Poverty, and other forms of ill-fate

I’ve been thinking a lot about being poor, since reading the post that struck me as so heartless yesterday.

My parents were both educated, intelligent and talented, but neither of them lived up to their potential. As a result, my sister and I grew up with the support of MediCal (California’s version of Medicaid – the healthcare program for the disabled and the poor), receiving free lunch at school (a stigmatizing experience that I found mortifying, and most days, I have my lunch away, rather than eating “charity” food), and evey month, we received an AFDC check – Aid to Families with Dependent Children. But, due to my mother’s distorted sense of justice, a symptom of her lifelong mental illness, she would gleefully open that check, and immediately write et own check for the same amount to Greenpeace, or Save the Turtles, or the WILPF (Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom). She delighted in diverting “government” funds to her radical causes. No matter that those funds were supposed to buy her kids clothes and other necessities. Thank goodness we had hand-me-downs from older cousins, and her parents always ready to help us out of a jam. We occasionally spent nights “homeless” – sleeping in our car, when we had one. In California, having no roof for a day or two is less of a problem than it is for my patients in Baltimore.

I would never have gone to college without PELL grants, and other programs for the poor.

And now, I’m not poor, but I take care of a patient population that is disadvantaged economically. Many of my patients, like my mother, suffer from mental illness, and no amount of rational explanation, direction, or training will get them on track with the rest of society. Some of my patients aren’t mentally ill, but their circumstances led them to grow up with so little education, and so much misinformation, that they have little chance of moving out of their circumstances. Some, despite these challenges, manage to succeed, in relative terms.

I am so often amazed, looking back on my own experiences, that I managed to arrive at this place in my life, with financial security – it would have been so easy for me to end up addicted to heroin or cocaine (like some of my patients), or incarcerated, or a victim of suicide. But, something, like an invisible bungee-cord, always held me back from the extremes.

So, I don’t look askance at my patients who struggle with pulling their chaotic lives together. There, but for the Grace of God (or whatever you may attribute good things to), go I.

4 thoughts on “Poverty, and other forms of ill-fate

  1. Gayle Opie says:

    I wasn't raised with government aid other than the usual from which everyone benefits — public health departments (we got free vaccinations at school when I was growing up), public libraries, that sort of thing. However, as an adult, I had to rely on the things you mention for several years when my daughter was young. I don't know where I would be now had it not been for "welfare". The taxpayers put me through school until I got my BS. During that time, I received AFDC monthly payments, food stamps, and an additional allowance for babysitting and clothing because I was a student not to mention the cost of tuition and books. Thank goodness for the American system that made my life much more productive than it probably would have been otherwise. It was a good investment because my later taxes more than paid for what I received. But that program is gone now and I'm sorry about that. I'm more than happy to have my tax money invested in the younger generation. I would like to see more of it go for educational and job opportunities for the young people who need it now. Done the right way, "welfare" truly is an investment in the future of this county. Certainly a better use of funds than wars of choice and other of our more questionable activities at home and abroad.

    By the way, I put "welfare" in quotes because to some it is a bad word but I couldn't think of a different one. Why is "welfare" bad when given to individuals who are having a hard time but not even used when money is given to corporations that don't even really need it (think oil, farm, and other subsidies). See they don't call it "welfare" then, they call it a "subsidy" and that makes it acceptable. We just need to rename "welfare" for individuals to "subsidy" and maybe then it would be OK.

    1. Janaki says:

      I don't understand why "welfare" became a bad word – shouldn't we, as a nation, want our fellow citizens to "fare well"?

      1. Gayle Opie says:

        Exactly! Some people are just so afraid that someone (particularly people of color) might "take advantage" of they system that they have really made it hard to get any significant help — and the children suffer the most. It seems that we have become much more mean-spirited in recent years than we ever were in the past — right wing influence? My nephew wants all "welfare" to be handed out by charities so they can make sure the recipients "deserve it". I don't care if they deserve it or not. I'm more interested in if they are doing something with their lives now and if some benefits help them do that, then I'm in favor. Having "welfare" go through charities is too haphazard and fails too many people for me to be in favor of that.

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