We need to be spending more on band-aids and spending more on the preventative measures and we need to be having discussions about the root social/cultural causes of poverty.
So what about all these luxury items that Canadian poor people have anyway? Let’s start with televisions. I could fill my home with good colour televisions I find out in the curb in this wasteful country. But TV is bullshit and I don’t have any. Next.
Computers. I paid $100 for my computer, because I wanted a good one. If I spent that money on food instead of a computer, I’d have enough food for 10 days. If you are poor and want a decent computer, go on facebook and ask. Someone is getting rid of one. It’s a wasteful country. Next.
Cellphones. Cellphones are cheap. I paid $20 for mine (two days of food) and it’s cheaper than a landline. For many of us in poverty, the money for the phone comes out of the food budget. We need the phone to look for work, to keep in touch with the world and remain sane. To not have a phone is to be in poverty forever in this country. Next.
Cars. Most people I know in poverty don’t have cars, but there are many who do. These are generally the working poor, who work 40 hours a week and after paying for the things they need to remain employed, like a car, are broke. If they didn’t have the car they’d be even more poor, maybe even homeless. Just because they have a car doesn’t mean they can afford food, doesn’t mean that they can afford to get their toothaches taken care off.
Fridges. They come with housing if you rent. Still there are many poor people without them, people in SROs, people with slumlord landlords who dont replace broken appliances, people in shared accommodation. Just because you have a fridge doesn’t mean you can put food in it.
And that’s really what poverty is about. Cellphones are cheap. Computers are cheap. All kinds of plastic junk and so called luxury items are cheap. Food is priced out of reach. Health-care is priced out of reach. Housing is priced out of reach. I can buy a computer and have it for 5 years or more. Five years worth of food is worth about $18,000. So even a car is cheap by that standard.
So far I’ve been talking about cheap stuff, like $20 phones and free computers, but some of the articles I’ve read that insist poverty in North America is a myth mention that some poor people have plasma TVs.
First of all, some poor people, like some rich people, make bad decisions and waste their money on stupid shit. Of course. At the same time, some poor folks have all kinds of expensive crap because they weren’t always poor. They lose their jobs and are left with debt and poverty. They could sell the TV, (and many do) but you never get much at a pawn shop. You get enough to feed your family for a week, and then the kids drive you nuts and you go nuts yourself because you have no TV to watch. Then you are hungry and crazy.
Part of the argument seems to be that if people weren’t spending their income on plasma TVs and Xboxes, they’d have enough money for food, and the reality is that money disappears a lot quicker when spent on food. Spending money on a luxury item means you may be just a bit hungrier, but entertained. Not spending it means having just a bit more food, but still being hungry and not being entertained. So I can see how these ‘bad spending decisions’ get made.
I think this debate is a huge distraction, and it’s splitting hairs. Even when people believe that the number of poor people is exaggerated, they don’t deny that there are still some people who are really in desperate need. I think the motivation here is to justify current government spending levels and avoid more spending and tax hikes. Or just to write a self-righteous newspaper column with a take-away message of ‘if we’re going to talk about an issue, let’s be accurate and not blow it out of proportion.’ That’s totally valid and I do it myself with my writing sometimes.
Often however, this argument is used by folks who believe poverty is a result of laziness, that North America is the land of opportunity, and that they’ve worked hard for what they got and ‘be damned if someone is going to just get it handed to them using my tax dollars’. That in itself is understandable, and is not going to be changed with arguments such as the one I just made. The issue is much deeper than how we represent the facts.