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Comfortable Myths About Poverty: British Churches Fight Back.

9:09 am in Uncategorized by TomThumb

“The comfortable story of poverty allows the

majority of people to live in comfort and security,

largely unaware of the difficulties that many

others face. It neutralises our response to people

who struggle – not with criminality and anti-social

behaviour, but to cover the essentials of feeding

a family, clothing growing children and heating

homes. The comfortable myths about poverty

allow us to believe that people in poverty are

deserving of their poverty, and that it is neither

our fault nor our problem.”

The massive, destructive austerity experiment in Britain has provoked its churches to fight back against lies about poverty. A major group of British churches has come together to fight back against six myths about poverty. They aim to change the lies told about poverty and hope to upend the indifference and inaction based upon those lies.

The six lies.

  • They are lazy and don’t want to work.   Child poverty has been attributed to parents who do not want to work, yet evidence shows that inwork parents who are poor outnumber out of work families. The myth of multiple, successive generations who have been unemployed is disproved by statistics showing that such families never existed.
  • “They” are addicted to drink and drugs. A very small fraction of benefit claimants report problems with addiction (4%). The vast majority of impoverished families spend their income on life’s necessities.
  • They are not really poor; they just don’t manage their money properly.  60% surveyed agreed to this belief. Despite evidence that impoverished families concentrate on food and shelter, and lack adequate financial resources to sometimes pay for heat and electricity. 
  • They are falsely claiming benefits. 80% surveyed thought poor families claimed benefits fraudulently. The actual statistics show .9% for fraud. Ironically, some avoid claiming benefits which they are eligible for: 18 billion pounds of benefits go unclaimed.  If only tax fraud was at .9%!
  • They have an easy life. Churchgoers believed that the poor chose poverty as an easy lifestyle. Yet benefits provide less than half of what is needed to survive. When interviewed, impoverished families reported less happiness and less life satisfaction when compared to non impoverished families. 
  • They are responsible for the deficit. Striking, how many people believed that social welfare claimants’ benefits caused the deficit. In reality, the proportion of benefits to tax receipts has not changed  over a long period of time, so no excess demand has been demonstrated. Yet because the politicians promote this idea, the public continues to believe this myth. 

 

What are the lies which Americans tell about poor Americans?  How have Americans come to be ‘comfortable’ amidst a sea of unhappy, poor Americans?

[It is a fact that the number of unemployed Americans far outstrips the number of job openings. In some industries, there is a greater than 10 to one ratio of jobseekers to job openings. Unaffordable housing has added fuel to crisis levels of homelessness. In a deeply cynical act, the Sequester is set up to remove 984 billion dollars over ten years, from the American economy in planned austerity. Apparently, elites plan to use the pain of the Sequester cuts to demand further cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid programs. This is a poverty-creating-ball which is set with momentum to keep rolling.]

I live in a rural area. Poverty is not so much hidden here as it is masked by low-wage jobs and prejudice. In the face of repeated rejection outcasts separate themselves out.

Are the comfortable myths American’s tell themselves about poverty any different from church goers in Britain?

Link to the source document.

A final quote from their study:

If our society misrepresents those who are at its margins,

blaming them for their poverty and ignoring the massive

injustices at work, then we are all set to fail. We will see

greater depths of poverty; greater suffering as children are

entrenched in circumstances which are damaging to body,

mind and soul. We will see a society which is unsustainable

and divided, where those with power or privilege are wilfully

blind to those without.

 

Voices of Long-Term Unemployment.

1:16 pm in Uncategorized by TomThumb

86 million Americans are thought to be currently unemployed. Of that unimaginably large number of suffering humans is a smaller number of people who have been unable to find paying jobs for a long time. This post aspires to be a place where their voices can be heard and can trumpet to our ‘leaders’ that a world of pain has been loosed upon our brothers and sisters.

For Example:

E., has been unemployed for three years and is married with two children. E. attends college:  ”I’m not even totally convinced the college degree is really going to help at this point, but I figure at least I’ll be doing something,”

L., 44, has sent out hundreds of resumes. Her car has been repossessed. L. took out student loans toward a degree in Business Administration. L. has two children.  ”I’ve worked all my life. I’ve been a decent person,” she said. “(But now) I feel as if I’m invisible. Like I’m not worth anything to society anymore.”  ”All I try to do is try to keep my head up, and every day it’s harder and harder because nothing seems to be getting done about this situation. Nothing.”

From a radio interview taking calls from the long-term unemployed:

D., unemployed 3 years; 100s of resumes, no responses equals low self-esteem (paraphrased).

