“The Poor You Have Always With You”

A few statistics about my state of Indiana (the state that Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence brags is “a state that works”); these are facts that should “afflict the comfortable” and motivate the rest of us to support policies that will “comfort the afflicted”:

According to the latest Census numbers: More than 1 in 3 Hoosiers remain below self-sufficiency despite increased employment, 21.5% of Indiana’s children live in poverty, and the number of Hoosiers in poverty persistently hovers around one million.

A report on the Status of Working Families in Indiana 2015, issued by the Institute for Working Families, puts the information in an Infographic including state SNAP & TANF responses to poverty, and highlights what it calls the “21st Century Job Swap” from high & middle-paying to low-skilled, low-income jobs by industry;

The June data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Indiana has a 108,400 jobs deficit when population growth since the recession is factored in.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation finds that Indiana ranks #30 in child well-being, having slipped 2 spots relative to other states since 2014.

Women are doing even worse than children in national rankings: Indiana is dead last in Work & Family rankings, 39th in Employment & Earnings, 37th in Poverty & Opportunity, and Indiana received a D- in the National Partnership’s Expecting Better report, “the most comprehensive analysis to date of state laws and regulations governing paid leave, paid sick days, protections for pregnant workers and other workplace rights for expecting and new parents in the United States”

Despite the fact that the minimum wage cannot support even a single adult in any county in the state, Indiana’s legislature has not only refused to raise that wage– but has preempted the authority of cities and counties to do so (or to provide paid leave, or enact environmental regulations, etc.)

To add insult to injury, in 2015, Governor Pence diverted three and a half million dollars of desperately needed TANF funds to  anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers.

There is much more, but rather than get bogged down in the details of one state’s inability to raise living standards–an inability that, unfortunately, is not unique to Indiana–we “comfortable” Americans need to ask ourselves some hard questions, beginning with one posed by eminent economist Robert Samuelson in a recent column for the Washington Post: Is ending poverty impossible?

Samuelson begins by pointing out that neither Presidential candidate has focused on the poor. Clinton’s proposals to decrease inequality are aimed primarily at the middle class, and Trump’s tax cuts would benefit the rich and upper middle class.

Samuelson cites two reasons for ignoring the plight of the truly poor: Poor people don’t vote (they are a disproportionate percentage of nonvoters); and there is no consensus on anti-poverty policies. (That shouldn’t come as a surprise; these days, when there is consensus on anything, that’s a surprise.)

The lack of will to attack poverty can be traced to attitudes about the poor and lack of faith in government. Americans’ widespread suspicion that social welfare recipients are “playing the system” (despite reams of data to the contrary) can be traced all the way back to Fifteenth Century English Poor Laws that forbid “giving alms to the sturdy beggar.” A bastardized Calvinism reinforced the belief that people are poor because they are disfavored by God, probably because they are morally defective. (Or, to use George W. Bush’s more recent formulation of that patronizing analysis in promoting his Faith Based Initiative, because the poor “lack middle-class values.”)

If we ever get serious about eliminating poverty, we will need to do two things, and neither will be simple or easy. We will need to marshal armies of community organizers who can persuade poor people to vote (despite the formidable barriers to their votes put in place by legislators who would not benefit from their participation); and we will need to educate the “comfortable” about the reality of poverty–and especially about the plight of the millions of hard-working Americans who put in forty hours or more a week for wages insufficient to sustain them.

Unless we can do those two things–and not so incidentally, fix our gridlocked political system–the poor will always be with us.


  1. The poor will always be with us just as long as we practice an economic system based on greed driven competition.

  2. Even the Calvinists would be amazed at what we see today. The “Gospel of Prosperity” that is preached by so many Christian charlatans tells these poor people that they will be blessed only if they give what little they have so the preacher can have a new Mercedes, or a new airplane. After al, every good disciple needs a Leer jet to carry the word of God to the world. So the men of God are ripping off the poor, rather than feeding and clothing them. Is it any surprise that the politicians do the same?

