By in Politics

Are Poor People as Lazy and Dishonest As You Think?

Are you a middle class person who feels that everyone ought to be able to get by without government handouts? Are you suspicious of people who receive welfare benefits, thinking that they are just lazy and haven't looked hard enough for work? Do you resent your tax dollars going to pay for welfare, unemployment benefits, and food stamps?

I was asked today if I would write up a few posts about social justice, so I thought the first subject I'd look at is false assumptions middle class people make when they think about low-income earners and the unemployed.

Poor People Are Lazy and Fat

A lot of the judgements middle class folks make of people living near or below the poverty line, are the result of assumptions. Usually those assumptions are based on ignorance.

  • Groups of welfare recipients stand around doing nothing in the government office for long periods of time, and the assumption is those people are lazy.

    The truth is that those people are waiting for their number to be called. Unless they've been given an actual appointment (a rarity at many facilities) the only way to see an agent or to submit paperwork is to show up, take a number, and wait. Often for hours at a time.

  • Large numbers of food bank clients are overweight , and the assumption is these people don't really need the food.

    In reality, most people who depend on food banks are given large amounts of day-old bread in their hampers. Or they will buy inexpensive starches like potatoes, rice and pasta with the few food dollars they have. While this food is low in nutrients it is versatile and easy to prepare, and it fills a hungry belly. The overweight poor person isn't eating too much. He isn't getting enough healthy food to meet his needs, and relies on cheap starches to stop the hunger.

People on Welfare Cheat the System

  • The SNAP recipient is filling up her shopping cart with cases of soda pop or other luxury food items. The assumption is she is wasting her food dollars, and doesn't care about her family's nutritional needs.

    Some people who receive government benefits will stockpile luxury foods when they go on sale, and re-sell them to earn a little extra money for groceries. Because their benefits run out around the third week of the month, most people who receive government benefits will look for any loophole th ey can exploit to stretch those food dollars. It may sound mercenary or unethical, but people do what they have to do in order to feed their families.

  • A part-time worker gets topped up by welfare and frequents the food bank. The assumption is that she's too lazy to work full-time.

    In reality, many of the people who benefit from anti-poverty measures such as welfare benefits, SNAP or the use of a food bank, are what is sometimes called “the working poor.” Many employers today will not hire any full-time workers because they want to avoid paying benefits. Hiring several part-time workers is cheaper than hiring one full-time employee, and hiring people to work on call is even less costly. Some people will be able to juggle two or three jobs and come close to what they'd earn working a single full-time job, but then there are often high cost associated with travelling between the two jobs and home.

Before you judge, try walking a mile in the other person's shoes. And remember that when you assume, “you make an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me!'”

| | | | |

Image credit: Poverty by Gerd Altmann/Pixabay ( CC0 1.0 )

Image Credit »

You will need an account to comment - feel free to register or login.


CoralLevang wrote on July 5, 2015, 2:36 PM

There are likely going to be some things in the series on which I have some opinions that I will not share for now. You see, I am one of those who is above the "poverty-level" for one person at $11,770 a year, but do not qualify for additional programs. In fact, with Stage 4 cancer diagnosis and even within 2 years of social security, I am currently unable to qualify for the disability insurance (SSDI), though I know people who have no more solid evidence other than a doctor's label of something that is hard to prove, who are on it, because "I no longer want to work in that field; it depresses me."

Each case is different, each person is unique. We cannot make blanket assumptions on either side of the argument. Yet, I have come into more than my share of contact with people who feel "owed" and don't want to do better for themselves, but prefer to live differently than I would choose for myself. They do seem to have money for their habits, but not for rent and food.

It's definitely a complex societal and psychological issue.

