Why you should care
Third Rail With OZY is back, and this week’s answers revolve around poverty and failure.
Every Wednesday, we’re debating hot topics in the lead-up to our next TV show, Third Rail With OZY, launching on PBS this fall. Last week we asked, “Is being poor a sign of failure?” You answered. Here are some reader responses and perspectives, condensed and edited for clarity. Check back tomorrow for our next question.
Unfortunately, in our society being “poor” translates into a category of how much money one makes. Being married with three children and living “financially challenged” since the beginning, I [have] a unique perspective when answering this question. I do not consider myself or my family “poor.” Now, to answer about “failure.” Again, a matter of perspective … Absolutely not … We decided some things early on that hold true to today, almost 20 years later, family and people before money!
Being poor is most closely aligned with lack of opportunity, which may be multigenerational. The cycle of poverty is hard to break. Generosity with resources and education have historically been the most helpful paths out of poverty.
It’s a sign of societal failure, of a lack of understanding about what makes people poor. It’s a sign we don’t have an adequate social safety net in the U.S. Also, it’s an attitudinal issue — how many people who would be judged poor by others actually feel poor themselves? There’s a saying: “All I want is a chance to learn that money won’t make me happy.” You could also say the reverse — “All I want is a chance to learn that lack of money won’t make me sad.” I was a single mother; for my son’s first four years, we were on welfare, Medicaid and food stamps, [we] lived communally, and I bought just about everything we owned at garage sales. I sometimes felt poor, but I wasn’t unhappy about my economic situation — it was a choice I’d made, to stay home with my son rather than work 40 hours and pay over half my salary for day care. I never felt like a failure. When my son was 5, I went back to school and became a psychologist. (No more poverty.)
How about being poor is a sign of the government failing its people and letting them down?
Being poor is not a failure by the people who are poor. The poor cannot fight a system where the 1 percent [who are] wealthy want to keep the poor, poor. The 1 percent … will do anything to keep their status position. The wealthy have not learned that money does not buy happiness.… Those who are driven by money don’t develop sympathy or empathy. They don’t understand that simple things bring happiness. The poor have been put in the position of having no other choice but to learn that simple things have meaning and value. Being poor is not desirable, but it is not a failure of the person who is poor.
Yes, being poor is a sign of failure — failure of society to share resources with everyone. Our population cannot avoid poverty when they have access to only 1 percent of the wealth.
I feel like a failure. I’ve worked hard for the last 18 years. Never taken a vacation. Rarely taken any sick days. But I’ve never gotten ahead. I always thought working hard gets you to the top. That’s what I was taught in school and by my peers. But now, even though I’ve worked hard and put time into doing my part for my country, I still can’t get ahead. I can’t even get basic health coverage. I keep telling myself (or trying to tell myself) that I’m not the one who is a failure, but instead that the systems put in place and the people making the decisions are what have failed me. But it’s still hard to tell yourself every day that you didn’t fail when you can’t even get the things you need.