  3. Due to the market crash, most of our money was wiped out. Then, because of the real estate downturn, I lost my job as a kitchen designer. Our only income was my husband’s Social Security and my unemployment. In Manhattan, that does not go far. We applied for SNAP. Initially I was embarrassed to use the card, and I told no one I knew of our financial situation. Then my husband was hit with cancer of the mandible. While he survived that horror, not even a yea later he was diagnosed with the lung cancer that took his life. After he died, my income was, of course, cut in half. I was terrified. I thought I would have to leave NY, the only home I’ve really known in my adult life. I am now living in a subsidized apartment in a wealthy neighborhood. I am no longer embarrassed by my situation as I know it was not our failings that caused it. We worked hard and did things right. Circumstances, not personal failure, have caused me to require help. I also am no longer making any attempt to hide my situation. Those of us who have fallen from the middle class must let others know, socially those who have known us, and know that we are not lazy, and we do have values. We simply need a hand.

  4. The “comfortable” don’t want to be reminded about the poor. It’s why denial works so well. It’s easier to justify calling them “lazy” or “unmotivated”. Libertarians say, “the poor make bad choices”. White supremacists (virtually all white people) just think of minorities as poor.

    As long as we have a capitalistic economy and the Republican Party has a constituents, there will be lots of poor people.

    Here’s another observation, the poor that do want to lift themselves up are encouraged to vote for Democrats. However, what has the party of Wall Street done for the poor in the two or three decades?

    African Americans are a great example. Michelle Alexander, author of ‘The New Jim Crow’, was saddened to see the large swaths of black Americans voting for Hillary Clinton in the presidential primary since Bill Clinton eviscerated welfare and made deals with private prison industry which locked up millions of blacks since the early 90’s. The young black men were sold out by their leaders who’ve obtained political power within the Democratic Party. Michelle also blamed the media for lying to Americans.

    Your recommendations are sincere, but we’ll have to start with reforming our “free and independent press”, so Americans can learn how and who to trust.

  5. Poverty can be addressed but will never go away. The solution is not to give money to companies to create jobs but to educate workers. We have to figure out education that works more effectively for kids and adults and for families who fail at parenting. And yes the purpose of education is to give people employable skills not just to appreciate classic literature more.

    Unlike what conservatives dream, making people more desperately poor does not motivate them to work. It just makes them more desperate to survive

    There are no magic bullets. It’s all just necessary work. Work that if we take on everyone’s life improves.

    This is one of 1,000 problems that we need to work. That’s why we need a President who’s a worker not a celebrity.

  6. “The poor will always be with you,” comes from a Pentateuch text and reads, “The poor will always be with you so you must always reach you hand out to care.” When Jesus quoted the first part he knew the rich were using it to avoid giving. Yet they knew the second part which they did not quote. I grew up in a very strong Republican environment and constantly heard complaints about the “lazy” poor. It is a sickening concept.

  7. 13 years desling with a child with s brain tumor and other severe medical problems? I lost my job after the 1st month. Have had several low paying part time jobs over the years, broke down and went on welfare finally. Went to school (3.9 GPA) for the work requirement and now have student loans to go with my AA degree. At 62 my degree is useless and I am unable to find work of any kind. Much as I would love to continue with school I cannot fathom saddling myself with even more unforgivable loans. My once lovely home no longer meets third world standards of living and food is an issue every day. A liveable used RV is our dream. But it’s probably unreachable. Social Services is a humiliaring maze of requitrements that require a nearly full time effort to keep. My country is set up to make it nigh impossible to dig yourself out from under once you fall from the graces if the middle class. I vote. But the best that us poor folks can do is vote against politicians like Pence & Walker & Brownback. Hillary Clinton isn’t going to do anything that will help my family.