MegL wrote on July 5, 2015, 3:28 PM

I lived on benefits for 2 years in the UK many years ago. Lived? Existed! For people with a job, if they had a bill to pay they could get an overdraft or loan from the bank, someone on benefits did not have that option. My mother in law used to come down to see us on a Thursday and would bring a packet of sausages or a loaf of bread. That would be our meal that day, until the Friday cheque came. I knew others on benefits who got their children up out of bed late. That meant they got fed breakfast and lunch together, which made one less meal a day to be found. We didn't run a car or go out drinking, or out for meals or on holidays. When I was a student, I read that the cheapest meal on 5 continents was a bowl of pasta, possibly with a knob of butter if you had one. When I got a job (9 months after first applying), I suffered depression leaving my small child all day every day but I kept on at it because anything was better than being back on welfare. I learnt a lot from that time but it is NOT easy.

bestwriter wrote on July 6, 2015, 5:20 AM

I do not know if India is included in this thought process. India has sops but they go through middle men such as various district level goverenment bodies. By the time the 'poor' get those sops they not even amount to 10 percent. And as for justification I am of the opinion Government should dole out fishing tackles and not fish. I have a Trust for the needy. I give it to those who are in the process of getting for them the 'fishing tackle' I give directly and not through any NGOs or any nuns or priests.

Shellyann36 wrote on July 6, 2015, 5:27 AM

Words of wisdom you do speak. I know several people who work 2 or 3 part time jobs because no one is hiring full time. I can understand that people are using what they get to buy cheaper foods. Lets face it the nutritious foods are often far more expensive than the cheap calorie laden sweets and starches. Another way to look at the loading up on soda is if they are buying can soda they can sell the cans for aluminum scrap to get some pocket money.

peachpurple wrote on July 6, 2015, 9:47 AM

Poor people can't be fat, if they are fat, they are plain lazy and useless bums. Don't belong to poor people category

Ruby3881 wrote on July 6, 2015, 11:48 AM

It sounds like you're looking at complex issues - plural.

1) I quite agree with you that it can be tough to get on benefits when they are needed, especially if only partial benefits are required.

2) Yes, some of the red tape is due to people who would prefer not to try or who outright cheat the system. And some of the cheating is rooted in all the red tape and a fear of losing the necessities. So it's unfortunately a vicious circle, that so far few governments have found their way out of.

3) Many of the decisions made by the powers that be, are quite subjective. Yes, they're supposed to be fair and objective. But there are known ways to "work the system" - to which you allude in your "depression" comment.

Ultimately, yes each case is different. And that's the important message behind this particular post. A lot of what seems to be, just isn't the way one would think. And until you've actually walked that mile in the other's shoes, most judgements amount to prejudice because they're based on assumptions.

Do poor folks make assumptions about people who are not poor? Absolutely! I think the main difference is that poor people are already marginalized, and are not likely to be a state senator or a minister of health or Indian affairs. And whatever ill-founded assumptions a poor person makes, it isn't likely they will end up getting used in an active campaign that will rob the rich of the means to support themselves. Sadly, this is not always the case when it comes to "welfare reform," veterans' benefits, seniors' benefits, or medical and disability assistance.

Ruby3881 wrote on July 6, 2015, 12:18 PM

Yes indeed, there are many parents who go without meals to feed their kids or who rely on subsidized meal programs during the school year, but can't afford to feed their kids in summer. It really is subsistence and survival, not living.

MegL wrote on July 6, 2015, 12:54 PM

This is not true. The North American Indians were lean and healthy on their diet of of fish and game, until the white man came and traded white flour and sugar. Their children became malnourished and the mothers overweight. Have you ever seen any mother who would gorge herself at her child's expense? Overweight people may actually be malnourished

MegL wrote on July 6, 2015, 12:56 PM

That must be very hard to listen to non-judgementally.

Ruby3881 wrote on July 6, 2015, 1:21 PM

I don't presume to speak for the programs in place in India, as I have no knowledge of them. But I do imagine there are similarities.

Yes, one of the principles of welfare programs is supposed to be helping people to access training, to purchase the necessities to practise a trade, and to gain work experience in order to find a job. Unfortunately, there is often a great deal of abuse and difficulty accessing the promised assistance. I don't know if it's always as bad as the situation you describe, but people who have tried to work through these programs seem to still be dependent on benefits years after. I'd say that speaks to a need to revise and improve them!

CoralLevang wrote on July 6, 2015, 1:29 PM

Yes, the poor are marginalized, unfortunately, and no, they will not "rob the rich..."
What I think happens, however, that the mindset on both sides, contributes to this already complex issue.
Until we change belief systems and values, there will never be "reform."

