Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Hunger, Poverty & the Problem with "Just Get a Job"

Did you know 1 in 6 Americans struggle to put meals on the table?

That's millions and millions of people. Millions of children. That number should be ZERO. Hunger is not a foreign, third-world problem. It's right here in our own backyards, neighborhoods, schools and workplaces.

Luckily, September is Hunger Action Month! 

I had the chance to do some freelance writing recently that exposed me to troubling facts about hunger and reminded me of my nonprofit career days. Regardless of political views, I think we can all agree that millions of children shouldn't be going hungry -- children who spend their nights, weekends and summers with empty bellies when they're not in school. Thinking about that breaks my heart right in half. Whatever your political views, wherever you live, consider finding a way to help end hunger in a way that feels personally significant to you.

I often hear statements like "why don't they just get a job," in reference to issues of hunger and poverty.

Coming from someone who just experienced firsthand how utterly demoralizing unemployment can be (even with a college degree), it isn't so simple to just "get a job" -- especially one that actually pays the bills. Think someone can do that for a family on a McDonald's or janitorial paycheck? (Which also requires the assumption that there are infinite non-college-degree jobs of this nature to go around.) And single parents -- what about childcare so they can even get and keep one of those jobs? Life is expensive. Even with federal aid, the budget comes out to $29/week for food. I know I'd struggle to feed myself for $4 a day.

I remember meeting a family once who had just received help getting a home, and were able to eat dinner around a donated kitchen table -- for the first time ever. The single father could never buy a home or furniture before because he was trying to afford school to form more permanent solutions for his family and give his children opportunity. I also once met a man in a shelter whose family had left him after work injuries resulted in brain damage. His disability prevented him from working. How do you break that kind of cycle without help? How do you stick with school when your kids are going hungry and living in homeless sheltersKeep in mind, there is always more to the story than you see. There is never just one face or reason to hunger, and any one of us is just one bad accident or situation away from being in those shoes.

I realize that there will always be stories to illustrate that people abuse the welfare system. Personally, I'm not in the business of denying good to the majority because of abuse by the minority.

Group punishment for individual transgression -- ouch. I know there are awesome success stories (and glamorous movie plots) about people who worked their way out of poverty and got into college and made their millions -- but the reality is that lack of funding and quality education makes the cycle of poverty insurmountable for so many children in so many areas. How can you get into college when you can't read or do basic algebra, and there's not enough salary money to get an educator in there to teach you how? Stuck, is what you are, before you're even done with kindergarten -- forget the SATs. Do we really want to put blame and finger-pointing on what entire populations become because of what we hand them at age 5?

I'll be the first to say that growing up as a privileged white girl with good parents in a quality school district means I'm part of a narrow population that often points to narrow-minded solution to these issues that probably "make sense" from an outside perspective (e.g. "get a job" or "go to school"). I'm not attempting to propose any magic solutions to our education problems and what role government should play in that (I can't even say I've formed a complete opinion on it yet). I'm simply pointing out the fact that it is, in fact, a problem, and that "get a job" is not necessarily a helpful answer that fills hungry bellies.

But education is a side issue of what I mean to focus on: HUNGER.

If you lost your job tomorrow, would your kids eat next month? Or three months from now? I can't fathom how those millions of parents must feel. Again, do what moves you -- whatever that personally means for you -- but consider doing something this month...and the month after. If you disagree with a federal aid approach, you can probably still agree with a neighborly, individually charitable approach. Volunteer, donate, educate, advocate, feed, help, lift, love!

It doesn't require a shared political preference to share a heart on the idea that children shouldn't be going to bed hungry.

Here are some ideas of ways you can get involved in Hunger Action Month....go get 'em! (A quick Google search will provide you with plenty of local opportunities if none of these work for you.)
...if you know of other good ones, holler at me!


Unknown said...

I love your heart! You are golden.
I hate hearing people talk about how they should "Just get a job." My husband and I talked about that the other day. It's really not just that simple, especially with a family.
Yes there will always be people abusing the system, but why not just assume the good in people? It's usually there.

Suzzie Vehrs said...

I hate that the system is so easily abused, but that's no reason to not help those who don't have any other options. One Christmas my family delivered meals on wheels meals in Detroit and it was sooo sad. it was cold for me outside in my warm clothing just running up to the door for a minute and some if these people lived in houses with no windows hardly any protection from the weather. I'm not saying this to make me look charitable, but we do have a problem as communities, as churches and as a nation. I wish it were as easy as go fix your situation. unfortunately it's not that easy. we need each other.

Budget Splurge Beauty said...

I love you

Preethi said...

Just a big fat amen. Tangentially, this beautifully touches on why I work (um, when I do work) in education.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this. Someone very close to me (aka my mom) had to go on welfare for a brief time after getting divorced because even when she did "just get a job", she still had three young girls to house and feed AND was working on getting an education to be able to support her little family long-term. When people speak negatively about people who go on welfare, it makes me sad. It really is a great thing that is available to those who truly need it, though it is unfortunate that some people use it unworthily. I'm still glad it's there for families who use it to get back where they need to be, because you're completely right - hunger really is an issue, even right next door!