On Poverty

There are of course many ways to become poor; some people are born into poverty, some people achieve poverty, and some people have poverty thrust upon them. Usually (I suspect) it’s a combination of factors. Suggesting that someone being poor is entirely about their lack of personal responsibility is as ignorant as suggesting someone being poor is entirely the fault of “society.” Speaking from personal experience, one indeed must make the conscious decision not to remain poor and affirmatively work toward the goal of a better life. Speaking also from personal experience, one does not often escape poverty without the help of others, both as individuals and as one’s larger society. Without both, the possibility of leaving poverty becomes dramatically smaller.

What I generally find implied from people who suggest poverty is wholly a personal flaw of character is the following thought: “Since you are entirely reponsible for your poverty, I have no responsibility to help fight poverty in the United States.” This is akin to someone comfortably standing on the deck of a ship looking over to see another person splashing in the ocean, asking for help, and deciding not to throw them the life preserver that’s hanging on the railing on the grounds that clearly that person decided to go for a swim and therefore it’s their responsibility to make it back to the ship before they drown.

Well, possibly that person went for a swim; possibly they fell overboard because they had too much to drink; possibly a sudden swell knocked them overboard; possibly they were shoved into the water. The thing is, a more rational person will wait to examine the root causes of that person being in the ocean until after they’ve thrown the life preserver and helped to haul that person back unto the ship.  — John Scalzi,  Being Poor Additional Comments Thread


As someone who was homeless for two years, and had to listen to judgy well-off people going through whatever verbal or logical contortions they could to avoid having any compassion for people like me, this really resonated.