Ruby3881 wrote on July 6, 2015, 2:47 PM

A poor person is poor because they live at or below the poverty line for their region. No more, no less. It has nothing to do with body type, activity level, or any value judgements of whether the person is deserving of assistance.

As for the relationship between poverty and obesity, it's very simple to explain: High-calorie, low-nutrition foods are less expensive than quality foods that provide a wide range of nutrients at a lower calorie count.

Ruby3881 wrote on July 6, 2015, 3:08 PM

I agree completely, Coral! There is very much an "us and them" mentality at work on both sides. There is a lot of resentment, if not outright hostility or hatred. And on the part of poor folk there is often a mindset that nothing can change, while the rich folk prefer to think that nothing should change.

There are a lot of beliefs and habits on both sides that, if changed, could lead to a healthier environment for everyone. But as you are probably more than well aware, it will be an uphill battle to create the necessary change.

Ruby3881 wrote on July 6, 2015, 4:31 PM

Much agreed, Meg. First Nations peoples are at elevated risk for obesity, diabetes, and other health concerns. Abandoning the traditional diet has been especially problematic in northern and remote regions, where the costs for packaged foods are very high and where there is a higher poverty rate.

A swollen belly is one of the characteristic signs of malnutrition, and one many of us have seen in ads for aid in extremely impoverished areas. But often a thick middle in a person who does not meet the definition of malnourished, can be a sign of less serious nutritional deficits. The person is assumed to overeat, but is actually gaining weight because of a diet too high in starches and refined or processed foods, too low in nutrient-rich foods.

GemOfAGirl wrote on July 6, 2015, 4:36 PM

When I was fifteen years old, both of my parents worked outside the home. Both jobs were needed to support the household - mortgage, groceries, etc. Any extras I had were paid for from the money I made babysitting and from my paper route. Then there was a recession in the U.S., and my dad lost his job. And then my mom was in a major car accident caused by someone else driving drunk, and she almost lost her life. She was unable to physically do her job for more than a year after that, and although she qualified for disability, it wasn't nearly enough. My parents ended up having to go on welfare for two years, and they were also receiving food stamps. I remember the looks we received from others at the grocery store - some of those others were our neighbors and friends, people that knew our circumstances well, and still gave us insulting looks at the checkout counter. I never forgot how that made me feel. Fifteen is a terrible age to be getting shamed by your friends and neighbors for circumstances beyond your control. It didn't stop when my parents lost the house to foreclosure, nor when they had to file for bankruptcy.

I rarely tell people about the experience - it's very painful to remember that time in my life, and I usually try to forget about it. But it still comes up from time to time. A few years ago, I was dating a man who had, shall we say, very **strong** opinions about people who were "on the dole" (his words, not mine). I told him how much his characterizations of "those" people were hurtful to me, and then I told him why it hurt. He "forgave" me for having been part of a family that had been on welfare, because it wasn't my fault. The fact that he thought it was something that required forgiveness (along with the insinuation that it was somehow my parents' fault), well, let's just say that he and I were not seeing each other for much longer after that. I'd received enough of that kind of shame when I was fifteen; I certainly didn't need any more of it when I was in my forties.

Ruby3881 wrote on July 6, 2015, 4:36 PM

I'm glad that you can see both types of dishonesty as equal. It's amazing how often deceit, bullying, and outright theft get written off when a government official or rich businessman is the perpetrator, but when an ordinary person commits a similar act the response is very severe..

Ruby3881 wrote on July 6, 2015, 4:43 PM

I appreciate that you felt you could share your story here. Thank you for your trust! And I think you did the right thing to walk away from that relationship. Any partner who is worth the effort, will make the effort to understand your life's experience even if it means having to make a serious shift in attitude.

GemOfAGirl wrote on July 6, 2015, 4:50 PM

You're welcome! You handle your topics responsibly, and that's one of the reasons why you're one of my favorite writers here.

WritingLover wrote on July 10, 2015, 3:36 PM

There will always be people that milk the system, but there are a lot of genuine people out there that need it for many reasons. Like myself, I'm disabled. Yes I'm able to work, but being in a wheelchair makes it harder for me to find a job. Something I can't help.