Living in poverty: Myths that need busting

Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor many other Republicans want to slash—or even kill–Medicaid, food stamps, Head Start, Social Security and other programs that help poor Americans. They want us to believe that nobody is truly poor around here, and that people who qualify for safety-net programs are just lazy folks who want to game the system, get something they haven’t worked for, and bankrupt America with their undeserved entitlements.

Romney and the guys at the country club are wrong. Unfortunately, they’re getting away with their distorted talking points because the rest of us aren’t doing a good enough job of telling it as it really is.

Myth busters

In the real world, people living in poverty include seniors who’ve retired from a lifetime of work, new moms, students, and job searchers still pounding the pavement.

In fact, low-income working families, contrary to right-wing myth, work hard:  Adults in low-income working families worked on average 2,500 hours per year in 2006, the equivalent of almost one and a quarter full-time workers. One out of four working families in the U.S. is low-income, and virtually all of those families, or 96%, work at least half-time and over 70% work full-time or more. They’re also eager to acquire new skills and improve their jobs and work conditions. More than 7 million Americans are working two or more jobs just to make ends meet.

And, by the way, poor people can’t afford to be lazy. They’re skipping sleep to work long hours at multiple jobs and still falling further behind. Like any hardworking parent, they’re more than willing to take that extra shift so they can put food on the table.

But the less money you have, the less time you have to get ahead. Without a reliable car, taking the bus to work can take hours. No reliable child care means less time to find a better paying job. And when you have less money, every day is full of hard choices with harder consequences: which basic needs will you meet today — food, winter clothes, medicine — and which ones will you just have to go without?

Facts about low-income families

According to Media Matters Action Network:

One out of five American adults who have jobs are earning only $10.65 an hour or less. Even at 40 hours a week, that’s less than $22,000 per year — the poverty level for a family of four.

Over 80% of Americans believe it’s almost impossible to survive on minimum wage, which is only $7.25 per hour (federal) right now.

It’s expensive and time-consuming to be poor in America, too. The less money you make, the more you are probably paying extra banking, credit card, and lending fees, living in “food deserts” without accessible supermarkets that sell cheap fresh food, paying jacked-up health care prices, and paying as much as 40% of your income on child care while you’re at work.

All Americans pay taxes. Even those who don’t make enough money to pay taxes on their income still pay taxes like payroll, property or sales tax, or taxes on everyday things like gasoline.

Unfortunately, for many in our know-nothing political culture, facts don’t matter. By repeating the same myths and misinformation over and over again, right-wing opinion-shapers have been very effective in upending the truth. People who actually care about economically disadvantaged families and individuals need to do a much better job of making the case for reality–before it’s too late.

Gloria Shur Bilchik Gloria Shur Bilchik (483 Posts)

Gloria Shur Bilchik is a freelance writer and community volunteer in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the editor of Occasional Planet. She views the preservation of progressive values as vital to making the US a humane, livable place for her children and grandchildren.


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Antona-Smith/1386181057 Antona Smith

    Gloria, you are spot on.  While I am here in New York, I have had a chance to observe a few things.  I love coffee, have visited a great coffee shop.  The baristas look to be college students.  They might make $10 an hour, given it is NYC in Times Square.  Ok, so we had to pay toll crossing from New Jersey into New York, parking is $7.60 per HALF HOUR if you even get into a garage.  There are bodegas in some tony neighborhoods like SoHo but even there, say a “starving artist” would still pay $1.39 for a pound (like 2) bananas.  The working poor work hard and I’ve seen it firsthand from Harlem to Little Italy/Chinatown to Chelsea to the Lower East Side to Times Square.  I hope people speak up and vote in their own economic best interests and stop believing Reagan’s lie – still alive after thirty years!

  • Psapril

    One of the best pieces I have read in the “Planet”.

  • Ann Mandelstamm

    This article is so true and so humane.  Thanks, Gloria!

  • Janis Leigh

    Gloria, I just am tickled about your column, while doing research for school I happened across your site and am pleased for having do so.  I the arrogant Republicans who say these untruths had the b**** to actually put their money where their mouth is maybe our National Debt could get some relief. Show me just one of them who will give up their salaries for their full term of election and I will show you a Republican worth listening to.  Every election we listen to their promises and all they turn into are big fat lies. Government should notify all the companies that they(gov.) have  allowed to relocate on foreign shores  and still receive tax cuts for having their Corporate Offices in the United States that either they pay more taxes to continue operating as if they  are here providing the jobs that where taken away. Or allow them only the smallest of Corporate tax deductions.until they bring the jobs back. And I resent their remarks about ” not believing anyone is truly poor our country  
    or that we are just lazy and don’t want to get off the couch.  I am 58 years young and have been unemployed since 2008, I search regularly for a job and and work harder than he ever has in his pampered a** ! and continue to do so just so that I can keep a roof over my head. Damn-it, I am healthy and more agile than most 20 year old individuals and can compete in job markets from Bar Tender to Cross Country Truck Driver, Regional Office Administrator and everything in between pretty much.  But I cannot get a job when the elected officials in Washington D.C. keep allowing large industry to  be rewarded for closing down and laying off employees with not even as much as a pat on the back for all their hard work.  Government should impose higher taxes for Corporations that do and have done these atrocities to the American working class.  How dare Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor and all those who were a part of our unemployment crisis.
          Before I close, I would just like to thank you for allowing me to state what I feel. Although it may not make much sense I truly do blame our government for giving incentives to corporations who have taken so many individuals livelihoods.  And your site is Too Cool,Peace Out

    Graciously,
    Janis L.