Demonizing the Poor

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Black Agenda Report

Demonizing the Poor

It is sad and, frankly, frightening when Americans explain away the harshness and lack of compassion in their country by vilifying individuals who manage to survive in difficult circumstances. A lack of class consciousness, racism, puritanism, and pure delusion about America’s purported superiority result in nonsense being passed off as social science and matters which should be political being made personal.

A recent New York Times article examined the lives of two Michigan mothers, one the married mother of two and one the unmarried mother of three. The unmarried mother struggles on an annual salary of $25,000 without health care benefits. She survives with the assistance of food stamps and the earned income tax credit.

The article, “ Two Classes, Divided by ‘I Do,’” makes a big deal not about the single woman’s status as an hourly wage worker, or her lack of health benefits. Her marital status is made the central issue when in fact it is of secondary importance.

The reporter goes to great pains to repeat that college educated married couples have higher incomes, better health and fewer divorces. Unmarried parents are at higher risk of everything bad, and the New York Times and its experts conclude that marriage alone is the key to the good life.

No mention is made of the fact that in more advanced, truly civilized countries, single mothers can live quite well. It doesn’t matter if they have children with more than one man, or dare to keep dating, which according to the New York Times is inherently a harbinger of bad tidings.

The fact is that a single mother gets the short end of the stick in America because she lives in America. She lives in a country where women’s pay still lags behind that of men and because there is no safety net to speak of. The unmarried woman in the article took less than the recommended time to recuperate from surgery because she needed the money. If she lived in Sweden or some other frightful den of European socialism, she would have had no such problems.

She would have national health insurance, the dreaded “socialized medicine” used to scare uninformed Americans. She would have been paid for her maternity leave for up to two years. Despite being single she would have a similar standard of living as the married counterpart she was compared to.

What the Times failed to mention is that married couples who are working class can be as badly off as the single mother profiled in the article. If employed at all, they may work long hours for low pay. Their difficult circumstances will make it more likely that they will not stay married for long, and their children will suffer from a variety of ills because their parents lack financial resources.

It is sad that in the 21st century the American media has nothing to offer except platitudes about the plight of single mothers who made bad decisions about men. The paper of record doesn’t even point out that divorce has brought many a well off married mother down to the level of working class misery.

If the harshness and lack of compassion in American society were examined, there would be a very different story indeed. Far from being the generous land lionized by apologists, we would be told that our personal decisions can condemn us to lifelong suffering in a country where individuals are at the mercy of a culture of survival of the fittest.

If the single mother in the Times article had only one child instead of three, or no children at all, she would not be much better off. An hourly worker who earns only $25,000 annually is going to have a very difficult life financially. Instead of needlessly glamorizing married people, and making one segment of society seem superior to another, we should have a much needed examination of what kind of country we ought to have.

America needs a true democracy, a nation in which everyone’s material needs are met. Those needs would be met with a fair system of progressive taxation. There would be little money spent on the military and a great deal spent on public education. No one would have to pay for health care, and wealthy people would not have more political power than anyone else. Jails and prisons would have small numbers of incarcerated persons instead of more than any other country on the planet. Race and gender would not prevent anyone from ascending to whatever position he or she chose. Unemployment would be low, and wages for working class people would be high.

Instead we live in a country which is the exact opposite of the one we should live in. That is our biggest problem, not single women having children. Democracy and social justice will fix a variety of ills, not puritanical hand wringing reminiscent of the 1950s.

Margaret Kimberley

Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.Com.

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