Editorial response to “Let’s Put the Less Fortunate to Work”:

It’s good to open a discussion on poverty. I appreciate Joe Selvaggio’s article (Southside Pride November Nokomis and December Phillips/Powderhorn) in that regard. However, his tone makes one think that he lives miles and miles from the people who find themselves, for many, many different reasons, without the means to survive.

His deprecating tone is disturbing. And that’s what poor people are up against as much as poverty itself. Many people who’ve been lucky enough to have an avenue to physical well-being attempt to strip dignity from those who scramble to acquire a modicum of physical well-being. People who are poor do not choose poverty nor the stereotypes and putdowns that come with it.

The first time I read the article I thought that if it were published, Southside Pride would get an angry letter from one of the most highly educated, well-equipped-for-the-workforce, poverty-stricken people I know. (Well, it was published—perhaps not wisely—and there were no angry letters.) Being poor has to do with much more than an inability or unwillingness to work. There are so many things built into our system that make it almost impossible for “the ‘have-nots’ to earn their way out of poverty.”

It’s good to have job training available for those “illiterates” who “have too many babies.” Just as much, though, we need universal health care, we need to get rid of predatory lending, we need safer banking (without fees) for people on the edge, we need to stop luring young people into easy credit, we need to teach money management in high school, housing needs to be affordable, student loans need to be manageable or eliminated, the government (and why not the private sector too?) needs to set aside some jobs for people who are disabled, low-income, inexperienced, have been incarcerated, vulnerable. Maybe even provide training for them. We need a society where it’s possible to survive. As James Baldwin put it so many years ago, “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.”

I think Selvaggio is trying to say “We all do better when we all do better.” But it doesn’t come off that way.

–Elaine Klaassen

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