It is important to understand how hard people in poverty are often working. The reality came through loud and clear when I did research for The Benefits of Being an Octopus, and I am glad Betsy Rader is speaking up about her own experiences in her Washington Post Opinion piece: “I was born in poverty in Appalachia. ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ doesn’t speak for me.” Click on the link below to read it in its entirety.
I know that my family lived on $6,000 per year because as children, we sat down with pen and paper to help find a way for us to live on that amount. My mom couldn’t even qualify for a credit card, much less live on credit. She bought our clothes at discount stores. Thrift was not inimical to our being; it was the very essence of our being…
It isn’t a character flaw that keeps someone in poverty. It isn’t their unwillingness to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, it is the very conditions of poverty that keeps them in poverty.
The problem with living in constant economic insecurity is not a lack of thrift, it is that people in these circumstances are always focused on the current crisis. They can’t plan for the future because they have so much to deal with in the present. And the future seems so bleak that it feels futile to sacrifice for it. What does motivate most people is the belief that the future can be better and that we have a realistic opportunity to achieve it. But sometimes that takes help.
Yes, I worked hard, but I didn’t just pull myself up by my bootstraps. And neither did Vance. The truth is that people helped us out: My public school’s guidance counselor encouraged me to go to college. The government helped us out: I received scholarships and subsidized federal loans to help pay my educational expenses. The list of helpers goes on.