K. in Duluth, without a job since 2006. “There is a difference between conscious perception and the unconscious perception of joblessness.” When K. sees others getting jobs, it is hard to justify saying that “I am okay, I am adequate”. It is impossible not to take it personally.

S. : I have been 16 months unemployed. 20 interviews in my field this year. Before I got laid off, if I got an interview, I got a job. I was always the best choice in the past, so what happened?  I actually feel worse when I am looking for a job.

H. :9 months unemployed. I listen to the radio and hope that I am not unemployed more than a year. It is frustrating and it is getting to me. I don’t get the interviews anymore, but hey I am twenty years older….so I figure I am less desirable… I am not saying if you are over forty it is over but….I might not be what that employer wants…(paraphrasing, older people are having a hard time).

J.:  In my last interview they told me how qualified I was then let me know they hired someone with a more recent education or training.

C.:  My husband has been jobless for over a year and it has been so stressful that I started seeing a therapist.

K. : Trying to fight the isolation. Two years jobless now. I have been trying to volunteer to network, to get a reference. I feel better when I give; it feels good; helps me connect with whom I am volunteering with. Isolation is the big thing to fight, to fight depression. (paraphrased).

T.:  3 years since employed. Worked for 3 months at new job, then 3 months without salary before outfit closed and lost jobs. My concern is that we don’t count as unemployed and secondly, that we don’t have any resources to support ourselves while we look for work. Masters Degree. Went back to the University to get management skills. Told by job interviewer that she did not have any “experience” with her new skills.

J.:– unemployed after working for twenty years, for two and a half years. Got a masters degree. What is wrong with the unemployed statistics? It should show everyone who is out of work, not just those on unemployment, like 9%. …it really bums me out because its bigger…..people are kind of oblivious to the plight of the jobless unless they are directly affected by job loss.

((We know that there are psychological consequences for all unemployed persons but the focus of this post is to listen to their voices as they tell their stories.))

From Comments reflecting Personal Stories.

From the Comments section of a May 2012 NYTimes economists’ article: On the disastrous impact of long-term unemployment, I gleaned these personal stories and snapshots: (N=244 total comments: Personal Stories= n=22). All personal stories are paraphrased.

Here are 22 personal story comments:

J.: Got laid off from a private college. They laid off all of the older workers. Found the assumption difficult to encounter, that if you got laid-off from a college there must be something wrong with you.

J.: UI benefits keep us in isolation, from encountering others in the same boat. UI is a faceless, Kafkaesque bureaucracy, arbitrary irrational.

S.C..: UI ran out. People don’t see the real costs of unemployment. There aren’t any jobs. You cannot start a business with no savings. House is in foreclosure. Family of 4 has no health insurance. Bureaucrats lost applications for help with house and LIHEAP apps. No one returns calls. Employers rude, don’t even reply, just drop you. Extended family no help, rejecting, call me unemployable, loser, greedy. We throw away people. We are alone.”

M.: 57, 2 yrs unemployed; unable to find any work. Consulting business dwindled. Has M.S.. which has become worse since losing the jobs. UI ran out 2 mos. ago. Just approved for Disability, which will give her one-fifth of what she earned before.

J.T.H.: 21 months so far unemployed. This is becoming damaging on many levels. Losing financial security, isolating, demoralizing. College educated. Wearyness. People who have HC say ‘you can always go the ER.’ The stupidity and insensitivity of the haves and have-nots of our society is amazing.

J.: 58, multidegreed. Unemployed for more than two years. I dumbed down my resume, dyed my hair, swallowed my pride. Face it, we are the ‘surplus population’. Will do anything to survive.

M.: This is me. Every word they wrote is true. Thank god for my soul mate or I would be gone. Loss of identity. Isolation. despair and the attempt to end it all.

D.: Unemployed for 3 years. Discrimination seems to be a big part of the job search. We should not allow this to become acceptable.

RM.: Discrimination against older workers as long as the employer can show ‘any’ reason for not hiring, is a real problem. Someone revealed to me that if you are an older worker, there is virtually no chance of finding employment.

M.: Age discrimination is a real problem: Widowed with a 19 y.o. child.  Most of the low-wage jobs which do not require skills would be psychologically unrewarding for an attorney. Hears a lot of “there are jobs out there, and people just don’t want to work.”

A.: 62, with 2 years of looking and no results. Teamed up with nephew in the same field and created a job. Got healthcare through the VA or the whole deal would not have worked out.