  8. Insurance is our way to share financial risk. Great concept; shared load so nobody is overloaded.

    Government provides insurance (although not packaged as such) against all kinds of risks. Great concept; shared load so nobody is overloaded.

  9. Todd,

    “Your recommendations are sincere, but we’ll have to start with reforming our “free and independent press”, so Americans can learn how and who to trust.”

    You’re absolutely right. That’s where the start has to come from. And it needs to be started right now. There’s no better paradigm than the freedom of speech and (press?) exemplified on Professor Kennedy’s blog.

    ex-em-pli-fy (eg zem’pla fi’) vt. -fied’, -fying [< L exemplum, example + facere, to make] to show by example—ex-em'pli-fi-ca'tion n.
    ~Webster's New World Dictionary

  10. The poor will always be with us because the rich will always be with us, and “them’s what got the gold makes the rules.” Our poor are not with us by their own design; they are with us by political choice. It is not surprising that social cohesion (voting, participating in community activities etc.) is in disrepair among the poor given their good reason to despair of a system that favors the rich and slanders the poor. Perhaps we should initiate a “rich tax” from whose proceeds we would feed the poor and provide other opportunities to make social mobility something other than the fiction it is now. Someone call Pence and see if he would veto such legislation.

  11. “The poor will be with you”is a dialect allusion to something far more recent in the Christian Calendar than the first manuscripts by mostly Oxford authors, since earlier tries at that ended in disgrace, hanging, burning Earth around for those days to be celebrated still in November “Bonfire Night” . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gx4P6NrRMHo Remember as usual to cite the editor whose words you are plagiarising. As you know on this continent the World publishing company holds still the RSV rights, as you may read in English of 1946.

  12. PS: The Census statistics are not even dialect English, but local Department members’ press papers that commonly are marred by racial slurs of the Commerce office workers, not the actual printouts you can read yourself at the DC sources. And answer yourself for the Indiana State Police racial profiles as $15 each, or as asked by a Chamber of Commerce member or Health Department author. At work, not as a book-seller at any PhD accredited Indiana licensing officials. Census Taker Names have been parodied many times, especially when an alias is not traceable to an enrolled student in the big courses. U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, Washington, DC 20233. Call first or you have to use your own printer ink and paper locally, on office budget or your own as to worksheets.
    You can check , too, the number of residents of each state property-labor division area were born in their States of current residence, of which DC is not one. And how many are foreign-born. Not many immigrants “Among us.”

  13. Ms Kennedy writes about Midwestern poverty, her area of expertise as per her fixed and permanent domicile; however, there are massive areas and pockets of poverty in the US that make Midwestern/Indiana poverty look like mere inconveniences along the highway of life.

    Since arriving in Indiana in the summer of 2004 and being assigned a Caseload of students via IPS (the Indianapolis Public Schools), I never was requested to visit a home with dirt floors, never visited a home where chickens wandered freely from outside the home to inside the home, never visited a home where I was warned by my PhD supervisor not to sit on overstuffed furniture unless I wished to carry away bed bugs and other similar vermin.

    There are degrees of poverty, and the Indiana inner-city poverty of which is mentioned frequently on this forum cannot hold a candle to the absolutely debilitating pockets of poverty located in rural America, our forgotten people.

  14. BSH – If you ventured into rural Indiana, you WOULD find homes with dirt floors. You are also correct that rural poverty is often forgotten by the media and policymakers in urban and suburban areas and perhaps some rural legislators as well. Rural poverty is more isolating than urban poverty and more difficult to identify and address. Township trustees in rural communities are sometimes the only lifeline to these families in severe need. Rural churches and schools do what they can, but they are losing population and resources too, and the state can’t rush fast enough to cut declining enrollment schools in order to shift funds to charter schools and wealthier voucher recipients for private school education.

  15. Nancy, thank you for validating a group of ppl so easily overlooked. I would write more, but I am now in bed with my iPad, not the best place for my continuing a conversation. More later. Thanks again. BSH

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