It’s weird to be talking so much lately about growing up poor when I’ve spent my life pretending that I didn’t and or feeling ashamed about it all. Now, as the subject of white, rural poverty seems to be in the miasma of the 2020 election and some think it’s a Rosetta Stone to understanding voters who seem to vote against their own interests and well being by supporting leaders who gut the programs and support that would help them to pull up by those mythologized bootstraps we’re all supposed to have, I find myself turning to the question of my childhood. I’m also spurred to reconsider poverty by the accession of J.D. Vance as spokesman for all of The Poor (white poor, anyway) and I did read his book when it came out. His thesis, and I’m assuming the thesis of the new Netflix film adaptation, seems to be that poverty is the result of poor choices.
I counter that the shame I carried because my housing was always insecure ties adults like me, who grew up poor, into a cycle of trying to fill the hole shame carves out of your soul with poor choices. Can we consider this for a moment? That poverty scars children, who too often become scarred adults struggling to survive, sometimes with their own children? Can we spare any compassion for people who never learned to save money because money was always spoken for before the paycheck arrived, for people who never had the credit to buy a home.
But what if we’d had a little help? What if Mom and I could have gotten some cash assistance when my Dad left her after twenty years, with no education and no job? What if we had more than the $40/month in food stamps that so many groceries shamed up for using?
Again, SO many people had it worse than I did. @JDVance1 certainly did. But he did have help. He didn’t crawl out on his own. Neither did I. We need each other. We need to help each other. So maybe our lawmakers, not people drowning in poverty, are the one who should be making better choices. Last thing: the reason we didn’t qualify for much assistance was because of my Dad’s decent income and child support. Child support of about $400/month. Mom did not have an immediate path to work after being a stay at home mother (we called it a “homemaker” back then) for so long. So until she could find work, we were supposed to live on $4800/year in the late 80s — but to the state that was too much income. For perspective, that’s about $10,079.54 ion 2020.
Mom did eventually go back to school and become a nurse – because she found a child of veterans federal grant that paid for a one year program. It helped SO much. Was that grant “bootstraps?” A handout? Maybe the gov’t just finally gave us some damn boots. We all deserve boots.