B: Lost my job in 2008. Got another within a few months but lost that 6 weeks later. Decided to become a teacher, got a Masters. Now working as a substitute teacher, living with parents. Thinking about ending it all and feel as if I can’t hang on any longer. Feel ashamed and worthless. I don’t know what to do and feel desperate. 51. I look at 21 year olds. They have more time to make something of themselves. I feel like a complete failure.

J.T.: 40. Changed jobs to one with less pay. Older workers seen as less skilled or companies do not want to pay them what they are worth. Low end positions can be filled with High School graduates now. Pols are deadlocked and this could lead to another recession.

S.F.: No one will hire me: “overqualified”, “no experience”. !! Younger, more attractive women get hired. Going back to school at 60 not feasible. Feel doomed to a life of poverty, no HC, HC insurance ended with the last job. No one wants us. Contributions to society of mother, wife, underpaid woman who fought against discrimination, don’t seem to count. Because women are nurturing life, we are less likely to commit suicide. Help for jobless urgently needed. If politicians continue with the current trend I will be homeless and ill and left to die in the gutter. Thanks, America.

Red: 56, last 3 years have been destructive. Loss of self-esteem, feeling removed from society, a failure. I have been a problem solver all of my life and now I have met my match.

J.: I saved myself from suicide by volunteering. I am broke, but I matter. Structural changes in society are going to have to come from the bottom up.

Jim: 62, got divorced along with layoff. Now I am working for 14% of my former salary but I have HC insurance now. I fear for my daughter who is graduating college. The poor job prospects for which they will pay a permanent price.

Ron: 64. I just can’t read anymore of this. Too painful. Laid off five years ago. Depresses me. Imagine my chances of finding a job now. Wow!!

Bud: I am in the same boat. I feel bad for young people in these bad jobs.At my age no health insurance is BAD. If anything happens to me , I guess I will just die.

N: Husband committed suicide a year after losing his job. Lost his job as a professor in 2008 and after 12 months and applying for more than 15o jobs and 150K in student debt. Not one call back. Suicide in November of 2009. Lost my job in 2009 and am now partially disabled. Feel like I have been tossed in a toxic waste dump. In USA, job is our identity. Our identity is what we do.. Went to France; no one asked me what I do and I asked why: They said, “It is not who you are. It is the person inside.”

RM: (In reply to commenter who said jobless should have saved more)  What should I cut back on? My car insurance? My mortgage? Should I have saved enough so that when I was laid off at 60, that I could have supported myself for the next 30 years??

A.: I am up at 4:30 am sick with worry about losing my job. My spouse has been jobless for the last year and has sent out 300 resumes and has had only 4 interviews. At 50 years old, that is terrible. If I was older and near to retirement? It is out of sight, out of mind for the jobless.

We have heard from 22 commenters on an article thread and nine speakers on a talk radio program.

What do they share with us?

Financial anxiety/terror of losing their homes and of not having the money to meet basic needs. Loss of important relationships through divorce or death. Feelings of helplessness, futility and that no one in power is doing anything to help. Isolation from everyone else in society. Loss of an important social identity as a worker in society. Loss of healthcare or healthcare insurance and fear of becoming ill and needing medical care. Fear for the well-being of and the future of their children, especially those entering the work force. Hopelessness and despair. Facing reduced wages in new jobs which seem to pay less and require less education. Feeling invisible: that society at large does not care about their fate. Discrimination against hiring older applicants. Finding solace in volunteering. Redefining the Self as separate from the work one did and from work one cannot seem to obtain. The unbelievable hours of resume sending without any positive results. Inscrutable government bureaucracies who do not return calls or reply to mail. The disintegration of whole families and the importance of support from significant others. Going back to school seems to almost have been a liability, increasing financial stress and an expectation of a job in that field. Disability income was a fraction of what one person had been earning at a job. Older persons seemed certain that they were facing a future of poverty. Older women voiced concerns about hiring discrimination against older women and despair.

Other commenters/speakers pointed out that the actual number of unemployed and long-term unemployed are not accurately reported. They rebuke those responsible for this with the accusation: “How can we know what to do to solve this problem if the problem and numbers are not even reported!!??” This post and future posts about the suffering of the jobless will hopefully make their plight more visible and more audible as well.

 

N.B.–In this sort of qualitative analysis, it is hard to choose what parts of the whole to present; but those choices are subjective and represent the comments which spark the writer’s concern. Please do not regard this work as anything but exploratory, inconclusive, finding openings and issues, but not fact-finding. Thank you for your consideration and perspective taking.