(I started this post nearly two weeks ago. I just couldn’t find the right words to finish it.)
One of the books I’m reading for class is called One Nation, Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All by Mark Robert Rank, and one of the questions he posed in the book is: Why care? Why should we, as possible working lower-middle class people all the way up capitalists, care about the impoverished? Why should we care about people in poverty when ” it’s their fault they’re there anyway”?
Rank went on to give his answers as to why he thinks we should care, but before I tell you what he said, think about it yourself. If you’re lucky enough to be living a comfortable life, only sometimes struggling to pay bills on time, but otherwise don’t really have any issues (economically), then why should you care about people who struggle to make ends meet when it doesn’t interfere with your life any?
For me, it just seems like the right thing to do. I can’t say that I’ve been raised to be the next Mother Theresa, but I can say that I was raised to treat all human beings with respect (even if I may not think they deserve it). With that comes The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would want others to do unto you.” Think about it. If you were down on your luck, working a job that paid less than minimum having to take care of yourself and maybe someone else, would you want someone to kick dirt in your face or lend a helping hand?
Now you may be thinking, “Well, that’s never going to happen to me,” and/or, “Most people are poor because of their own doing,” both which are not necessarily true. According to Rank, for the majority of American adults, the question is not whether they will experience poverty, but when. It may be short lived, but it happens, and it’s a likely possibility that one may slip into poverty again throughout their adulthood if they’ve already experienced poverty. And as far as people being poor because of something they have personally done, what about those born into poverty? 35% of the poor in America are under the age of 18, and they generally stay poor because they don’t know any other way and they’re not given the opportunity to take themselves out of that situation.
We say that the United States is the, “Land of the American Dream,” but how realistic is that? When you look at the stories of people who say that are the epitome of the American Dream, they often didn’t start from absolutely nothing. The American Dream is appealing to almost anyone trying to make something of themselves, but more times than not, diligence and perseverance isn’t enough. You also have to have the resources, but adding that last little detail makes the American Dream more unrealistic and less appealing, and as an opportunistic country, we can’t have that.
But back to what Rank was saying. According to Rank, the nonpoor should care about the poor out of self-interest, because it follows from Judeo-Christian values, and it is a shared responsibility. Examples? It’s in the nonpoor’s self-interest to care about the poor because the nonpoor often have to compensate for what the poor can’t afford. Take, for example, healthcare. Most poor people don’t have healthcare because they can’t afford it, and the US doesn’t provide universal healthcare. Patterns have shown that when a poor person has a medical problem, they often turn towards the emergency room, but because they don’t have the insurance to pay, the cost is absorbed by hiking up healthcare premiums which those who can afford it, end up paying. Also, children from poor homes don’t have the same educational opportunities as children from higher income families, and as a result of the lack of resources, most students won’t have the skills required to enter the workforce as an efficient employee, being their primary option seeing as they don’t have the money and/or meet the requirements to attend college. However, while the evidence presented makes a persuasive case, there are qualified workers somewhere to fill positions and resources available to help poor mothers, so the self-interest argument doesn’t have a strong standing.
Rank continues on to argue that many Americans believe in the Judeo-Christian ethic, much of which advocates in helping thy neighbor. A number of reoccurring themes appear throughout the Old Testament which encourage us to give and assist the poor, additionally stating that those who are neglectful towards the poor will suffer God’s wrath. Proverbs 21.13 states, “If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard.” The New Testament reflects many of the same views of the Old Testament, telling the story of Jesus Christ, a humble carpenter, which further emphasizes the message that the poor are blessed in the eyes of the Lord. This also makes a pretty convincing argument to Christians and others who are religiously affiliated, but with more than 15% of the US population not religiously associated, why should they care?
Lastly, Rank argues that poverty is a shared responsibility of all US citizens, saying that poverty is not the outcome of one individual’s behavior but rather “the result of structural failings within the US economic and political systems.” With nearly 50% of the current poor in America being either under the age of eighteen or sixty-five or older, it’s easy to see that poverty isn’t the sole result of an individual’s doing or lack thereof. We can see this in the case of unemployment. The United States, obviously, doesn’t want its unemployment to get too high—the result being lower production rates, little to no income for individuals, therefore less spending and less revenue for the country. On the other hand, the US doesn’t want unemployment to get too low, to fall below a “natural unemployment rate.” If that were to occur, employers would no longer be able to hire your average Jane or Joe; they would need to attract and hire qualified workers by offering more benefits, consequently resulting in inflation—the more an employer has to spend, the more an employer needs to make. It is a win-lose situation for some people. If consumers are to reap the benefit of low prices, a certain percentage of people need to remain unemployed as well as work for low wages. In this case, it may not necessarily be the fault of the individual if they aren’t working or if they aren’t making the kind of money they need to support themselves and their family.
Undeniably, Rank has made some great points, but it doesn’t really mean much if his message is only reaching a limited audience. If I wasn’t reading this book for class, I’m not going to say that I would have never picked up this book, but there’s a really good chance that I wouldn’t have. It seems to be that today we live in a country where people care more about their cars and their cell phones than they do about the life of another human being. Most people tend to be so caught up in the “me”, they forget to care about the “we”, and in that we’ve lost our compassion for others, if we ever had any at all.
So Rank said gave his reason. I gave my piece, so now I’m asking you: Why care?